Ngöbe Win Major Victory at Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Panama’s Ngöbe Win Major Victory at Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Washington, D.C.—After two years of brutal government repression and destruction of their homeland, the Ngöbe Indians of western Panama won a major victory yesterday as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights called on Panama to suspend all work on a hydroelectric dam that threatens the Ngöbe homeland. The Chan-75 Dam is being built across the Changuinola River by the government of Panama and a subsidiary of the Virginia-based energy giant AES Corporation. The Commission’s decision was the result of a petition filed last year by the Ngöbe, after AES-Changuinola began bulldozing houses and farming plots. When the Ngöbe protested the destruction of their homes, the government sent in riot police who beat and arrested villagers, including women and children, and then set up a permanent cordon around the community to prevent anyone from entering the area. In addition to threatening the community, the dam will irreversibly harm the nearby La Amistad UN Biosphere Reserve.

“We are thrilled to have the Commission take these measures to protect Ngöbe communities,” said Ellen Lutz, executive director of Cultural Survival and lead counsel for the Ngöbe. “We are hopeful that this will help the government of Panama and AES recognize their obligation to respect Ngöbe rights.”

The Commission, which is a body of the Organization of American States, is still considering the Ngöbe’s petition and issued this injunction, called precautionary measures, to prevent any further threat to the community and the environment while the Commission deliberates on the merits of the case.

Specifically, the Commission called on the government to suspend all construction and other activities related to its concession to AES-Changuinola to build and administer the Chan-75 Dam and abutting nationally protected lands along the Changuinola River.

In addition to Chan-75, for which land clearing, roadwork, and river dredging are already well underway, the order covers two other proposed dam sites upstream. The Commission further called upon the government of Panama to guarantee the Ngöbe people’s basic human rights, including their rights to life, physical security, and freedom of movement, and to prevent violence or intimidation against them, which have typified the construction process over the past two years. The Commission required the government to report back to it in 20 days on the steps it has taken to comply with the precautionary measures.

Chan-75 would inundate four Ngöbe villages that are home to approximately 1,000. Another 4,000 Ngöbe living in neighboring villages would be affected by the destruction of their transportation routes, flooding of their agricultural plots, lack of their access to their farmlands, and reduction or elimination of fish that are an important protein source in their diet. It would also open up their territories to non-Ngöbe settlers.

According Alianza para la Conservación y el Desarrollo (ACD) the dam also will cause grave environmental harm to the UNESCO-protected La Amistad Biosphere Reserve, an international World Heritage Site that upriver from the dam site. Scientists believe that there is a high risk of losing important fish species that support the reserve’s wildlife, including several endangered species, because the dam will destroy their migration route.

“The Panamanian government must follow the precautionary measures issued by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and prevent further human rights violations and environmental damage” said Jacki Lopez, staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, an organization that submitted an amicus curiae to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in support of the Ngöbe.

The Ngöbe people’s situation was the subject of a report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous People, James Anaya, on May 12, 2009. Anaya concluded that the government ignored its obligation under international law to consult with the communities and seek their free, prior, and informed consent before moving ahead with the construction project. He urged AES-Changuinola to meet international standards for corporate social responsibility and not contribute, even indirectly, to violations of human rights.

CIDH ordena suspender hidroeléctrica Chan 75

CIDH ordena suspender hidroeléctrica

El proyecto Chan 75, que construye la empresa Aes Changuinola, en Bocas del Toro, enfrenta escollos legales debido a los desalojos hechos por la compañía en comunidades indígenas.


La Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH) pidió al Gobierno panameño suspender la construcción de la hidroeléctrica Chan 75, que efectúa la empresa Aes Changuinola sobre el río Changuinola, en Bocas del Toro.

Además, la CIDH pidió que se suspendan las actividades relacionadas con la concesión que el Estado le otorgó a la empresa a lo largo del río Changuinola, hasta que el Sistema Interamericano de Derechos Humanos adopte una decisión definitiva sobre las supuestas violaciones a los derechos de los indígenas.

La medida de la CIDH obedece a una denuncia que presentaron la Alianza para la Conservación y el Desarrollo (ACD), de Panamá, y Cultural Survival, de Estados Unidos, en representación de las comunidades indígenas afectadas por las obras.

La denuncia se basa en que Aes Changuinola y el Gobierno panameño “violaron” los derechos de los indígenas al desalojarlos de sus comunidades de manera “forzosa” y, además, no se les permitió el libre consentimiento para decidir sobre la construcción del proyecto hidroeléctrico.

La CIDH también pidió al Gobierno panameño adoptar medidas para garantizar la libre circulación, la vida y la integridad personal de los indígenas Ngäbe, con el fin de evitar actos de violencia. Esto, luego que en enero de 2008, la Policía Nacional arrestó a unos 40 indígenas que protestaban en contra del proyecto.

Plazo de 20 días para informar sobre proyecto Chan 75


El Gobierno panameño tiene 20 días para presentar un informe a la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH), sobre el cumplimiento de una medida cautelar que pidió el organismo internacional a favor de las comunidades indígenas ngäbe, afectadas por la construcción del proyecto hidroeléctrico Chan 75 en Changuinola, provincia de Bocas del Toro.

El organismo internacional decidió, el pasado miércoles 17 de junio, adoptar una medida cautelar a favor de los indígenas, a “fin de evitar daños irreparables al derecho de propiedad y a la seguridad del pueblo ngäbe asentado en la provincia de Bocas del Toro”.

En este sentido, la CIDH pidió al Gobierno suspender las obras de construcción del proyecto hidroeléctrico Chan 75, que desarrolla la empresa Aes Changuinola, subsidiaria de Aes Panamá.

El informe sobre el cumplimiento de esa acción debe ser actualizado periódicamente y, luego, la Comisión decidirá si levanta la medida o la prolonga. La CIDH adoptó la medida en respuesta a una demanda –por violación de derechos humanos– que presentaron Alianza para la Conservación y el Desarrollo (ACD) y Cultural Survival en nombre de las comunidades indígenas.

Susana Serracín, de la ACD, dijo que la medida “constituye un logro importante en la lucha del pueblo ngäbe, que se encuentra sumido en una situación de gravedad y urgencia por la construcción del proyecto”.

Al consultar a la empresa, esta consideró que es al Gobierno a quien le corresponde emitir comentarios sobre la decisión de la Comisión.

Se intentó, sin éxito, buscar una versión del Gobierno sobre este caso.