Protests in Panama: IACHR and its RELE call to establish an effective and inclusive dialogue

July 27, 2022

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression (RELE) observe the development of the demonstrations in Panama and urge the State to continue safeguarding the right to peaceful protest and maintain an inclusive and effective dialogue process to address to the legitimate demands of the citizenry. Likewise, they recall the importance of ensuring the coexistence of all human rights in tension in contexts of social conflict, having the use of public force as a last resort to guarantee social peace.

The IACHR and its RELE have learned that, since July 6, strikes and demonstrations have taken place throughout the country due to the rise in fuel and food costs during the last six months. To this, other claims would have been incorporated, linked to the rights of indigenous peoples, transparency in public management, policies on education, economic inequality in Panama, among others. According to public information, the demonstrations have included, for weeks, the total blocking of highways in different urban centers and parts of the country, seriously affecting the supply of basic food and supplies, and the transportation of patients and medical staff, on top of the free circulation of people around the cities. medical supplies and other products, in addition to the movement of people in the cities. In this regard, the State also pointed out the effects on the productive system and access to education, highlighting the impact especially on the most vulnerable sectors of the population.

In this context, the IACHR and its RELE have learned that on July 19 there would have been situations of violence in which both protesters and members of the public forces were injured in operations to clear the blocked highways, in Santiago, capital of the province Veraguas, and in Panama City. In this regard, they take note that, during the process of opening blocked roads, the Panamanian Ombudsman's Office recorded clashes between demonstrators and police units that would have endangered the integrity of third parties, older persons, children and adolescents who were not part of the part of the social protests. It also documented that 56 people – between civilians and police officers – received outpatient medical care. Additionally, according to the information received by the IACHR and its Office of the Special Rapporteur, 21 people have been detained in connection with their participation in the demonstrations –among them, three adolescents–. According to the Ombudsman's Office, all of them would have been released without charge.

The Commission and its RELE have been monitoring the dialogue process established with the different social sectors that make up the demonstrations, such as the measures adopted by the Executive Power to respond to the demands of the protests. On this regard they urge all parties involved to commit in carrying on an effective and inclusive dialogue to address the legitimate demands of the population and for all political and social actors to resolve their differences peacefully and with the maximum respect for human rights, within the democratic framework of the rule of law. In this sense, they reinforce the importance of corridors that guarantee the simultaneous exercise of the rights involved. They also take note of the recent agreements between the State and the protesters that have allowed the opening of the Pan-American Highway, which will have an impact on the normalization of supplies.

The IACHR and its Office of the Special Rapporteur recall that social protest is an essential element for the existence and consolidation of democratic societies and for the defense of human rights; therefore, it is the duty of the State to guarantee, protect and facilitate the legitimate exercise of the right to peaceful protest. In this regard, they have indicated that States must act on the basis of the legality of public protests or demonstrations and that the fact that some groups or individuals exercise violence in a demonstration does not, per se, make the entire protest violent, nor does it authorizes the security forces to break up the demonstration through the use of force. Although the State has the legitimate duty to guarantee security and public order, the use of the police force must be carried out as a last resort and be governed by the principles of exceptionality, necessity, progressiveness and proportionality.

Additionally, the IACHR and its RELE recall that arrests in the framework of social protests must strictly comply with all the requirements imposed by domestic laws and international standards. Finally, the Commission and its Rapporteurship emphasize that the role of press workers in the context of social demonstrations is essential to keep the population informed about events and to report on the actions of the State and the security forces.

The Commission and its RELE call for the security forces that intervene to protect and control the development of the demonstrations to prioritize respect for the human rights of the protesters. Finally, they urge the State to privilege dialogue and negotiation including the different sectors to respond to the causes of social mobilization.

The IACHR is a principal and autonomous organ of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mandate derives from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission is mandated to promote the observance and defense of human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The IACHR is composed of seven independent members who are elected by the OAS General Assembly in their personal capacity and do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression is an office created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to stimulate the hemispheric defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression, considering its fundamental role in the consolidation and development of the democratic system.

No. 168/22

3:40 PM