Panama's Dangerous Road to Development


“For Sale: Panama’s Environmental Resources. Cheap. No strings attached. Buy now and avoid the hassle of consulting with the public or protecting these resources for the future”.

A sign like this might as well be on the Panamanian government’s webpage, in light of some events. The government is promoting extensive mining, hydroelectric, and tourism related development throughout the country while simultaneously attempting to weaken laws protecting the environment and human rights. This approach clearly signals a catastrophe in the making. AIDA is working closely with our Panamanian partners to halt this trend and defend Panama natural riches and its citizen’s human rights.

In April 2010, AIDA denounced serious threats to human rights and the environment in Panama through the United Nation’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism. In a report presented together with the Centro de Incidencia Ambiental de Panamá (CIAM Panama) and a coalition of national organizations, we showed how Panama is clearly ignoring international laws and standards for human rights and the environment.

Our report highlights the explosion of large-scale development projects that are being constructed in violation of international and domestic human rights and environmental laws. These include hundreds of new mining concessions affecting over 35% of Panama’s land mass, 88 new hydroelectric projects, and many new tourism developments threatening fragile coastlands.

The report also details government efforts to whittle away citizen’s rights to public participation and access to information. New laws and regulations cut back on opportunities for public participation and reduce the number of development plans that require public hearings.

One controversial law also allow some development projects, such as dams and mines, to proceed without preparation of an environmental impact assessment. In addition, Panama has yet to recognize international indigenous rights and has cut back on legal requirements to consult with many indigenous communities regarding development on their lands. The government has even ignored direct recommendations by international human rights bodies to provide for prior consultations.

We also discuss in the report difficulties faced by citizens seeking justice in court. Lawsuits that are supposed to take weeks to resolve are buried in the court system for years. Unwarranted delays in environmental and human rights cases are now the norm. Worsening the situation further is the government’s increasing tendency to respond harshly to environmental defenders trying to protect their rights. The United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have firmly spoken out against such reprisals.

The UN’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism enables civil society groups to submit evaluations and recommendations regarding a country’s human rights situation to the United Nations Human Rights Council. With these evaluations in mind, the Council then conducts its own assessment of the situation and makes recommendations to the government in question. The UN Human Rights Council examined Panama during its November 2010 session, and AIDA worked hard to ensure that its report was included in the recommendations made to the Panamanian government.

For more information on our efforts in Panama, please visit our related pages below.

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