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We, the undersigned civil society organisations of the Republic of Panama, extend kind regards to you, with the hope that the current Assembly will help to lay the foundations for a more prosperous hemisphere, based on the principles of respect for human dignity and life in all their expressions.

On the occasion of the forthcoming election of new members to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), we wish to express our firm support for the Inter-American System of Human Rights (IASHR) as a mechanism for the peaceful resolution of conflicts and the effective protection of people’s fundamental and universal rights.

As representatives of civil society, concerned about the building of democratic and inclusive state institutions twenty one years since we began our transition to democracy, we share the desire that one of our compatriots should be honoured by being appointed as a member of the Commission.  However, we must state with regret that, at present, the Government of Panama is not worthy of having its candidate distinguished with such an appointment.

Fully aware that this post is responsible for the respect and protection of human rights throughout the continent, we are forced not to endorse the nomination of Mr Guillermo Cochez, Panama’s current Ambassador to the OAS, which was made hastily and without consultation.

Although we recognise Mr Cochez’s contribution to the fight for democracy during the military dictatorship, we have adopted this position for the following reasons:

1.     There are a number of issues which undermine the legitimacy of the nomination of a representative of the Panamanian diplomatic service, such as Mr Cochez, for membership of the IACHR during this government’s term.  These include the scandalous deterioration in the credibility of key Panamanian institutions responsible for the protection of human rights, such as the judiciary and the public prosecution service;  the constant harassment of journalists and human rights defenders; the recent expulsion of Paco Gómez Nadal and Pilar Chato, members of Human Rights Everywhere (HREV); the serious clashes between the police and original peoples due to the adoption of amendments to environmental and mining legislation, and the recent  untimely closure of the gates of the Chan 75 hydroelectric dam without having concluded the negotiations with all the affected Ngobe population.

2.     In the face of these situations, Mr Cochez has had to defend the position of a state with one of the worst records of compliance with judgments by the Inter-American Court; which has totally disregarded two precautionary measures issued by the IACHR since 2009; which is violating ILO Conventions 87 and 98 on trade union freedom and which has led to a serious deterioration in the general human rights situation in the last two years.  For example,  we regard as unfortunate Mr Cochez’s positions on the excessive use of force by the police against banana workers in July 2010 and on the construction of the Chan 75 hydroelectric dam in Bocas del Toro province  (El Panamá América newspaper, 7 December), which run directly counter to the recommendations of international human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and HREV, and bodies such as the office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and even the IACHR itself.

3.     Despite his rigorous academic training in the field of law, his distinguished private practice in commercial law and his notable political career, Mr Cochez does not have the necessary aptitude, experience or career trajectory to become a member of this important human rights body. This is particularly relevant in view of the professional pedigree and contributions in the field of human rights, whether as ombudsmen, investigators or judges, of several of the other candidates for these posts, and which would be put at the service of taking the IASHR in new directions.

We will continue to long for the day when a Panamanian citizen may occupy such a distinguished position within the IASHR, but we are also aware that, in the current circumstances, the appointment of Mr Cochez would send the wrong message to the Panamanian government and would weaken the efforts of both nationals and foreigners to defend individual guarantees, due process and democratic principles in Panama.  We trust that you will be able to understand our position and take the best decisions for the sake of justice and peace for our American peoples.

Panama, 2 June 2011.


Signed:  Alianza Ciudadana Pro Justicia · Alianza para la Conservación y el Desarrollo · Asociación de Derecho Ambiental · Asociación Ecologista de Panamá · Asociación Panameña de Derecho Constitucional·Central General Autónoma de Trabajadores Panameños · Centro de Estudios y Acción Social Panameño · Centro de Estudios y Capacitación Familiar · Centro de Incidencia Ambiental · Centro de Trabajo sobre Seguridad social · Comité Latinoamericano para la Defensa de los Derechos de la Mujer · Human Rights Everywhere (HREV) · Instituto de Estudios Políticos Internacionales · Movimiento Popular Unido · Manos & Cerebros · Red de Desarrollo Integral Comunitaria de San Jose de San Francisco ·Red de Desarrollo Integral Comunitaria de Los Hatillos de San Francisco ·Red de Desarrollo Integral Comunitaria de Remance de San Francisco ·Red de Desarrollo Integral Comunitaria de Alto y Bala de Cañazas · Red de Desarrollo Integral Comunitaria del Común de Cañazas · Red de Desarrollo Integral Comunitaria de Cerro Negro de Las Palmas ·Red de Desarrollo Integral Comunitaria de Mata Redonda de Las Palmas ·Red de Desarrollo Integral Comunitaria de Lajilla de Cañazas.


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