The UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples James Anaya [official website] urged the Panamanian government on Tuesday to open a dialogue [press release, in Spanish] with the country's indigenous peoples in an effort to alleviate tension and reduce violence. The request comes after one indigenous group occupied portions of the Pan-American Highway in protest of mining and drilling activities taking place on their lands. As a result of these protests and clashes with the police, one person was killed and many others were detained or injured. Anaya called upon the government to insure that people involved in such protests are protected and asked for an investigation into the death of the protester. Other indigenous groups have announced plans to protest in a show of solidarity and to display their displeasure at the lack of legalization of their lands.
The rights of indigenous peoples have become a pressing issue in recent years. In December 2010, US President Barack Obama announced that the US will support [JURIST report] the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People [text]. The declaration, adopted [JURIST report] in 2007, is a non-binding treaty outlining the global human rights of approximately 370 million indigenous people and banning discrimination against them. The US was one of four member states that originally opposed adopting the treaty, citing concerns that its text conflicted with their countries' own laws, among other contentions. The US is the last member state of those in opposition to sign the declaration. Earlier in 2010, Canada endorsed [JURIST report] the declaration citing encouragement from community leaders and other countries' experiences in reversing its position on the document. In August 2010, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on governments to work to improve the human rights conditions [JURIST report] of the world's indigenous peoples.