by Human Rights Watch
(Washington, DC) - The Government of Panama should ensure that a thorough and impartial investigation is conducted into possible abuses during violent confrontations between police and strikers from July 8 to 11, 2010, in Bocas del Toro province, Human Rights Watch said today. At least two people died and hundreds were injured.
In a report released on July 16, Panama's human rights ombudsman cited credible evidence that the police used excessive force against protesters. Local media reported that more than 100 protesters were injured and that at least 2, and perhaps as many as 10, died.
On July 21, President Ricardo Martinelli established an eight-member special commission to investigate. Yet government officials issued a "preliminary report" and made public statements the same day blaming the protesters for the clashes.
"Rather than trying to shift the blame, Panamanian authorities should ensure that those responsible for the abuses are brought to justice," said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. "The special commission could help clarify what happened, but it is no substitute for criminal prosecutions."
On July 2, the Banana and Associated Industries Workers' Union called a national strike to protest a new law that would restrict trade union activities. On July 8, violence erupted in the Changuinola district of Bocas del Toro after police confronted protesters who were blocking roads. One protester died and others were injured in the resulting clashes, with more deaths and injuries on subsequent days. The violence ended on July 11, when representatives of the government, the union, and the Catholic Church signed an agreement to temporarily suspend controversial aspects of the new law. Continue reading at the HRW website, here.
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