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Panama: excessive use of force / legal concern / medical concern: Traslacion Acosta, Vidal Concepcion, Alejandro Jimenez, Fermin Franco Cortes, Silverio Pimentel, Enrique Concepcion, Ana Acosta, Anselmo Acosta (aged 12), Liborio Concepcion - all members o

, N° d'index: AMR 44/002/1995

On 11 April 1995 the above-named members of the Ngobe-Bugles indigenous group were reportedly arrested without warrants following a confrontation with a special anti-riot squad of the national police. They had been demonstrating about the activities of a mining company on land which, they claim, are historically theirs. The detainees were taken to Panama City but lawyers working on their behalf secured their return to Veraguas. Liborio Concepcion, injured in the confrontation, is reportedly handcuffed to his hospital bed. Also detained are Anselmo Acosta, aged 12, and Ana Acosta, who is pregnant and without medical attention. AI is concerned about the apparently excessive force used by the police and is calling for the detainees to be charged with with a legally recognizable offence or released. AI is also calling for medical attention to be given to those in need.

EXTERNAL (for general distribution) AI Index: AMR 44/02/95
Distr: UA/SC
UA 95/95 Excessive use of force/Legal-Medical concerns 19 April 1995
PANAMATraslación Acosta, Vidal Concepción, Alejandro Jiménez, Fermín Franco
Cortés, Silverio Pimentel, Enrique Concepción, Ana Acosta, Anselmo
Acosta (aged 12), Liborio Concepción - all members of the
Ngobe-Bugles indigenous group (the Guayamí)
On 11 April l995 the above-named members of the Ngobe-Bugles indigenous group
were reportedly arrested without warrants in Cerro Pelado, Las Palmas district,
Veraguas province following a confrontation with a special anti-riot squad
of the National Police. In the ensuing disturbances, nine of the demonstrators
were arrested and one suffered gun-shot wounds to the head and face.
After arrest, the detainees were taken to the vastly over-crowded and
substandard Cárcel Modelo in Panama City, where they are said to have been
held incommunicado, and not permitted to inform relatives and lawyers of their
whereabouts. Lawyers working on their behalf secured their return to Veraguas,
after arguing that the transfer to Panama City was illegal.
Liborio Concepción, who was injured in the confrontation, is reportedly now
hand-cuffed to his bed at the Hospital de Santiago in Veraguas. Anselmo Acosta,
also detained, is only twelve years old. Another detainee, Ana Acosta, is
pregnant, but has apparently not been given any medical attention. Lawyers
also complain that the charges against the detainees have, as yet, not been
made clear.
Concern has also been expressed that legal proceedings have not been completed
within the time limits specified by Panamanian law, and that there has been
no response to the writs of habeas corpus, nor requests for bail filed on behalf
of the detainees. It has also been reported that police confiscated the tape
recorder and documents of an indigenous journalist, Arcalio Bonilla, when he
tried to investigate the incident. His tape recorder was only returned to him
after he agreed to tear up his notes.
Over a period of several weeks, hundreds of Ngobe-Bugles had been peacefully
demonstrating in protest over exploratory mining by Geo-Tec, a
Canadian-Panamanian mining company, on lands which they claim as their comarca
- lands which they say are historically theirs, and over which they claim
administrative rights.
Allegedly, a representative of the mining company used his family connections
with the Ministry of the Interior and Justice to secure the intervention of
the National Police in the dispute. The Indians say that machete wounds
suffered by two policemen during the incident occurred when the protestors
were forced to defend themselves against the armed police assault on them.
May 1994 elections returned the Partido Revolucionario Democrático (PRD),
Democratic Revolutionary Party, to power under the leadership of Ernesto Pérez
Balladares. The PRD had supported the de facto military government of long-time
Panamanian strongman, former Panamanian Defense Forces chief, Brigadier General
Manuel Noriega. Under General Noriega, Amnesty International had been concerned
at arbitrary arrests and excessive use of force against demonstrators opposed
to his government, ill-treatment of detainees, and summary executions of members
of the Defence Forces who joined in military uprisings against General Noriega.
The abuses were carried out both by the Panamanian Defence Forces, and the
so-called Batallones de la Dignidad, Dignity Battalions, civilian militias
operating under their command. General Noriega's government was overthrown
when United States' forces invaded the country in December 1989. General Noriega
was taken to the US, where he was eventually sentenced on drug trafficking
charges. Thousands of his supporters were briefly detained; others were held
without trial until September 1994, when President Ernesto Pérez Balladares,
announced a pardon for 222 former officials and military supporters of the
Noriega government. President Pérez said those pardoned had been prosecuted
for political reasons, but opponents of the measure feared it granted impunity
to people who had committed common crimes, including murder and misappropriation
of state funds.
Indigenous people make up an estimated 10% of the population of Panama. They
have been campaigning in recent years for recognition of their rights to
administer lands which they inhabit or use. Panama's constitution contains
provisions recognising the right of its indigenous peoples to control their
own lands, but de facto, their lands have continually been encroached upon
by settlers, poachers of endangered animals, loggers and mining companies.
Indigenous protests at such encroachments have frequently been met with police
violence, as occurred on 11 April in Cerro Pelado.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send telexes/faxes/express and airmail letters
either in Spanish, English or in your own language:
- Calling for the detainees to be given access to their lawyers and families
and that they be charged with a legally recognizable offence or released;
- Asking that the apparent excessive use of force by the National Police be
investigated and that those found responsible be brought to justice;
- Calling for the injured detainee, Liborio Concepción, to be accorded
immediate medical attention in appropriate circumstances; that steps be taken,
including a full medical examination, to ensure that Ana Acosta's pregnancy
is not endangered; and that 12-year Anselmo Acosta be treated in accordance
with standards governing the treatment and care of minors in custody;
- Asking that steps be taken to compensate Arcalio Bonilla for loss of equipment
and earnings, and to ensure that no such further interference with the work
of journalists trying to report on human rights abuses be permitted.
President of the Republic:
S.E. Ernesto Pérez Balladares
Presidente de la República de Panama Palacio Presidencial
Valija 50, Panamá 1
Tel: + 507 27-4062
Telex: 2770 PRESIPA PG
Fax: + 507 27-0076
Salutation: Excelentísimo Sr. Presidente/Dear Mr. President
2) Minister of the Interior and Justice
Sr. Raúl Montenegro
Ministro de Interior y Justicia
Ministerio de Interior y Justicia
Apartado 1628, Panamá 1
Tel: + 507 22-8973, Telex: 2746
Fax: + 507 62-7877
Salutation: Señor Ministro/Dear Minister
3) Veraguas Police Commander
Mayor Porfirio Velásquez
Sr. Comandante, Fuerzas Públicas de Panamá
Salutation: Señor Ministro/Dear Minister
Indigenous Rights Groups
Napguana, Consultorio Jurídico de Pueblos Indígenas, Asociación Indígena de
Panamá, and Fundación Dobbo Yala
FAX: +507 69 35 14
and to diplomatic representatives of Panama accredited to your country
PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY. Check with the International Secretariat,
or your section office, if sending appeals after 31 May 1995.

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