Panamanian indigenous organisations call for international investigation into rights violations caused by transmission line in Panama

In August this year (2019) the Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL) issued a press release regarding the potential damage that may be caused by the construction of an electricity transmission line across indigenous land in Panamá. We are grateful to both CIEL and MODETEAB (Movement for the Defence of the Territories and Ecosystems of Bocas del Toro) for their permission to reproduce their statement in The Violence of Development website. Appropriate addresses and websites are given for both organisations below the release.

August 9, 2019

Key words: Panamanian indigenous organisations; electricity transmission; consultation; free, prior and informed consent; rights.

Panama City/Washington, DC — On International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, a coalition of Panamanian indigenous organisations and international allies presented a submission to the United Nations (UN) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) about the risks various indigenous communities are facing as a result of a planned transmission line.

Cutting through the ancestral lands of these communities, the electric transmission line would threaten not just one of the last intact tropical rainforests in Panama, but also the economic, social, and cultural survival of the indigenous peoples living in the affected area. Through this submission, the signatory organisations denounce before the international community the environmental and social damage that the project would cause. Further, they denounce the ways in which the project has violated the right of indigenous communities to be consulted before projects of this magnitude are approved.

“Having been excluded from a process of effective consultation, our community objects to the project, especially in light of the grave and irreversible impacts it will have for our communities,” said Feliciano Santos, Coordinator of the Movement for the Defence of the Territories and Ecosystems of Bocas del Toro (MODETEAB). “For us, this project represents much more than a simple incursion into our territories, because if we lose access to our lands, we will be at risk of losing our homes and ways of life, in addition to our cultural values, ethnic identity, and traditions forged in our ancestral territories.”

As the submission explains, ETESA — Panama’s state-owned Electric Transmission Company — has pushed forward the Transmission Line IV project without adequately consulting the affected indigenous communities. This violates their right to consultation and free, prior and informed consent, which is protected under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as well as numerous human rights instruments.

In addition, it is expected that the project will pave the way for new development projects, including a coastal highway, massive mining projects, and real estate speculation, which would lead to dispossession of land, the destruction of traditional ways of life, and the deforestation and pollution of the affected areas. In spite of these foreseen risks, the State of Panama has refused to adopt adequate measures to protect the economic and cultural rights of these communities, in addition to their rights to land and to live in a healthy environment.

For this reason, the signatory organisations decided to communicate their concerns to the Special Rapporteurs of the UN and the IACHR, requesting that they investigate, evaluate, and monitor the situation and that they urge the State of Panama to take immediate preventative measures to suspend the planning and construction of the transmission line until the affected communities’ concerns have been fully addressed.

“The international community should take note that this situation is indicative of a pattern of projects illegitimately imposed by the Panamanian authorities within indigenous peoples’ territories,” said Sarah Dorman of the People, Land, and Resources Programme at the Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL). “The Panamanian State must fully comply with its international obligations, including the duty to respect indigenous peoples’ right to prior consultation and consent, as well as the duty to protect the rights of indigenous peoples to conserve their territories and natural resources, to enjoy their own means of subsistence, and to maintain their distinctive spiritual and cultural relationship with their lands.”


  • Feliciano Santos, Coordinador del Movimiento por la Defensa de los Territorios y Ecosistemas de Bocas del Toro (MODETEAB),, +507 6656-1696 (Spanish only)
  • Sarah Dorman, Programa de Pueblos, Tierra y Recursos en el Centro para el Derecho Ambiental Internacional (CIEL),, +1 202-742-5854

Note for editors:

The communication was addressed to the Special Rapporteur of the UN on the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli Corpuz; to the Special Rapporteur of the UN on human rights and the environment, David Boyd; to the UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Karima Bennoune; to the Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of the IACHR, Antonia Urrejola Noguera; to the Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights of the IACHR, Soledad García Muñoz; and to the Rapporteur for Panama of the IACHR, Flávia Piovesan.


Since 1989, the Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL) has used the power of law to protect the environment, promote human rights, and ensure a just and sustainable society. Its headquarters are in Washington DC ( and its European office is in Geneva (