In July, there were protests in Bocas del Toro province against proposed changes to the labour laws, which were seen as anti-union and increased tensions between workers and the main employer, a banana company. The protests lasted approximately two weeks, ending in violence between police and protesters. Four protesters were killed and hundreds of people injured.
A special commission set up by presidential decree to investigate these incidents concluded in October that more than 56 police officers and 700 protesters had been injured; 55 suffered permanent damage to their eyes as the result of use of tear gas by the police. The commission also concluded that of the four protesters killed, two died from gunshot wounds and two from injuries related to the use of tear gas. The commission recommended that the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials be incorporated into national guidelines. It also recommended that the authorities drop charges of “crimes against the internal security of the State” levied against some 350 protesters, but that there should be no impunity for acts of violence. No one had been charged in connection with the deaths of the four protesters by the end of the year.
In February the CEDAW Committee welcomed a government plan to address violence against women, in place since 2004, and some modifications to laws aimed at increasing protection for victims of domestic violence. However, the Committee noted its concern at the high prevalence of violence against women and the lack of adequate protection and support for victims as well as the absence of awareness campaigns. In a report provided to the Committee, the government noted that between 2005 and 2009 the Panama City special prosecution services had registered 17,067 complaints of violence against women and 1,198 of violence against girls.
In May, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed concern about continuing racial discrimination and the marginalization, impoverishment and vulnerability of Afro-Panamanians and Indigenous Peoples. Among other recommendations, the Committee called for appropriate mechanisms to ensure the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous Peoples affected by development projects; for an end to forced removals of such communities; and for legislation prohibiting racial discrimination.
In June, the Naso people, a 4,500-strong community in the Bocas del Toro province, filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights alleging, among other things, that the state had failed to afford them proper recognition and had supported cattle ranchers who had carried out forced evictions in 2009 in a continuing dispute over land.