Accelerating collective land titling in Panama
Project to strengthen the collective rights of land and territories of the Indigenous Peoples of Panama

The National Coordinating Body of Indigenous Peoples in Panama (COONAPIP) accelerated titling of indigenous lands, resolved tenure conflicts, and developed legal and administrative capacity to protect indigenous land rights. While Panama’s laws on indigenous rights are progressive, implementation lags far behind. With Tenure Facility support COONAPIP capitalized on the current government’s commitments to indigenous rights and favorable rulings of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the Panama Supreme Court.

The project trained 252 women,

men and young people in indigenous rights and law

Women of Ngäbe-Buglé Comarca

advanced title to their land and resources

Using GPS

communities mapped their territories

Indigenous Peoples from Tagark

mapped the boundaries of their land and forests

COONAPIP advanced titling of 223,500 hectares in four territories and resolved 18 tenure conflicts affecting communities

“COONAPIP is the only entity that brings together Indigenous Peoples at the national level. Its seven different cultures are enriched by coexistence. COONAPIP is our “home” where we build collectively. Perseverance is important. Some have been waiting more than 20 years to gain their territory. We do not see the territories as a business, but rather as a necessity for the reproduction of our culture.” — Ariel Gonzalez, Project adjudicator

Goals

To consolidate and protect the collective rights (land, forest and water) of Panama’s Indigenous Peoples

Objectives

  • Capitalize on existing opportunities with the Government of Panama to accelerate processes of land titling, registry, and conflict resolution, and strengthen governance of indigenous territories.
  • Develop institutional capacity to support the full exercise and protection of indigenous territorial rights.

Actions

  • Strengthen COONAPIP’s capacity to provide legal services in support of Indigenous Peoples’ full enjoyment, exercise, and protection of their rights to land, water, and forests
  • Train traditional indigenous authorities on priority issues of indigenous rights and develop permanent and continuous access to legal advice and services in support of the advancement of indigenous rights and territorial governance
  • Support titling and registration of the Collective Territories of Bajo Lepe and Pijibasal
  • Advance legal and administrative processes for the titling of the Territory of Maje Embera Drúa
  • Advance the titling processes in other communities.

Results

  • Advanced titling of 223,500 hectares, including four territories and resolution of 18 tenure conflicts affecting communities
  • Supported titling and registration of the Collective Territories of Bajo Lepe and Pijibasal, however title not yet granted because Ministry of Environment has not approved due to overlap with land claimed by protected area
  • Advanced legal and administrative processes for the titling of the Territory of Maje Embera Drúam, however title not yet granted because Ministry of Environment has not approved due to overlap with land claimed by protected area
  • Advanced the titling processes in other communities
  • Created ‘Clinica Juridica’ — a legal clinic that supports land titling
  • Clarified the steps for titling indigenous lands
  • Trained 252 women, men and young people in indigenous rights and law
  • Established a diploma at the University of Panama’s Faculty of Law to broaden understanding of Indigenous Peoples’ legal rights under national and international
“We have been fighting the titling of our territory for more than 40 years. In the last year, with the support of COONAPIP’s PDCT project, we have advanced more than in the previous 40 years.” — Lazaro Mecha
, Regional chief, Majé Emberá Drüa collective territory

Impact

  • Strengthened COONAPIP’s administrative and technical skills and capacity title indigenous lands and
  • Build momentum for faster and more efficient titling by raising awareness of Indigenous Peoples´ rights among government authorities, building relationships among relevant institutions and increasing the confidence of Indigenous Peoples in their power to effect change
  • Positioned Indigenous Peoples to protect land, forest and water, and improve livelihoods, thereby contributing to global climate change and development goals
  • Demonstrated new methods that indigenous communities can use to resolve conflicts among themselves and with government, investors, immigrants and settlers
“The government was surprised because we [the seven indigenous groups] go together to the authorities to demand that dossiers be expedited at ANATI and MIAMBIENTE.” — Manuel Martinez, Project coordinator

Completed


From: 30 June 2015
To: 30 April 2017

Budget
US$824,000

Proponents

COONAPIP (a federation of indigenous governments), and grant administration by registered NGO, Program for Social Promotion and Development (PRODESO)

Partners

Traditional authorities (congresses and councils) of participating indigenous territories

Associates

Government of Panama: National Land Administration Authority (ANATI)

National Environmental Authority (ANAM)

National Commission for Political and Administrative Limits

National Geographic Institute “Tommy Guardia”

Rainforest Foundation US

Beneficiaries

Indigenous Peoples, communities and their participating traditional authorities

COONAPIP

National Land Administration Authority (ANATI)

National Environmental Authority (ANAM)

National Commission for Political and Administrative Limits

National Geographical Institute “Tommy Guardia”

Academic and civil society organizations

Lessons Learned

  • Greater inclusion and equity for women and girls in the titling processes remains a challenge.
  • A detailed roadmap for titling is needed for all parties to understand the roles and responsibilities of each actor at every step.
  • Close working relationships between COONAPIP and government authorities is essential as evidenced by success of joint teams for preparing and verifying the titling application documents.
  • A strong Tenure Facility Country Focal Point for the entire project would have been valuable.
  • The windows of opportunity for the titling of indigenous territories can be very short, remaining open for only a few months and then closing abruptly due to government´s political considerations, without specific changes in a country’s relevant laws or the larger political and economic context.
  • A forward-looking legal framework, particularly in countries like Panama is not sufficient. The current framework can be complex, and the contradictions or inconsistencies within the various rules that regulate titling processes can be hard to understand, and these discrepancies can become “bottlenecks.”
  • A monitoring, assessment and learning system or approach must be tailored to a particular organization because organizations are different from each other. This suggests that, in the process creating the Tenure Facility monitoring, assessment and learning system, the “bottom-up” approach must be considered through paying more attention to local experience development, and seeing how these local experiences can feed into a system which applies to all Tenure Facility activities.