Museum of Freedom and Human Rights opens in Panama

May 30, 2019    

The Museum of Freedom and Human Rights, Museo de la Libertad y los Derechos Humanos, held its inaugural celebrations on May 21, 2019 to open Equality, the first of three buildings on the campus. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, President Juan Verala and Vice President Isabel Sant Mallo of Panama inaugurated the exhibition with the Chairman of the Foundation, Betty Brannan Jaen. Over two hundred fifty civil society representatives, members of the diplomatic corps, government ministers, UN agencies, donors and invited guests attended.

A pioneering undertaking, the museum is the first of its kind in Central America and unique among human rights museums in Latin America for its content and approach.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights during the inauguration of the Museum of Freedom on Human Rights in Panama City, Panama. OACNUDH

The inaugural exhibition, Human Rights: Yours, Mine, Everyone’s, was curated by Heidi McKinnon, ED of Curators Without Borders, and includes three galleries which look at the history of human rights both in Panama and internationally, stories that illustrate the articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and a look at what individual inspiring voices are doing in the world today to safeguard the future of human rights. The exhibition ends in a dialogue space where visitors can reflect on what they have experienced and consider ways to support human rights in their own communities.

CWB was hired by the Democracy and Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Panama City, for museum planning, exhibition content development and management. The international team of exhibit partners included Curators Without Borders leading exhibition development. ReHab Designs of Mexico City headed exhibition design and fabrication, and 32 Bits of Brazil designed all technology and interactive solutions for the museum.

The exhibition concept is based on a a personalized view of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that puts the visitor in the center and allows them to understand the Declaration’s impact on all aspects of their lives. The Declaration is divided into seven groupings: Me, My Physical Integrity, My Privacy, Family and Beliefs, My Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, My Civic Participation, My Access to Justice and Our Common Good. All exhibit photos by Alberto German Rodriguez Rojas.
Exhibit entrance showing the timeline of human rights and the video mapping installation, A Fractured World.
The timeline is a complicated geometric installation that tells the story of the history of human rights from the signing of the Magna Carta to the Universal Declaration and Panama’s role in its development.
A Fractured World is a dynamic three-dimensional cave designed by ReHab Design with a poignant video mapping sequence created by Tiago Moreno of Sambacine that illustrates our world today, taking the visitor on a journey through war, displacements, migration, racism, protest, slavery and climate change. How far have we come since the signing of the Universal Declaration?
In the second gallery, the groupings of the Declaration become three-dimensional spheres where visitors can explore stories related to each article of the Declaration. Thematic sections include forced migration and refugees, genocide, childhood, inequality, human rights defenders, the fight for democracy in the Americas, and gender equality. Each thematic section includes an installation with original content, objects and multimedia experiences that ask the visitor to interact with and reflect on the content and how these concepts impact their own lives.
My Physical Integrity adresses the Panamanian exile experience during the dictatorship, forms of modern slavery, forced migration and refugees, genocides and torture.
Each sphere has an interactive section called What Do You Think? where we ask visitors to leave their comments and answer questions about what they have learned.
My Privacy, Family and Beliefs where we touch upon Digital Privacy, Marriage Equality, Childhood and Religious Intolerance in the world today.
In My Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, we discuss labor exploitation, inequality, intellectual property rights for intangible cultural heritage, girls education worldwide and Panamanian cases relating to social security, access to a healthcare and indigenous colective property rights affected by the construction of the Bayano Dam.
The fouth sphere takes a more outward looking approach at our rights by looking at our place in civil society and our rights to freedom of expression, reunion and association, and the role and sacrifices of human rights defenders. We were able to acquire a shield from the spring 2017 protests in Venezuela to illustrate how active participation in a democracy can take all forms of expression. Cultural Survival and Witness for Peace offered important content on indigenous community radio and the struggle of human rights defenders with whom they work.
My Access to Justice looks at emblematic cases such as the El Mozote massacres in El Salvador and the case of serial femicide in Mexico known as the Campo Algodonero case. We also addressed the right to an identity and the rights of transgender people in Panama to change their names on official identification.
My Access to Justice also focuses on gender equality and femicide with an installation that includes crosses from Campo Algodonero donated by the families of disappeared women in Juarez, Mexico thorugh our collaboration with human rights law firm, GADH, in Mexico City.. Our case on access to a fair trial allowed us to work with the defense team of Guantanamo prisoner, Ammar al Baluchi, who donated the shirt off if his back, used during his interrogations in Guantanamo, Cuba.
The final section of this gallery, Our Common Good, looks at the international human rights system, discusses regional human rights organizations, treaties and instruments of international human rights law, civil society proposals, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the last three articles of the Declaration.
The last gallery of the exhibition is called Inspiring Voices. We look at future generations of human rights and highlight people and organizations working to make their communities and our world a better place.
Future Generations introduces proposals for expanding our human rights. The interactives focus on civil society and UN proposals related to Biological, Environmental, Intergenerational, Technological and Communications rights. What can we expect for the future. We ask visitors to leave their comments in our testimony cabins.
For Inspiring Voices, we had the pleasure to work with international voices such as Iranian lawyer, activist and Nobel winner Shirin Ebadi and Liisa Kauppinen, who was instrumental in advocating for the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.
Our collaboration with The Syria Campaign and the Syrian Civil Defense allowed us to highlight the work of the White Helmets and tell their story with the helmet of Walid Britawi, who died during a bombing outside Aleppo, Syria in 2017.
The exhibit ends in the center of the gallery, which is a space for dialogue about the experience and how we can work to improve our communities and #StandUp4HumanRights.

It has been a pleasure and a labor of love bringing this project to life and we thank the Foundation for Democracy and Freedom as well as all of our colleagues, civil society partners and the international agencies who were instrumental in making this work a reality.