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Oct 30, 2015

CCJ Awards Reparations to Maya Community

A delegation of leaders of the Maya Communities in the south sat today in the chambers of Justice Michelle Arana where by teleconference a decision was delivered by the Caribbean Court of Justice. The ruling was delivered by a panel of six justices headed by CCJ President, Sir Denys Byron. The CCJ reaffirmed that the Maya people had suffered injustices and ordered government to establish a fund. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The Caribbean Court of Justice has handed down a decision on the issue of damages pertaining to the Maya land rights claim.  Despite a consent order being signed by the Government of Belize and representatives of the Mayan communities in April affirming and recognizing customary land rights, the matter of costs was never resolved.  That was until this morning when the bench, via teleconference, gave a ruling.

 

Denys Barrow

Denys Barrow, Attorney for Government of Belize

“I think it’s an innovative and far reaching decision that they made, I commend them for it.  I think this is how the law develops and they did not award damages to the Maya, they awarded what they call reparations.  It’s a lovely concept, I am very fully in support of it and they awarded reparations for, as they said, centuries of discrimination that the Maya have suffered.”

 

As with the consent order, there also seems to be some confusion about what is determined in the recent decision.  According to Cristina Coc, spokesperson for the Maya Leaders Alliance, the CCJ has awarded damages to the claimants.  What both parties agree on is that the rights of the Mayas have long since been trampled upon.

 

Cristina Coc

Cristina Coc, Spokesperson, Maya Leaders Alliance

“The Caribbean Court of Justice has in fact, once again, reviewed and examined the overwhelming extent and assertion of our rights as Maya people to our lands and resources and the court has found that damage is due to the Maya people.  In fact, the court found that under the protection of law that the current regime of property rights, under the current regime of property rights it does not protect Maya customary land rights and therefore the rights of the Maya people have consistently been violated.”

 

At the appellate level, the CCJ sustained the decision of the Supreme Court not to award damages to the Mayas as a form of redress.

 

Denys Barrow

“The CCJ gave a decision this morning on the claim that the Maya made on appeal for damages for breach of their constitutional rights.  You will remember that government and the Maya claimants, appellants settled the appeal with a consent order with which we, the government, is very happy and the Maya are waiting for that consent order to be implemented.  So that’s the broader state of play.  There was a refusal by the Supreme Court to grant damages as a form of relief.  The Court of Appeal upheld that decision so they did not award damages.  The CCJ upheld two of our grounds of appeal, the government’s grounds of appeal and in relation to the third ground of appeal that there was not any violation of the right to protection of law of the Maya.  The CCJ decided that there had been a violation of the right to protection of law.”

 

That decision has resulted in an order to establish a fund that should be used to implement systems, as well as guidelines to safeguard the rights of the Maya.

 

Cristina Coc

“We are very pleased to announce that the court has found and has issued an order for the Government of Belize to, as a starting point, set aside three hundred thousand Belize dollars for a fund specific for the benefit of Maya people to begin to put in place mechanisms and legislation to protect the rights of the Maya indigenous people of Belize, as a starting point to the redress that the Maya people have long fought for.  So we are very happy, we’re very pleased.  This is a very historic moment for Belize.  It is certainly a very uplifting time for the Maya people because we recognized that for centuries the Maya people have been oppressed.”

 

Denys Barrow

“So this is not anything which the U.D.P. government has done, which the P.U.P. government has done but this is as a result of the state of the law which has prevailed in Belize for centuries.  And, I think in further clarification, in further confirmation of what they have done they have said that the government must establish a fund of three hundred thousand dollars as part of its commitment or in fulfillment of its commitment under the consent order.  So this money is not to be paid over to any of the claimants.  It is not to be paid over to the lawyers of the claimants; it is a fund that the government must establish.”

 

Pablo Mis

Program Coordinator Pablo Mis contextualizes the meaning of the decision.

 

Pablo Mis, Program Coordinator, Maya Leaders Alliance

“The decision of the Caribbean Court of Justice this morning essentially is an affirmation that a historical injustice has happened against the Maya people and as a first step to correct the existing circumstances that continue to sustain this historical injustice the court found it in their mind, the right thing to do, to set aside resources to help the Maya people in engaging with the Government of Belize to begin correcting the systems, the circumstances that continue to sustain historical injustices.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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