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Apr 27, 2016

IMPACT Justice Project Commences Three-day Conference in Belize

The IMPACT Justice Project kicked off today with a three-day conference at the Biltmore Plaza in Belize City. It had the participation of indigenous people from the entire Caribbean including the Maya and Garifuna communities from Belize. In the next few days, the conference is looking at balancing national development and the rights of indigenous people. In today’s session, the conference looked at regional decisions on land rights claims as well as the status of customary land rights. News Five’s Duane Moody reports.

 

Pablo Mis, Program Coordinator, MLA

“This is not about any special rights, it is not about asserting a state within a state. This is really fundamental human rights that the world is working on and the tide is finally reaching, I think, a small nation as Belize.”

 

Duane Moody, Reporting

Shifting the tide on how indigenous people are perceived. A conference on Indigenous Peoples of the Caribbean is being held in Belize as part of the public legal education program of the Improved Access to Justice in the Caribbean (IMPACT Justice). The regional project hone in on the rights of people across the Caribbean and in this case, focuses on the violations on the rights of indigenous people. Pablo Mis spoke on behalf of the Q’eqchi and Mopan Mayas of southern Belize.

 

Pablo Mis

Pablo Mis

“This is a historic event being held in Belize. I don’t think there is any other place best to have had this kind of event other than here, given the themes that are being discussed and also in the backdrop of a court order that we’re currently in the process of pursuing implementation with the government of Belize. You will see from the topics that are being discussed; it includes land demarcation, extractive industries on indigenous people’s land. It talks about free prior and informed consent; it talks about policies and legislation that are to be put in place if we are to protect them and safeguard the rights of indigenous peoples. As Maya communities, we have been engaging with these themes perhaps much more than any other sector of the Belizean society. We have utilized all these instruments that are talked of here, the case laws that are being talked of here. It is on these premises that we have been victorious in the court. I think that it is powerful though for the many other representatives that are here, including government officials.”

 

While the Maya and the Garifuna people are being featured for Belize, Maya Leaders Alliance Program Coordinator Pablo Mis says that a census would show that their basic human rights have been violated.

 

Pablo Mis

“If you think about the Maya land rights, it is not necessarily about the land in itself; it is about a historical injustice. Look, in 1981, when we celebrated as Belize the end of tyranny, the end of slavery, and we rejoiced for freedom. Yet if you look at every sector of the Belizean population, including the Maya communities…you look at the census and it tells you that we live in the most impoverish area, you look at the access to healthcare, the access to education…the nutrition of our children throughout the country. These are issues that we are all grappling with.”

 

Dr. Arif Bulkan, Deputy Dean, Faculty of Law, UWI St. Augustine

“There is no standard definition of indigineity at international law, but they do recognize that there are certain elements that the Garifuna established. That they have been displaced, that they have been marginalized. So it is not only about your ethnicity or the color of your skin, but the common suffering…that they have been displaced. And it’s been hundreds of years. So there are actually very strong arguments at the international law that supports their claim to being indigenous.”

 

Arif Bulkan

According to Chairman of the Indigenous Program, Doctor Arif Bulkan, the discussion on the rights of indigenous people is complicated because both the government and the cultural communities have different interests—i.e., national development versus indigenous human rights.

 

Dr. Arif Bulkan

“The fact that the case itself makes the conference very timely. It is not just a Belizean issue. Indigenous peoples from across the region faces similar problems, very similar issues, like non-recognition of communal lands, encroachment by third parties. And states understandable face a lot of other challenges. So indigenous people are concerns about their livelihoods, their communities, but governments are looking at the bigger picture. They are looking at national development and economic development and so they want to mind and get revenues from gold and timber and so on. So I think we all are aware that there are competing interests.”

 

At the end of the three-day conference, an action plan to guide indigenous constituencies and national decision–makers in the region will be created.

 

Velma Newton

Professor Velma Newton, Regional Project Director, IMPACT Justice Project

“An action plan to which the indigenous people themselves contribute because they are going to be working in groups outside of the plenary and at the end of the conference which is on Friday, during the final session, they will come up with points that they want to pursue. So we don’t know where that might take us; if we have an action plan, maybe it will provide a way forward for the governments and the peoples themselves to move on, to work towards other steps.”

 

Duane Moody

“So a strategy that can be implemented across the Caribbean?”

 

Professor Velma Newton

“Yes that’s what we are hoping for.”

 

Duane Moody for News Five.

 

The conference concludes on Friday. 

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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