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Mar 15, 2018

M.L.A. wins concessions from Gov’t at C.C.J.

There is some progress to report concerning the implementation of the historic April 2015 Consent Order on communal land rights. The Maya Leaders Alliance and Toledo Alcaldes Association, representing the Maya villages of the Toledo District, and the Government of Belize have set some deadlines concerning the setting up of a dispute resolution framework between the Maya communities and the Government. The Court’s order of further consultation on the draft work plan for implementation is also being worked on, though that is expected to take a little longer. Both parties appeared before the Caribbean Court of Justice today. News Five’s Aaron Humes reports.

 

Aaron Humes, Reporting

Are things at last looking up for the Maya communities of the South after years of what they have seen as stalling and foot-dragging from Belmopan? It remains to be seen, as the Caribbean Court of Justice today set further deadlines for two important components of the Consent Order being fulfilled.

 

Pablo Mis, Program Coordinator, MLA

Pablo Mis

“What we had today out of this court hearing is again, an order that has established two dates for the Government to comply with. One has to do with the dispute resolution mechanism. The fact is that we cannot pursue the implementation of this order if there are ongoing violations, because at the end of the day when we are finally implementing, there will be nothing to protect. So the court is very clear on that. And the government have explained that they need some time to take directives from those who make decisions on the proposed mechanism that is before the Court; now they have committed to the Court to have that finalized by April sixth, so that should be filed with the Court. The work plan needs to be appreciated in the context that this is about the future of the Maya people; this is about the future of many people. And it is something that will require – and the Court has instructed – requires proper consultation. And again the Commission had failed to comply with dates it has given the court to hold consultation with the Maya people on this; they finally sent us a draft work plan two days ago, that needs to be reviewed properly, as I said, because this is the future of the Maya people. We have committed to them that we will submit our review in writing by April sixth. And then we’ve gotten from the Government side a commitment that within the next two months, we’re should be able to have an agreed and joint work plan to submit to the C.C.J., as per its orders.”

 

Mis told News Five that despite Government’s insistence that it is taking their situation seriously, it is they at this point who have more to lose.

 

Pablo Mis

“The Court today displayed its concern that its orders are not being followed. That is not good if we’re going to try to use the court’s time and effort to guide this very historic decision to fruition. We also want to note that these are very important obligations that the Government has made not only to the people of Belize, but also internationally, in compliance with its obligation to uphold the rule of law and uphold human rights. Belize in fact comes up for review before the United Nations Human Rights Council in November and this will certainly be an issue that will be discussed there. And as good citizens of this wonderful country, we would like to be able to share with the rest of the world a positive trajectory for the defense of human rights and rule of law in Belize.”

 

When the case was first tried there was particular opposition from both a partisan political and personal perspective for individual title holders. Mis says that has died down some even as the attacks from would be prospectors are sustained.

Pablo Mis

“We’re not talking about an abstract idea here; it is the living reality of the people of the South. We understand that we are in a changing environment, and within a changing environment there are diverse views. It is therefore very important that the work plan is put in place, so that we can give our communities, our people,  proper guidance to determine how we construct a vibrant and resilient future, not only for the Maya peoples of the South, but in a way that it contributes to the development of Belize. My understanding is that [U.S. Capital Energy] is still trying to pursue renewing its permit, its license. The Court is very clear: order number four clearly states that the Government ought to cease and desist from continuing to issue such licenses, unless it seeks the consent of the Maya people. So the Maya people have always been open to engage and deliberate on these kinds of matters so that they can be a part of making the decisions that will frame their future. The other issue I think that is predominantly happening as we speak is the issue of logging. And again, we see for instance the Forest Department – in some ways as our communities put it – colluding with license holders to push for licensees to be able to log. We have also documented and reported the involvement of law enforcement accompanying the loggers to the communities, in what we can say would be an act to intimidate the unity and the leadership of the alcaldes and village chairman in several of our communities. These things are of concern to us, and these are things that we are not only reporting to the Court; we are also reporting to the international community.”

 

Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.

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