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Mar 14, 2019

The Human Rights Commission of Belize Reacts to Allegations of Human Rights Abuses

A recent report is critical of the human rights situation in Belize especially as it relates to the Ministry of National Security. Today, the Vice President of the Human Rights Commission, Kevin Arthurs, broke down the areas of human rights abuses and corruption. Arthurs says these cases can’t be simply swept under the rug. News Five’s Duane Moody reports.

 

Duane Moody, Reporting

The 2018 Human Rights Report for Belize by the U.S. State Department, in a nutshell, is not good for the country and reflects that much work is needed to address human rights issues. The declaration of a state of public emergency and specific incidents in which residents were killed at the hands of lawmen were ventilated in the report. Aside from the allegations of unlawful killings, the Arbitrary Deprivation of Life,” the report speaks to the volatility of a developing country.

 

Kevin Arthurs

Kevin Arthurs, V.P., Human Rights Commission, Belize

“This is not necessarily the end of the process; it is just a snapshot of where we are and a third eye view of where we are from the U.S. State Department’s vantage point. And so it is an opportunity for us to take stock of where we are, to take steps to correct certain things—we might disagree with certain things in there—and we might always want to elaborate and dig deeper into some of the things that they have pointed out. A lot of the observations that were made were made in respect to the things that fall under the national security and the police department. Well we have a new police department and there is a honeymoon period that they do have. And so for the commissioner, I hope that he takes it as an opportunity to see what had been going wrong and to use it as a watermark to where improvements can be made.”

 

Back in December, 2016, Belize signed on to the United Nation’s Convention Against Corruption. It’s been over two years since it was adopted, due to the outcry by social partners, but the process of implementation has been moving slow. The report also spoke of corruption and lack of transparency in government.

 

Kevin Arthurs

“Corruption does affect the ability to deliver on human rights issues and I think that is why it was included at that point there. As you rightly said, Belize has signed on to the UNCAC and according to the government official, it’s an entire process and we have been taking steps to it. To me, what I pulled out of that aspect of the report was more so the fact that the U.S. authorities were not fooled by certain moves that were made. What the report says is that there have been a move to take lower level or middle level people and the higher level people walk around almost with impunity. And so that little trick of saying I will give you the security guard when it’s the big boss giving the trouble, the U.S. government is indirectly, to my mind, saying it doesn’t fool anybody. Where we want to see the actual change is dealing with where the head of corruption is and to get it chopped off.”

 

Recently, pictures surfaced of the deplorable condition in which prisons were held at a police precinct in Belize City. Since then, renovations are underwear to fix the cell. Vice President of the Human Rights Commission of Belize, Kevin Arthurs says that it is more than that and some prisoners have been deprived of their rights.

 

Kevin Arthurs

“Our prisons have always been a thing of concern and a soft spot for me because I do believe that although we have better management than we used to have, there is tremendous room for improvement. One of the issues that they are having is in relation to complaints by prisoners. No system works properly so imagine you are in the prison and you have a prison officer who doesn’t like you. Who do you complain to? Well there is a provision in the law that allows for a visiting justice which allows for prisoners, who are having issues, to complain to and to have those issues resolved. For years we’ve been advocating for that person and for that authority to be able to go in and do that on a regular basis. The U.S. statement or report is that other human rights agencies have been allowed to go in.”

 

Under the laws of Belize, a child can legally work from the age of fourteen. A recent survey shows that forty-two percent of the Belizean population are children; a large number of that population is victim to child labour, particularly in the agricultural industries. This is a major human rights concern and there have been several programmes implemented by G.O.B. to reduce the cases. The report makes reference to the many issues affecting children including early and forced marriage, the sexual exploitation of children and child labour.

 

Kevin Arthurs

“Child labour is a significant issue and when you have issues of continuing economic crisis in the country—it’s an international phenomenon—then you’re going to have these things come up. The report also pointed out to issues of trafficking in persons which we know is a tremendous problem. We know that it exists and we have not had the prosecution that we should have.”

 

A recurring theme from the 2017 report that was highlighted is the length of time between charging someone and trial dates, which generally spans about six years. Duane Moody for News Five.

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