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Jan 21, 2021

M.L.A. Goes Before the C.C.J.; A New Land Rights Commission to be Formed

The indigenous communities in the south have collectively prevailed in the courts since they initiated legal action against the Government of Belize in the nineties. The fight has always been over continued incursions on Maya lands.  Six years ago, the C.C.J. upheld the ruling of the Court of Appeal in respect of the common law doctrine that indigenous peoples’ land rights to customary tenure persist.  At the time of the decision, the legal victory was hailed as another milestone achievement in communal land rights struggle.  But not much has changed since, despite a commission being put in place to execute the C.C.J.’s consent order. This morning, the Maya Leaders Alliance and the Attorney General’s office appeared before the appellate jurisdiction for a compliance hearing.  Here’s News Five’s Isani Cayetano with a report.

 

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

In April 2015, the Caribbean Court of Justice, in handing down a decision affirming Maya customary land rights in Toledo District, also read a consent order which the Government of Belize is duty-bound to honor.  Since then, a commission was formed to work with representatives of the indigenous community in the implementation of that order under the previous administration.  Regrettably, the pace at which that process is being undertaken has been sluggish, to say the least.

 

Cristina Coc

Cristina Coc, Spokesperson, M.L.A.

“The Caribbean Court of Justice consent order and decision came about in 2015, this is almost six long years ago and by this time we had anticipated to have achieved a significant part of the implementation of this decision.  Unfortunately that is not the situation.  At today’s compliance hearing, the Caribbean Court of Justice continued to maintain supervision of the implementation process, and so at today’s compliance hearing one of the salient points that the Maya have made since 2015 and in fact prior to that is with respect to the urgency to preserve the status quo of our lands.”

 

The Maya Leaders Alliance, on behalf of the thirty-eight indigenous communities in the south, is clamoring for the preservation of the existing state of affairs where communal land rights are concerned.  That urgent appeal comes at a time when the Toledo Land Rights Commission is under review and a new chair is yet to be appointed.

 

Samantha Matute-Tucker, Attorney, Government of Belize

“The ministry is looking to appoint a new commissioner in February of 2021.”

 

Justice Wit

“Yes, what about the rest of the commission?”

 

Samantha Matute-Tucker

“Your honor, it is my instruction that the current structure of the commission is actually under review with a view to possibly expand the responsibilities and persons who make up that commission.  We have not finalized that review at this point, your honors.”

 

What the M.L.A. may very well be faced with is having to return to the drawing board insofar as any progress that has been made when it comes to defining their lands.  With a new government, a new minister and a new commissioner in place, perhaps the end is near.

 

Cristina Coc

“The Maya would like to see that one day when we finally have our lands demarcated, our titles in our hands, that we have a very rich and productive land that can still maintain our livelihoods and wellbeing.  We understand that it will take some time to reach this goal and in the meantime, however, our lands must be protected from any acts that might seek to erode and destroy the richness and integrity of our lands and resources.”

 

Sitting in on the virtual session today, Minister Dolores Balderamos-Garcia, whose portfolio includes Indigenous People’s Affairs, spoke on the strengthening of the commission in the days ahead.

 

Dolores Balderamos-Garcia, Minister of Indigenous People’s Affairs

“It was a very small commission, to our understanding, and certainly within the next two to three weeks we will have the commissioner in place and we do wish to keep at least two of the office staff that were actually on the commission so that there will be a level of continuity.  But we may appoint perhaps another two or three persons so that we, if I could say it this way, that we can beef up the commission to be more effective, if I could say that.”

 

For the Maya communities, notwithstanding a beefed up commission, the issue remains the continued incursions on communal land by so-called third parties.

 

Cristina Coc

“We have been utterly concerned and have expressed time and time again to the courts and to the government the concern with the ongoing and increased incursions on our lands by third parties, by agents of the state and by local and foreign investors without fully ensuring our free prior and informed consent.  As a point of fact, this was the basis and the origins of why we came to court in the first place, back in the early 90s and then again in 2007 and 2010.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.


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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