Belize: Maya People Return to Supreme Court for Protection
Punta Gorda, Toledo District, The Maya Leaders Alliance and the Toledo Alcaldes Association are once again turning to the courts to hold the government of Belize to its responsibilities and to find the government in contempt of orders issued by the Supreme Court in the Maya Land Rights cases of 2007 and 2010.
In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the Maya villages of Conejo and Santa Cruz have customary tile to the lands they traditionally use and occupy in accordance with their ancestral land tenure system. In 2010 the Court delivered a similar declaration with respect to all of the Maya villages of southern Belize. In both cases, the Supreme Court issued injunctions prohibiting government or third party interference with Maya lands until title is documented and registered. The 2007 injunction was never appealed and the 2010 injunction remains in full effect during the appeals process.
In blatant violation of the court’s orders, the government of Belize has issued permits to US Capital Energy Belize and is allowing the company to proceed with oil development activities on Maya lands. In doing so, the government is denying the Maya people’s rights to our lands, and is disregarding the authority of the courts and the fundamental tenants of democracy such as security of property and the rule of law.
The Maya people seek protection from the courts because we must. As Chief Justice Conteh wisely advised in his 2010 judgement, “it is in the interest of all Belizeans that the process of reconciliation be engaged as soon as possible, so that an honourable settlement with the Maya people can be achieved.”
We urge the government to reconsider its persistent refusal to recognize the Maya peoples as indigenous peoples and our corresponding rights to the lands upon which we live, farm, and depend for our survival. The legal validity of our customary land rights was upheld twice by the Supreme Court and before that by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2004. Numerous United Nations treaty bodies, special procedures and mechanisms have urged the government of Belize to comply with its human rights obligations to recognize and protect Maya land rights.
Just this year, the U.N. Human Rights Committee and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have called on Belize to recognize Maya land rights and desist from issuing resource extraction concessions. These recommendations come on the heels of similar pronouncements from the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the U.N. Human Rights Council in its Universal Periodic Review of Belize.
We urge the Attorney General, the Minister of Natural Resources and the Ministers whose portfolios are affected by the land rights issue to sit down at the table with the Maya people to develop a framework that will benefit both the Maya and the government alike. Demarcation and titling of our lands and our landholding system is necessary so that both the Maya and Belize as a whole can move forward with the vitally important work of improving the lives of all Belizeans through sustainable development that preserves the environment on which we all depend.
 Copies of international reports are available on request.
Photo: Maya village in Belize
Credit: Chelsea Purvis/MRG