On April 3, 2014, Justice Arana handed down her decision in the action brought by Sarstoon/Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM) and others to stop the incursion into the national park for the purpose of oil exploration. Despite previous court decisions and government agreements on respecting the rights of the indigenous peoples, it was confusing and disturbing to see this matter back in court.
What prompted the return to Court had to do with the Government’s granting permission and permits to US Capital Energy to enter the National Park for the purpose of conducting petroleum exploration drilling activities and to build an access road to carry out such activities.
The Court declared that permission to allow road construction and commercial oil drilling was irrational, unreasonable and it follows that it is unlawful. It violated the legitimate expectations of SATIIM & Buffer Communities as established by the two “Maya Land Rights judgments” from the Supreme Court of Belize as well as the “United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People”, signed by Belize, and international law.
The Court ordered that the government engage the Maya people, the claimants in this case, in consultations and negotiations in respect of any license, permit or permission in the Sarstoon/Temash National Park.
What the Court failed to do was to cancel the existing permit US Capital Energy holds, deciding to let it naturally end on April 30. Possibly the Court assumed that the admonition to respect the rights of the Mayan peoples was enough. But it wasn’t.
Not only had US Capital Energy stated their intention to continue their activities, but also the Cabinet has given approval to extend US Capital Energy’s approval.
It is a sad commentary on where we are concerning respect for the law. We have three Supreme Court decisions and one decision from the Court of Appeals affirming customary land rights. We have deals made by the Government and US Capital Energy that fly in the face of those decisions.
SATIIM, along with claimants from five buffer communities surrounding the Sarstoon/Temash National Park, are back to Court seeking a post-judgment injunction in the Supreme Court to restrain Government from renewing, extending or issuing an extension to U.S. Capital Energy’s permit to conduct exploratory activity within the protected area.
What happens next? SATIIM and buffer communities have followed the law by taking the matter to Court, over and over again. What can people do when the indigenous peoples and the Court decisions are not followed?
The Belize Institute of Environmental Law and Policy (BELPO) urges the government to respect the Court decisions, abide by international law, the decision of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the 10 Point program the Government signed with the Maya peoples following the IACHR decision.
To do otherwise, leads to a complete breakdown of respect for the law. Such a breakdown can have terrible ramifications.
Dr. Candy Gonzalez