BELIZE CITY, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018– Caribbean Court of Justice judge Jacob Wit met with the attorneys for the Government of Belize and the Maya Leaders Alliance (MLA) and Toledo Alcaldes Association (TAA) today via teleconference, to personally resolve one of the big issues that he adjudged has been causing the implementation of the CCJ judgement of a Consent Order – Maya Customary Land Tenure and Rights, to have been delayed since it was ordered by the court almost 3 years ago, in April 2015.
Judge Wit had said in court earlier this week that he believed that “a dispute resolution framework needs to be established. We ask you to do so.” He went on to state, “We got a dispute resolution proposal from the government’s side and a letter from Mrs. Coc-Magusson reacting on that. The idea is that we will sit together, you and I, and I propose that that will happen this week. if possible on the 22nd Thursday, same time as now. So 11 o’ clock our time, 9 o’clock your time. I will give you some thoughts how I want to get this done, because after 3 years the parties have not succeeded in getting anything done in this regard and this cannot continue. So I will give you my ideas so that you can start thinking about that.”
“Dispute resolution framework that is proposed is much too complicated. I think there needs to be an authoritative person and I think that could be a retired judge from Belize, somebody of that stature. That is in a short, succinct way the direction I would like to discuss with you, and I insist that we get to some sort of results as we cannot continue in the way that we have continued up to now. Of course, you do not have to agree with me, but it would be advisable that in some way you do,” stated the judge.
The CCJ judges have imposed a deadline of March 9 for the parties to file a draft working plan, and they are to return before the court on March 15 for another report.
Judge Wit’s unusual step signals the court’s and the Maya’s exasperation with the Barrow administration’s delay in implementing the court order. This was signalled by the fact that the GOB-appointed chair of the Toledo Maya Land Rights Commission, former Senator Lisel Alamilla, was not only not present in court, but is not even presently in Belize; instead, she is in San Borja, Peru, South America.
The parties will have to figure out, and agree on, how to resolve the other big issue of how to move the consultation process forward.
The Government of Belize acknowledges that it has been slow walking through the process. saying that these things take time, and that they can’t rush without considering all the possible unintended consequences of the change that would be required. Only one meeting has so far been held.
For the MLA and the TAA, this week’s hearing is yet another step in a process that began eleven years ago with a judgement by then Belize Chief Justice Dr. Abdulai Conteh on October 11, 2007. In that seminal judgement, he ruled that the Government of Belize had consistently failed to recognize and protect the Maya’s property rights for the lands they and their ancestors have traditionally used and occupied~ and that this failure to accord the same legal recognition and protection to Maya customary property rights that has been extended to other forms of property, is discriminatory and a violation of sections 3 and 6 of the Belize Constitution.
The matter has been taken to the Belize Court of Appeal and twice to the CCJ.
In an interview on News5, Cristina Coc, the spokesperson for the Maya leaders (MLA/TAA), complained that the long delay amounted to an erosion of their ancestral land rights.
“While we continue to debate on the dates and the frameworks and the mechanisms that are supposed to be put in place to protect our rights as indigenous people”, she said, “we continue to see the loss of our resources; we continue to see the incursions and the injustice on our lands. And what we’ve impressed on the court – and I am happy to say today that the court seems to have begun to see how this problem has to stop; in fact, one of the justices said it very clearly – ‘this can’t continue, we have to stop this,’” said Coc.
She also noted they were “… very pleased to hear that the court has taken a very direct and involved position on this particular issue, because we don’t want twenty years to go by and there is no implementation and our resources are completely, completely wiped out.”