Highlights — 24 March 2015 — by Adele Ramos
CCJ’s historic sitting in Belize for hearing of Toledo Maya land rights case

BELIZE CITY, Mon. Mar. 23, 2015–The land rights claim of 23 Maya villages in Toledo against the Government of Belize was set for hearing this week, Wednesday, March 25, and Thursday, March 26, in Port of Spain, Trinidad, at the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Belize’s final appellate court.

However, the Caribbean Court of Justice, roughly two weeks ago, issued a notice informing the parties that it would hear the case in April, when the court is scheduled to have a historic sitting right here in Belize to commemorate Belize’s 5th year of joining the CCJ.

Senior Counsel Denys Barrow told Amandala that the Government has extensively reviewed the previous court decisions in the Maya Land Rights cases, and the Government accepts that the Maya, based on their occupation of certain Toledo villages since 1870 (since their return from Guatemala), should be accorded, as a matter of human rights, protection of property, in a manner similar to persons who would have protection after 30 years of adverse possession of government lands.

Barrow said that rights based on a long period of occupation are not the same as native or indigenous title, and he told us that the customary land rights claimed by the Maya and referenced by the court had really never been adequately defined.

He told us, though, that the Government does not accept any claim for reparations to the Maya, and they are only able to discuss claims in relation to acts of trespass which the Government has been accused of perpetrating – not for concessions such as petroleum concessions, since the Government continues to maintain that by law, petroleum resources belong to the Government and people of Belize.

Barrow told us that he and the attorney for the Maya, Antoinette Moore, SC, have agreed on about 80% of the issues, which means that the hearings originally set for 2 days may take only a day of the CCJ’s time here in Belize.

There are also expected to be ceremonial events, as well as professional forums, such as a session for Belize attorneys with the CCJ panel on the appeals process at the CCJ, during the visit of the CCJ to Belize.

Although there is no indication that the CCJ would attend to any pending judicial matter in Belize apart from the Maya land rights case, Barrow noted that it would be a great opportunity for the CCJ to hand down its decision on the nationalization cases it heard in 2014-2015, in the constitutional challenges by Fortis, British Caribbean Bank, Dean Boyce and other members of the Ashcroft Alliance against the Government of Belize.

Belize formally replaced the UK-based Privy Council with the Trinidad-based CCJ in June 2010. It was the third country to subscribe to the court’s appellate jurisdiction.

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