Features — 17 July 2015 — by Adele Ramos
GOB recognized Maya “exclusive right” to control who lives in villages?

BELIZE CITY, Tues. July 14, 2015–The controversy over the ejection of Rupert Myles from Santa Cruz, a Maya village in Toledo, has been put before the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in a claim filed by Maya leaders on July 3, 2015.

Attorney for the Maya, Monica Coc Magnusson, said that the claim not only addresses the Rupert Myles/Santa Cruz matter, but also allegations that the Government of Belize has failed to provide protection in other communities as well, including Golden Stream and San Isidro with respect to leasing and logging.

Government attorney Denys Barrow had issued a statement of commitment dated April 20, 2015, and Magnusson said that under paragraph 3 of that statement, the Government said that it “recognizes the exclusive right of each village, subject to law, to control who may take up residence within the villages’ lands.”

Magnusson added that, “They put this in writing and now it seems that their position is different. Hence, the need for clarity…”

However, Barrow has previously told us that the Maya “…need to understand that the national laws of Belize apply to them as much as anybody else,” noting that it is a question of how Maya rights and interests are reconciled with the national interest.

He said that, “The idea that Maya customary law practices within their villages and among their people can be applied to and imposed upon non-Maya persons and non-Maya in relation to let’s say forestry resources, these are things which the CCJ did not and could not address, [as] the issue did not arise for determination at that level.”

According to Barrow, the Government will object to the filing by the Maya, since if it is a question of the violation of the CCJ’s consent order of April 2015, they should have called for contempt proceedings against the Government of Belize – which, he said, has not been done.

Magnusson contends that the CCJ application became necessary because the Government failed to honor its undertaking under the April 22, 2015 CCJ consent order, particularly with respect to failing to protect the rights of the Maya people, as it is required to do under paragraph 4 — for example, to cease and abstain from any acts that might adversely affect the value, use or enjoyment of the lands that are used and occupied by the Maya villages.

“We are asking the court to declare that the collective property rights arising from Maya customary land tenure include the right of Maya villages to determine, pursuant to customary law, who may enter, use and reside in their customary lands,” Magnusson stated.

A date for hearing has not yet been scheduled.

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