Features — 03 November 2015 — by Nuri Muhammad
Maya court decision opens way for reparation

BELIZE CITY, Mon. Nov. 2, 2015–The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) has made a landmark decision ordering that the Government of Belize pay “reparation” for centuries of wrong done to the Mayas of Belize. It has ordered that a special fund amounting to $300,000 be set up to serve the Maya community of the Toledo district.

After winning a decision in April where the CCJ ruled in favor of upholding the Maya Land Rights the Mayas additionally sued the Government for damages. The Court last week ruled that instead of “damages” that a special fund be set-up which seeks to address the centuries-old injustice against the Mayas.

The claim of the Maya was for compensation for centuries of injustice by successive governments, including those from colonial times.

“They did not award damages to the Maya. They awarded what they called ‘reparation’ for the centuries of discrimination that the Maya have suffered”, said attorney for the government, Senior Council Denys Barrow.

This is where the decision of the CCJ becomes interesting. While the decision is specifically on the Maya case it also sets a precedent for reparation for other groups in and out of Belize.

“It is a very profound decision for Belize, for the Caribbean in particular. In fact we have heard of the Caribbean community seeking reparations,” Pablo Mis, Program Coordinator, for the Maya Leaders Alliance has commented.

Back in April, in response to the claim by the Mayas for damages, Mr. Barrow had said that “the Mayas were not entitled to damages for deprivation of their rights, for the oppression they suffered any more than other groups who have also suffered oppression”. He added that, “everybody has a claim against the colonial system which we inherited upon independence.”

But at the time Barrow had not considered that a decision in the case of the Maya could have deeper implications for other ethnic groups in Belize who could also make a claim based on the Mayas’ case.

Reflecting on other ethnic groups in Belize demanding reparation Barrow had said at the time, “That has been a concern. I don’t know how strong it is now especially in view of the way how this case, the way how the decision has been founded. So it’s not to my mind an immediate fear, but it is a consideration which was be borne at the back of government’s mind.”

However, after Friday’s court decision Barrow said, “ I think lawyers, I think academics, I think university students, I think commentators will find a lot in this decision for which to be grateful. I am certainly very grateful for it and I commend the CCJ for their decision.”

What is reparation and why is it significant for Belizeans to know and understand its application?

According to David Commissiong, chairman of the Caribbean Pan African Network (CPAN), an organization with over 21 members throughout the region, “Reparation is making of amends for a wrong one has done, by paying money to or otherwise helping those who have been wronged – it also seeks to repair something that has been damaged. It is a principle of international law that the breach of an engagement involves an obligation to make reparation in an adequate form.”

According to REDRESS, an international advocacy group to end torture which seeks justice for survivors: “Reparation is a principle of law that has existed for centuries, referring to the obligation of a wrongdoing party to redress the damage caused to the injured party. Under international law, “reparation must, as far as possible, wipe out all the consequences of the illegal act and re-establish the situation which would, in all probability, have existed if that act had not been committed.”

The right to reparation is a well-established principle of international law. The International Law Commission affirmed this principle in its 53rd Session when it adopted the draft articles on responsibility of States for internationally wrongful acts.http://www.redress.org/what-is-reparation/what-is-reparation – three The right is also firmly embodied in international human rights treaties and declarative instruments and has been further refined by the jurisprudence of a large number of international and regional courts, as well as other treaty bodies and complaints mechanisms, says the advocacy group.

“In 2005, the UN General Assembly adopted the Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Violations of International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law. These Principles constitute a significant contribution to the codification of norms relating to the right to reparation,” it stated.

“What the region needs is not charity”, says Commissiong, “but reparations in the form of capital payments and developmental projects to compensate for the damage inflicted on African descendants of slaves brought to the Caribbean through the slave trade”.

While compensation has been paid out for numerous cases of injustice, the two that have drawn international attention are the case of the Jews who were persecuted during the Second World War and have since organized a Jewish reparations fund and the case of the Japanese Americans who were interned in the US during the WW2. For this injustice the US government has paid reparation to Japanese Americans.

In the case of reparation for slavery and colonialism there have been a number of noteworthy cases beginning in 1999.

According to Wikipedia, “In 1999, the African World Reparations and Reparation Truth Commission called for ‘the West’ to pay $777 trillion to Africa within five years. In 2004, Lloyd’s of London was sued by the descendants of African slaves. In Jamaica in 2004, a coalition of Rastafarian movement groups argued that European countries, especially Britain, should pay 72.5 billion pounds sterling to resettle 500,000 Jamaican Rastafarians in Africa.”

“In 2007, Guyana called for European nations to pay reparations for the slave trade. In 2011, Antigua & Barbuda called for reparations at the United Nations, saying ‘that segregation and violence against people of African descent had impaired their capacity for advancement as nations, communities and individuals’. In 2012, Jamaica revived its reparations commission, to consider the question of whether the country should seek an apology or reparations from Britain for its role in the slave trade. Also in 2012, the Barbados government established a 12-member Reparations Task Force, to be responsible for sustaining the local, regional and international momentum for reparations. Barbados is currently leading the way in calling for reparations from former colonial powers for the injustices suffered by slaves and their families,” says the online information source.

“In 2013, in the first of a series of lectures in Georgetown, Guyana, to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the 1763 Berbice Slave Revolt, Principal of the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies, Sir Hilary Beckles, urged Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries to emulate the position adopted by the Jews who were persecuted during the Second World War and have since organized a Jewish reparations fund. Many Haitians want France to return the money it got from Haiti in 1825 for Haiti’s independence and for slavery reparations,” Wikipedia further mentions.

During a recent Jamaica Gleaner editors’ forum, the message from the chairman of The National Commission for Reparations, Professor Verene Shepherd, was that reparation is a debt for injustice, and a legitimate claim, a right if you will, and like all debts, it just cannot disappear.

“This movement is growing, and the Caribbean has inspired the United States to reactivate its reparation movement,” Shepherd said. “They have just formed their own reparations commission, and they had a huge conference in New York [April 9-12], a rally at which Jesse Jackson, Jeremiah Wright, and Danny Glover, who is a reparation advocate, spoke, so it’s growing. Brazil is coming on board, Europe has now formed a reparation commission. So, this is becoming global. Africa is coming on board as well,” Shepherd commented.

University of Belize lecturer and Vice-Chair of the Belize Commission Initiative for Justice and Reparation, Cesar Ross, said of the groundbreaking case in Belize, “We have been a part of the support network for the MLA; we were with them every step of the way.”

He added that, “we were very happy for the decision. It’s a small amount, but it’s a sign that the CCJ is supporting the idea of reparation. We want to use this as a support example to bring the various groups in Belize together”.

The Commission for Reparation in Belize was spearheaded by the late Ambassador Bert Tucker in 2013.

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