BELIZE CITY, Mon. Oct. 23, 2017–Back in 2015, the Government of Belize undertook via a letter from its attorney to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) to “work towards demarcation and registration of the Maya villages’ property rights by December 31, 2017.” That date is just over two months away, but the parties are nowhere close to achieving that milestone.
In fact, when the parties appeared before the CCJ today, attorney for the Maya appellants, Magali Marin-Young, told the CCJ that there has been a “complete failure by the Government to abide by the court’s order and to develop affirmative measures to identify and protect proprietary rights of Maya arising from customary tenure.”
She added that save and except for establishing the Toledo Maya Lands Rights Commission, there has furthermore been a failure to develop legislative, administrative and other measures necessary to create an effective mechanism to identify and protect the rights of the Maya.
The CCJ notes that, “On April 22, 2015, the parties in this case entered into a Consent Order in which, among other things, the Government of Belize agreed to develop a mechanism to recognize the land rights of the indigenous Maya people.”
It explained that today’s hearing was intended to provide a status update to the Court on the progress made in implementing the Consent Order.
According to Marin-Young, the Government is “in flagrant violation of [the] court’s order” to abstain from any act, even by agents or third parties with its acquiescence, that “might adversely affect the value, use or enjoyment of the lands that are used and occupied by the Maya villages, unless such acts are preceded by consultation with them…”
Marin-Young said that the Government has proceeded to issue forestry permits and other resource permits in violation of the CCJ’s order, and she furthermore told the court that “there has been no demarcation and documentation of Maya lands” even 3 years after this order.
Counsel for the Maya also told the court that they are also concerned that there has been no meaningful consultation with the Toledo Maya on the matter, and moreover, that the $300,000 which the CCJ had granted to the Toledo Maya as reparations, to assist with the implementation of the CCJ order, has already been spent.
The Maya told the CCJ that they are “greatly dismayed at the manner in which the funds have been handled,” as it has, in their view, “been frittered away in paying for commission,” including the cost of furnishings, when Government gave the impression it would operate at the government’s own cost.
Appearing before the CCJ today, Solicitor General Nigel Hawke said that he had been instructed by the Government side that the expenses of the Commission have already exceeded the amount awarded as reparations.
One of the considerations being discussed by the court is the need for more funds to be allocated to the process.
CCJ president Dennis Byron said that the parties on both sides have been thoughtful and demonstrated an approach of collaboration to finding solutions to the complex issues identified in the implementation of this order.
They also discussed the prospect of setting up an arbitration tribunal to deal with land disputes arising out in the areas now declared to be Maya ancestral land.
The court took the time today to draft a preliminary order to address the outstanding issues, but it has slated 1:00 p.m. next Monday as the date on which it will conclude its review and solidify its order.