Following a favorable ruling yesterday by Supreme Court Justice Michelle Arana, the Maya Leaders Alliance (MLA) and the Toledo Alcaldes Association (TAA) have stated that the dispute between the Government and the Maya can only be resolved through dialogue, on the premise that their land rights exist, and they are inviting the Office of the Prime Minister, the Attorney General, the Minister of Natural Resources, the Ministry of Forestry and Sustainable Development and the Ministry of the Environment, for talks which they say should put an end to the need for further litigation.
“We want to get to work demarcating and registering our lands, so that both the Maya and Belize as a whole can focus on the more important work of improving the lives of all Belizeans with sustainable development that preserves the environment on which we all depend,” the Maya leaders said.
They noted that later this year, the MLA and TAA will be going to the Caribbean Court of Justice to seek an order for the Government of Belize to recognize and respect the rights of the Maya people to their lands and resources – which they contend is an obligation that Belize has under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
However, Madam Justice Arana called on the Government of Belize and the Maya community “to come together to put in place measures that will ensure that those rights [affirmed in the ruling] are respected and enforced, while working together to achieve the development and progress that this country needs, and that will benefit all parties concerned,” they said in a statement released today.
The MLA and TAA said that they are pleased that the court has reaffirmed the right of the Maya to the land that they use and depend upon for their survival, and moreover that their free, prior and informed consent must be given for activities on these lands.
“We are encouraged by the words of Justice Arana where she declared: ‘[the] Defendants [Government of Belize and US Capital Energy] would comply with their obligations under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to respect the rights of the Indigenous Maya Peoples to their lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired [when issuing permits and concessions],’” the statement said.
Arana said that, “Charting the way forward, I must emphasize that in my view there is nothing to be gained and much to lose for the Government of Belize to continue to insist that the Mayas have no customary rights to lands in Southern Belize. In my respectful view, for the reasons already expressed in this judgment, that ship has already sailed, and it is therefore in the best interest of all parties concerned, including but not limited to the Government and Maya peoples, to come together…”
The MLA and TAA congratulate SATIIM (The Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management) and the buffer communities for leading the Maya people and Belize in this most recent round of victory.
In a release issued today, SATIIM said, “[the NGO] and the indigenous Maya peoples urge the Government of Belize and US Capital Energy to immediately comply with the ruling. Armed with this latest judgment, the communities are currently engaged in meetings aimed at reaching consensus on definitive actions considering that US Capital has publicly stated they will not comply. The communities so far have agreed that they will no longer tolerate the Government of Belize and US Capital Energy to continue to violate their rights and undermine the rule of law.”