BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Mar. 14, 2019– The United States Department of State has released its 2018 Human Rights Report, and some 22 pages of the report cover human rights issues in Belize. The report highlights unlawful killings by security officers; allegations of corruption on the part of government officials and crimes involving violence directed against LGBTI persons; as well as trafficking in persons and child labor.
In Section 1 of the report, which deals with Freedom from Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings, an extra-judicial killing in Punta Gorda involving a police officer was mentioned.
“A separate investigation by the Office of the Attorney General found the death was a case of extrajudicial killing and financially compensated the family of the victim,” the report said.
“In February, seven Belize Defense Force (BDF) soldiers and one member of the police’s Special Branch Unit seconded to the BDF allegedly beat a man to death in Orange Walk over a suspected cell phone theft…. In September the court dismissed the case after the case file was lost,” said the report.
Under the section dealing with arbitrary arrest and detention, the report looked at the State of Public Emergency that the government declared last September.
“On September 4, the government imposed a 30-day state of public emergency in two zones of Belize City in response to gang violence,” the report noted.
The report went on to say that more than 100 persons who had suspected gang affiliation were detained under the state of public emergency.
“The government authorized BPD agents to detain citizens suspected of gang activity for up to 30 days. The constitution states that even under a state of emergency, detainees should be charged within seven days of detention, but authorities did not follow the law. After seven days, 70 of the detainees were released and 40 were informed that because of their engagement in gang activity, illegal possession of firearms and ammunition, and suspicion of murder, they were being placed under detention for the remainder of the state of emergency,” the report explained.
The report added, “The Human Rights Commission of Belize expressed ‘grave concern’ with the mechanism used by the state in introducing the proclamation, which ‘allows for the suspension of the fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed by the constitution’.”
Under “The Role of The Security Apparatus”, the report said: “In March the government deployed BDF soldiers to assist with BPD patrols in Southside Belize City in an effort to quell gang violence. The joint patrols were supposed to last 30 days but continued until the end of September.”
“The government often ignored reports of police abuse, delayed action, failed to take disciplinary action, or transferred accused officers to other areas within the department,” the report observed.
In looking at the press and media freedom, the report noted the BTL advertising freeze against the Kremandala media businesses.
“Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. In May, Belize Telemedia Limited, the state-owned telecommunications provider, stopped advertising with all KREMANDALA companies, one of the most popular media conglomerates in the country. The provider explained it was a general cut on all advertising, but it did not reduce advertising with other media firms. KREMANDALA was known to be critical of the government and was owned by the family of a prominent opposition politician.”
In the section of the report which highlights Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government, it says, “The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.”
The report went on to cite the example of Minister Anthony “Boot” Martinez.
“There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Corruption: Allegations of corruption in government among public officials, including ministers, chief executive officers, and deputy ministers, were numerous, although no substantial proof was presented in most cases. Investigations into corruption within the Immigration and Nationality Department in the 2011-13 period concluded in January. Public hearings of the investigation revealed several instances of questionable activities involving high-ranking government officials, including ministers of government. In March Minister of Human Development, Social Transformation, and Poverty Anthony Martinez was accused by one of his former employees of setting up a scheme to profit from public funds. The employee alleged that Martinez asked him to open a bank account where funds would be deposited for the building of low-income houses, and then the money would be withdrawn and passed on to Martinez. The employee indicated that he was not a contractor and was not involved in any construction but merely carried out a favor for his employer. Martinez denied the accusations, and despite calls from the opposition party, the government did not investigate the minister,” the report said.
On child abuse, the report said, “Abuse of children occurred. Human Service officers expressed concern for male minors being held in detention in deplorable conditions and in the same cells as adult males as part of the state of public emergency.”
In respect to Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, the report said, “The law does not prohibit discrimination against LGBTI persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, or access to government services such as health care, but the constitution provides for the protection of all citizens from any type of discrimination.”
The report said that the Supreme Court struck down Section 53 of the Criminal Code, and that the Roman Catholic Church had initially appealed the judgment, but withdrew from the appeal, leaving only the government to fight the appeal.
“The extent of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity was difficult to ascertain due to a lack of official reporting. The NGO United Belize Advocacy Movement (UniBAM) registered four homicides, one attempted homicide, one robbery, and 17 cases of harassment and physical assault on young persons based on sexual orientation and gender identity from January to September,” the report said.