BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Feb. 18, 2016–Maya leaders are due to meet this Friday to discuss the way forward in implementing an order of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) which requires the Government of Belize to work with the Maya to formally recognize Maya land rights, after a finding by the court that the Government of Belize had breached the right of Toledo Maya to protection of the law by failing to ensure that the existing property regime, inherited from the pre-independence colonial system, recognized and protected Maya land rights.
After years of litigation, the parties in the Toledo Maya Land Rights case—the government, on the one hand, and the Toledo Maya, on the other—reached an agreement last year, during proceedings which the CCJ held in Belize on a consent order to chart the way forward in putting into effect structures to formally set up a framework for the demarcation of Maya lands in southern Belize.
Last month the Government installed the Maya Land Rights Commission, headed by former Cabinet Minister, Lisel Alamilla, with E. Anthony Ross, QC, a legal expert originally from St. Kitts but operating out of Canada, serving as advisor.
The Maya people expect that dialogue between them and the Commission will begin shortly, but before anything happens on that front, the alcaldes are due to meet to discuss the recent developments.
“The Maya people are very optimistic that the government has established a Commission. We have been asking to engage in good faith with government for many years now. This is a good step in the right direction,” said Pablo Mis, spokesperson for the Maya Leaders Alliance (MLA) and the Toledo Alcaldes Association (TAA).
Mis told Amandala that the Assembly of Alcaldes, headed by TAA president, Alfonso Cal, is scheduled to sit tomorrow, Friday. It is expected that at least 1 representative will attend for each of the 39 villages.
Mis explained that the assembly is their highest authority. At their session tomorrow, they will be updating the leaders on where the parties are with negotiations, and looking at the way forward in terms of engagement with the government through the Commission.
“Before the engagement, what happens is, we inform the assembly first, and after the engagement, we come back and report to them,” said Mis, who explained that the alcaldes usually meet in session every couple of months, or as often as needed.
The alcaldes will be briefed on the establishment of Commission and asked to give authority to their negotiating team to represent the Maya in implementation of the CCJ order, Mis explained.
The team was first installed several years ago and operates under the direction of the Assembly of Alcaldes, Mis told us. It includes a steering committee on Maya development, which has about 21 members and takes into consideration what the Mopan and the Ketchi Maya want. It also involves both current alcaldes, some former alcaldes, as well as elders, technical people, their indigenous experts, and the local and international legal team.
In its update to the CCJ last month, the Government confirmed that it had established a separate fund of $300,000, as ordered by the CCJ for reparations to the Maya. That fund has been placed under the responsibility of the Attorney General’s Ministry, who installed the Commission, and the money is to be used exclusively for the implementation of the Court’s order. However, the Commission has said that the allocation for the exercise would have to be increased beyond what the CCJ had ordered.
The CCJ consent order requires the government to develop a mechanism to recognize and protect Maya land rights in consultation with the Maya people.
Ross has underscored that implementing the CCJ order would require cooperation between the Government and the Maya.
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