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Appeal of Jalacte ruling underway

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Dec. 2, 2021 — Earlier this year, the Supreme Court handed down a judgement against the Government of Belize and ordered that $6.3 million dollars be paid in damages to residents of the Mayan village of Jalacte — in particular two villagers who it ruled were adversely affected by construction/expansion of the Jalacte Road carried out by the previous UDP administration. According to the court, the government had failed to seek free, prior, informed consent from the Maya community before carrying out such roadworks.

Recently, members of the Maya Leaders Alliance, which is at the forefront of a legal effort to ensure that communal land rights granted to Mayan communities by the courts are upheld, announced that the government had missed the 21-day notice to file an appeal of the Supreme Court’s ruling at the Court of Appeals, but yesterday, Minister of Indigenous People’s Affairs, Hon. Dolores Balderamos Garcia, told local media that two local law firms are working to secure an extension of the timeframe within which an appeal can be submitted, since they missed the 21-day deadline due to a “logistical problem.”

“We have noticed, in relation to the court, that in different cases, there have been different approaches, and so the issues at hand are far from resolved. And that is why we feel as a responsible government, the appeal must go through and the attorneys are working on it,” Minister Balderamos Garcia stated during a recent interview.

She said that Marine Parade Chamber and Courtenay Coye LLP are the two law firms currently working on the appeal. It must be noted that partners from Courtenay Coye LLP are also prominent government ministers, so the price tag for the legal representation which that firm is providing to GoB would of interest to the public.

One of the purposes of the appeal is to challenge the award of damages handed down by the Acting Chief Justice, Michelle Arana in her judgement. Minister Balderamos Garcia said that other issues are also to be revisited through this appeal.

“Because of the important issues of demarcation and other matters in relation to the customary land rights, it is necessary for the appeal to go forward. So it will happen,” she said.

Another key issue is the pending implementation of the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) Protocol to be established between the Government of Belize and the Maya communities.

Last month, the Government of Belize and parties representing the Mayan community participated in a compliance hearing at the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) to finalize a roadmap for the implementation of the FPIC protocol. A deadline was also set by the high court for the Government to finalize the protocol.

Minister Balderamos Garcia explained, “We are working on what we call the roadmap. We are working on the policy, and also we are finalizing what we are calling the FPIC protocol, the free, prior and informed consent protocol. As a matter of fact, one of our international consultants is just leaving the country today. She’s been with us for a couple of days working on that very protocol, because it is necessary for the government to try as far as is possible to be in keeping with international standards of free, prior, informed consent consultations with indigenous people according to the declaration of the UN on indigenous people’s rights. So government is very much taking it seriously.”

While Hon. Balderamos Garcia admitted that this will not be an easy hurdle to cross, she reaffirmed that the government is working to present a finalized protocol to the CCJ by the end of January 2022.

“They have given us a sort of a deadline, you know, but we are working very hard on it,” Minister Balderamos Garcia said.

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