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Human Rights Practices in Belize

GeneralHuman Rights Practices in Belize

by Marco Lopez

BELMOPAN, Thurs. Mar. 23, 2023

The Government of Belize has failed to implement laws on corruption, allowing officials to engage in corrupt practices with impunity, the 2022 Country Report of Human Rights for Belize states. The US Department of State recently released a report which cites “significant” human rights issues in Belize. According to the Department of State, they have received credible reports of: “abuse and inhuman treatment by security and prison officers; arbitrary arrest and detentions; refoulement of refugees to a country where they would face threats to their lives and freedom; serious corruption by government officials; and substantial barriers to accessing sexual and reproductive health services.”

This report examines 7 human rights issues identified in Belize and returns to the spotlight some cases long forgotten by the Belizean public. Section 1 addresses respect for the integrity of the person, and cites reports of “government or its agents” committing arbitrary or unlawful killings. The death of Derrick Uh, the young man locked in a sealed police van and forgotten for 13 hours, was the first of such incidents to be mentioned in the report. Four police officers including an inspector of police and a sergeant have been arrested and are out on bail but suspended from the Police Department while an investigation into the incident is ongoing.

The report also noted that the 2019 murder of Allyson Major ended in an acquittal of Corporal Kent Martinez, because the prosecution reportedly failed to provide the court with forensic evidence to link the officer’s gun to bullet fragments. Martinez awaits the decision of a police tribunal, the report states.

Near the end of August 2022, the Professional Standards Branch had 69 formal complaints against police officers, and only 17 investigations were concluded, the report pointed out. Additionally, it noted that officers were dismissed after a tribunal found them guilty of excessive use of force and physical abuse, and it cites credible allegations of mistreatment, overcrowding, and inadequate sanitation at the Belize Central Prison.

Section 2 touched on Respect for Civil Liberties and cited the forced removal of 7News’ Cherisse Halsaal from the CARICOM-SICA Summit last year.

In its Access to Asylum sub-section, the report noted that the government does not recognize the legal status of “asylum” and treats all applicants as refugees. The 2022 report pointed to 26 individual registered complaints from the HRCB for not being allowed to bring refugee applications. The organization believes the number of denials is much higher.

Section 3—Freedom to Participate in the Political Process, featured some longstanding reports of political corruption. It says that Diplomatic observers have reported isolated cases of vote- buying and violations of campaign rules. The widespread use of government resources in the village council election held in May 2022 was also cited in the report.

Former head of the Commander Operations Strike Team (COST) Marco Vidal was cited in section 4 of the Human Rights Reports. It states that he was forced to resign for negligence and administrative failures following a 2021 drug plane landing. Four of Vidal’s subordinates are accused of being involved in the drug plane landing and are implicated. But the investigation did not lead police to hold Vidal criminally responsible.

Two UDP officers, former Prime Minister Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow and Minister of Works, Rene Montero, were both cited in this section. Barrow was mentioned in connection with a June 2022 leaked Ministry of Finance document which allegedly showed payments to the tune of $5 million being made to his and his family members’ law firms.

“Barrow conceded there were instances of ‘extreme exigent circumstances’ when the government turned to his law firm for legal services. He explained that in some cases, payments to his law firm were from clients his firm represented who were suing the government,” the report states.

Rene Montero was released on bail after finally returning to the country of Belize. An Interpol Red Notice warning was out for the arrest of the former minister for the crime of “willful oppression”. The warrant was first issued for his arrest in September 2021, the report noted.

Section 5 cited limits to the effectiveness of the office of the Ombudsman, and the fiasco which led to former Ombudsman Lionel Arzu suing the government as well as a vacant Ombudsman’s office for some time. He sued the government for making amendments to his three-year contract without his consent. In August the court ruled in his favor and declared that GoB owed him $10,000 for breach of contract. Of note, no complaints of human rights were reported from the last Ombudsman, and as of 2023, a new Ombudsman has been appointed.

Discrimination and societal abuses were featured in Section 6. It said that gender-based violence in Belize remains an endemic problem. “The Belize Crime Observatory, a BPD unit, indicated women were the victims in 79 percent of the 1,685 domestic violence cases registered by the BPD through the end of July, a 20 percent increase compared with the same period in 2021,” the report states.

The case of the 23-year-old woman soldier who committed suicide after she was allegedly sexually assaulted twice by an officer was cited. The case of Tracy Thompson, killed by her common-law husband Devon Logan, was also mentioned in the report. It states the family of Thompson believes police intervention could have prevented her death.

The report also highlighted sexual exploitation of children in Belize through “sugar daddy” arrangements where older men prey on children and provide money to families of minors or both in exchange for relations with the minor.

“There were reports of increased child trafficking in tourist areas or where there were transient and seasonal workers, often to meet the demand of foreign sex tourists,” the report states.

Worker’s rights were looked at in the last section, and the ex-gratia payment to stevedores at the Port of Belize from the Government of Belize for hardship due to privatization of the port was cited by the report. The widespread August 2022 protest of healthcare workers was also cited in the report.

It stated that the government has failed to enforce laws preventing forced labor and lacks resources and inspections to ensure compliance. As a result, “forced labor of both Belizean and foreign women occurred in bars, nightclubs, and domestic service,” the report states.

The full report can be found at https://www.state.gov/reports/2022-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/belize/

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