BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Jan. 27, 2022– This morning, the Government of Belize issued a Cabinet brief announcing the approval of a Free, Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) Protocol, which it said, will “guide consultations with Maya communities, whether by government or private entities, in keeping with government’s commitment to the implementation of the 2015 Consent Order of the Caribbean Court of Justice”. However, in an exclusive interview with AMANDALA, Cristina Coc, spokesperson for the Toledo Alcaldes Association (TAA) and Maya Leaders Alliance (MLA) made it clear that the Maya communities reject the Government’s proposed FPIC protocol and that the document, since sent to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), does not have the consent of the Mayan people.
“The protocol was sent out to the Caribbean Court of Justice by way of a surprise to us. We have not seen this protocol; it has not been consulted with us, and it certainly does not carry our consent as the appellants to the CCJ consent order.” Coc said.
Coc went on to state that they have not had a chance to thoroughly look at revisions that have been put in this version of the FPIC protocol but are already seeing glaring red flags.
“Just on the surface, we immediately flag that the Government is calling it a consultation protocol, and even in the body and language of the protocol, it continues to use this ambiguous term of consultation rather than consent, which is what is ultimately the safeguard,” she pointed out. She added that the protocol does not meet the requirements of the CCJ’s 2015 order, since the court at the last compliance hearing made it clear to the government that meaningful and timely consultations were to be carried out with the appellants, the MLA and TAA.
“They’ve made it very clear that the signatories to this consent protocol would be the appellants, the parties to the CCJ consent order, and until these parties have signed on to this protocol, it comes into effect. The government has basically unilaterally made it a protocol that for the most part is sympathetic to the desirous initiative of the Government and not the Maya people,” Coc said.
When pressed on whether or not any consultations were carried out in furtherance of the finalization of this FPIC, Coc reiterated that the government failed to carry out the necessary discussions.
“No, no consultation has been had. This is a clear ambush on the Maya people, no consultation has happened. We are seeing for the first time, just like you, that an FPIC protocol has been approved by the Cabinet, and it is only until today, that the Commissioner, Greg Ch’oc, has sent to us this version of the FPIC protocol,” Coc said.
Greg Ch’oc is the Commissioner of Indigenous People’s Affairs, the liaison between the Mayan communities and the Government of Belize. She claimed that the TAA, the appellants to the order, have been subject to direct attacks from institutions put in place to oversee the implementation of the FPIC protocol.
“It’s very disheartening to learn that, despite all the effort that the Maya people made, despite our patience, we have been waiting for almost 7 years to see the implementation of this consent order and it has been painstakingly slow. We had a lot of hope with the new administration in place; unfortunately, we continue to see an immediate dismissal and undermining of the implementation process and a particular attack on the Toledo Alcaldes Association, the appellants to this order, by the institutions that have been put in place to oversee the implementation, particularly by the Commissioner of Indigenous People’s Affairs. So what does this mean for our struggle moving forward? It certainly means that this latest move certainly is damaging to an already strained relationship that the Maya people have had with this government,” Coc remarked.
She informed AMANDALA that their next step is to hear from the leaders of the various Maya communities in order to determine their collective position so that they can plan the way forward.
She went on to express the view that this decision made by the government to submit what she considers a unilateral FPIC protocol to the CCJ is clearly an attempt to remove the traditional governance of the Maya people.
“I just want to make it very clear that despite the appearance, or what the perception out there might be, it is very clear that this government is attempting to remove and erase the traditional governance institution of the Maya people, which is very dangerous and damaging to the process of implementation. It is very clear to us that the government wants to move ahead unilaterally without the appellant in this matter, and that continues to be a grave concern for us, especially knowing that the Commissioner of Indigenous People’s Affairs, Mr. Ch’oc, is fully knowledgeable and aware of the way in which Maya people organize themselves under a collective traditional governance institution. He is very aware of the Toledo Alcaldes Association and the importance of preserving our governance system here in the Maya communities of southern Belize,” Coc asserted.
In the 2005 Standard Setting document on Legal Commentary of the concept of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent published by the Commission on Human Rights, they cited the Belize Maya Land Rights Case and outlined the following.
“Most recently, in the Maya Indigenous Communities case, dealing with Maya land rights in their traditional territories in the south of Belize, within which the government had granted oil exploration and logging concession, the Commission found that granting such concessions ‘without effective consultations with and the informed consent of the Maya people’ constituted a violation of human rights guarantees. The Commission reaffirmed that international law upholds indigenous peoples’ land and resource rights, independent of domestic law, and held that one of the central elements to the protection of indigenous property rights is the requirement that states undertake effective and fully informed consultations with indigenous communities … [these rights] specially oblige a member state to ensure … a process of fully informed consent on the part of the indigenous community as a whole.”