If you did not know already, the Eastern Division Region 1 (EDR1) of Belize City is under a State of Public Emergency (SoPE). Come to think of it, though, that EDR1 terminology was not used in the official statutory instrument, no. 49 of 2018 that was gazetted on September 4th, 2018. In April of this year, high-ranking members of the Belize Police Department said that they would officially stop referring to Southside Belize City as Southside Belize City, because it cast a negative stigma on people and a community that fall within the boundaries of the area and that they were very serious about the renaming because it is “more than semantics to them”. Well, the statutory instrument totally threw that out the door, right?
States of Public Emergency aren’t new to us Belizeans. In fact, history tells us that on April 2nd, 1981 and even through to the declaration of our independence, Belize was under a SoPE. Lest we forget, there was the 2016 statutory instrument that barred Belizeans from entering the Belizean territory at the Sarstoon.
Fast forward to 2018 and two areas known for gang activity, George Street and Ghost Town, are raided by masked, heavily armed and almost militant security forces. Sons, uncles, brothers, cousins, and fathers all ripped from their homes in the wee hours of the morning with no immediate explanation. These men were subsequently filed into substandard cells and served with subhuman treatment. No, I’m not saying that people should be left to senselessly slaughter each other over whatever it is the wicked problem of gang violence is about. I’m just saying that any solution coming out of those who are to serve and protect us cannot involve arbitrarily choosing to violate our fundamental rights and hide under the banner of citizen security.
May I also remind you that some of the most powerful Cabinet Ministers in the parliament represent constituencies that are within EDR1. These include Albert, Collet, Mesopotamia, Port Loyola and Queen’s Square, with Pickstock spreading across both north and southside Belize City. Let me quickly quote those aforementioned rights for you:
1. We Are All Born Free & Equal. We are all born free. We all have our own thoughts and ideas. We should all be treated in the same way.
2. Don’t Discriminate. These rights belong to everybody, whatever our differences.
3. The Right to Life. We all have the right to life, and to live in freedom and safety.
4. No Slavery. Nobody has any right to make us a slave. We cannot make anyone our slave.
5. No Torture. Nobody has any right to hurt us or to torture us.
6. You Have Rights No Matter Where You Go. I am a person just like you!
7. We’re All Equal Before the Law. The law is the same for everyone. It must treat us all fairly.
8. Your Human Rights Are Protected by Law. We can all ask for the law to help us when we are not treated fairly.
9. No Unfair Detainment. Nobody has the right to put us in prison without good reason and keep us there or to send us away from our country.
10. The Right to Trial. If we are put on trial this should be in public. The people who try us should not let anyone tell them what to do.
11. We’re Always Innocent Till Proven Guilty. Nobody should be blamed for doing something until it is proven. When people say we did a bad thing we have the right to show it is not true.
12. The Right to Privacy. Nobody should try to harm our good name. Nobody has the right to come into our home, open our letters, or bother us or our family without a good reason.
13. Freedom to Move. We all have the right to go where we want in our own country and to travel as we wish.
14. The Right to Seek a Safe Place to Live. If we are frightened of being badly treated in our own country, we all have the right to run away to another country to be safe.
15. Right to a Nationality. We all have the right to belong to a country.
(Youth For Human Rights, 2002)
With this commentary, I end on a reflection quote: “Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become law unto himself; it invites anarchy.” — Louis. D Brandeis
God save Belize.