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New report from minority rights group accuses US Capital of unfair tactics in oil exploration activities

US Capital Energy Belize Ltd. must suspend its oil exploration immediately in Toledo, and resume activities only if the Belizean government obtains the free, prior and informed consent of the Maya and Garifuna peoples who live in the area, says an international rights organisation in a new report.

“Toledo District, Belize, is the ancestral homeland of indigenous Maya people and Afro-descendant Garifuna people. Under human rights law, the government of Belize is obliged to protect and ensure Maya and Garifuna land rights. Private businesses operating in the area also have a duty to respect these rights”, says Lucy Claridge, Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Head of Law. “The Government of Belize must halt oil exploration in Toledo without further delay, and delineate and title Maya and Garifuna lands”, Claridge added.

MRG’s new report entitled, ”Suddenly We Have No More Power: Oil Drilling on Maya and Garifuna Land in Belize”, alleges that the Belizean government has allowed US Capital Energy (Belize) Ltd. to explore for oil on Maya and Garifuna land without consultation, or the free, prior and informed consent of these communities. The report recommends that Government fulfill its obligations under human rights law by recognizing and protecting the ancestral land rights of the Maya people by delimiting Maya and Garifuna ancestral land.

According to interviews with Maya and Garifuna residents featured in the report, US Capital Energy has campaigned aggressively to build its popularity in Toledo, interfering with the communities’ right to freely consent to development on their ancestral land.

The company has made unrealistic promises of employment, provided large gifts to communities, aired radio advertisements, visited communities frequently without sharing accurate information, and lobbied traditional leaders, the report says.

The report states that the legality of these actions has been challenged by both national and international bodies. First, it was the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2004, and then the Supreme Court of Belize in 2007 and 2010 instructed Belize to abstain from oil exploration in Toledo. It goes on to say that these bodies concluded that the Belize government must recognize Maya collective land ownership in Toledo and obtain the free, prior and informed consent of Maya communities before awarding concessions. The Government of Belize has refused to comply with these decisions, however, and recently awarded US Capital a permit to conduct oil drilling in Toledo.

Of note is that the Court of Appeal recognized the rights of the Maya to their ancestral lands in the 2010 Maya Land Rights case, but did not compel GOB to issue title for the lands in its July 2013 decision.

Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is a non-governmental organization working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide. The report, authored by Chelsea Purvis, was published this month with funding from the European Union.

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