Features — 08 September 2018
State of Public Emergency … state of decay

“18.-(1) In this Part “period of public emergency” means any period during which – a. Belize is engaged in any war; or b. there is in force a proclamation by the Governor-General declaring that a state of public emergency exists; or c. there is in force a resolution of the National Assembly declaring that democratic institutions in Belize are threatened by subversion.”

The irony of this might just be that although the Governor-General signed this proclamation, he himself may not be personally “satisfied” that the circumstances merit it. Per Section 18(3) (b) the proclamation is not effective unless the Governor-General states he is “satisfied” that the circumstances either under “a” or “b” exist.  Read for yourself the provision:

“(3) A proclamation made by the Governor-General under subsection (2) of this section shall not be effective unless it contains a declaration that the Governor-General is satisfied

a. that a state of war between Belize and another State is imminent or that a public emergency has arisen as a result of the occurrence of any earthquake, hurricane, flood, fire, outbreak of pestilence, outbreak of infectious disease, or other similar calamity; or

b. that action has been taken or is immediately threatened by any person or body of persons of such a nature and on so extensive a scale as to be likely to endanger the public safety or to deprive the community, or any substantial portion of the community, of supplies or services essential to life.”

This particular proclamation signed behind our backs on 4th September, 2018, and gazetted as Statutory Instrument (S.I.) 49 of 2018 is done on the basis that the Governor-General is “satisfied that a public emergency has arisen as a result of action having been taken or being immediately threatened by any person or body of persons of such a nature and on so extensive scale as to be likely to endanger the public safety”. Now, I have to take it for face value that the Governor- General indeed is “satisfied,” but because I know how the system really works, I can assure you he was told to sign and he signed.

Ironic that this major step is being taken while the Prime Minister is away on medical treatment and the ambitious Minister of Police is trying to make it appear that things are under control, but they are not, and a State of Public Emergency (SoPE) will not solve the crime issue but may arrest it temporarily just to cause a major flare thereafter, my prediction!

So my question is, who is the person or body of persons who is or are threatening actions of “such a nature and on so extensive scale as to be likely to endanger the public safety”? I want to know because the targeted shootings of rivals are not directed at public safety, but it would be if there is a threat to find their rivals out at public celebrations where crowds are gathered. However the last three years when there was “intelligence” of a grenade to be thrown in a crowd which was actually a public threat, no such measure was taken. I still question how it was determined that this drastic step was to be taken!

Short cut to Preventative Detention

It is important for citizens to know that with a SoPE in place, it means that the two designated areas, Mayflower and George Streets, as we locally call them, are governed and controlled under a wholly different law and rules and as such those living in said areas must quickly educate themselves about what they can expect, especially what rights they will forego and what police can or cannot do to them. Initially, the SoPE is for one month, but by resolution of the National Assembly it can be extended up to twelve (12) months. Per Section 18(5) this is what is allowed:

“(5) A proclamation made by the Governor-General for the purposes of and in accordance with this section:

a. shall, unless previously revoked, remain in force for a period not exceeding one month;

b. may be extended from time to time by a resolution passed by the National Assembly for further periods, not exceeding in respect of each such extension a period of twelve months; and

c. may be revoked at any time by a resolution of the National Assembly.

However, what this time period means is that, a person found in any of those two particular areas can be detained and locked up without charges for a period running with the duration of the SoPE. So if it’s for one month, they can be locked up for one month and if it’s for twelve months, they can be locked up for twelve months, because it is a form of legalized preventive detention. This is so, unless under the rule-making powers, the Governor-General stipulates otherwise or makes provisions for revisions or checks and balances to ensure there are no abuses, but I did not hear any such rules announced. During this period, the state is empowered to curtail and suspend citizens’ normal constitutional rights; thus you cannot even sue for violations of your rights under the constitution, because for purposes of the SoPE, they do not exist.

No constitutional rights

I hope that people know that under the Constitution, when a SoPE is called it means that the state is allowed to regain control by stripping you of your constitutional rights in order to act in a manner to supposedly restore law and order. The proclamation stated certain subsections of Section 18 of the Constitution of Belize but said section has ten (10) subsections and all are important to understand. However, to me the most important is 18(10), as it makes it constitutionally legal for our sacred basic constitutional rights to be contravened with justification that it was necessary for the public safety…. Hmmmm, this is a serious matter and so it must NOT be used lightly; thus, in my view we are not at the point of requiring such measure… no way! NOT yet. I agree we have a state of decay, but that is as a result of poor political leadership since independence and the crime is only the symptom of the rot!

To understand that it is now lawful for police to take away your liberty, as well as your freedom of movement, they can enter and search your premises without a warrant at any time; invade your privacy; even prevent you from seeing a lawyer; force you to work, or even deny you the right to go to work; take away your property and even take away your freedom to assemble or associate with others and do so in a discriminatory way. This is only possible under this section of the Constitution, thus my persistent question of, where are the regulations under Subsection (9) that should narrow or explain the parameters under which this particular SoPE is being carried out, since the provisions under the Constitution are just so wide. Verbatim here is Section 18(10):

“(10) Nothing contained in or done under the authority of any law (including any regulations made under subsection (9) of this section) shall be held to be inconsistent with or in contravention of sections 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, or 17 of this Constitution to the extent that the law in question makes in relation to any period of public emergency provision, or authorises the doing during any such period of anything, that is reasonably justifiable in the circumstances of any situation arising or existing during the period for the purpose of dealing with that situation.”

I emphasized those two sections so as to highlight where your basic constitutional rights can be contravened AND to again ask for the regulations which will stipulate what are the provisions being made or the authority being given that reasonably justifies the  curtailing of these basic human rights? The SI I have in hand does not narrow the parameters and the way it is written I interpret as putting in full effect all the provisions of Section 18, which, by law, does not give a limited “extent of power of authority” to use section 18, but rather provides for its implementation to the full extent, unless otherwise stated by rules created under the regulation.

As it stands, the proclamation allows the state to act with full authority to the point that citizens cannot complain of said conduct or actions on the basis of contravention of certain constitutional rights numbered above. So what are these constitutional rights cited in 18(10)? They are as follows: Sec. 5 – protection of right to personal liberty; Sec. 6 – Protection of the Law; Sec. 8 – Protection from Slavery and forced labour; Sec. 9 – Protection from arbitrary search and entry; Sec 10 – Protection from freedom of movement; Sec.12 – Protection from freedom of expression; Sec.13 – Protection of freedom of assembly and association; Sec.14 – Protection of right to privacy; Sec.15 -Protection of right to work; Sec.16 -Protection from discrimination on grounds of race, etc.

Sec.17 – Protection from Deprivation of Property

How effective?

As I understand the proclamation, it was made over a specific area, so you would have to be found in that area for the full effect of Section 18 of the Constitution to be levied against you.  Thus, if I lived in that area but wanted to avoid application of the SoPE on me, all I have to do is move out of the area. Of course this would render this SoPE totally ineffective, if I am one of the targeted criminal elements, since the problem is not the area, but the criminal chariots residing and acting criminally in said area.

I would venture to say that it would be totally illegal for a suspected criminal element to be caught in an area other than these two designated areas, yet the provision of the proclamation used against them. Thus, it would mean that those who have the means and know they are a target of the police, only need to move out of the area and relocate and ensure they are NOT caught in said area.  It also means that innocent persons living in the area will have to live with the fear that they can become caught in this tangled web and find themselves at the mercy of the police’s wrath. I for one will ensure I do not even pass through said areas!

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Deshawn Swasey

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