It has always been a trend that those with power, if left unchecked, will find ways to abuse it. I do not know if it’s a matter of human nature or just that some have a higher propensity to be consumed by power. I always knew that declaring a State of Emergency meant that I had to forgo certain liberties. I will not say I was not wary about having to give up my civil liberties for a period of time under an SoE, but I had to have faith that in return the state and the powers that be, would not abuse it, use it as an excuse, or subject us to unnecessary conditions just because they can!
Since the State of Emergency, I have been made aware of situations that have been an abuse and which have eroded the power entrusted to the state. Unfortunately, most of the abuse reported was carried out by the police and some are now saying we have a police state. I would not go that far. However, I will say that one liberty that has not eroded is our freedom of expression and right to access the courts, although, if you do not know better, you would be left with said impression by certain powers within the Police Department. Three cases of recent have caught my attention, and I will offer my views as I see it regarding the almost “stateless” Mr. Guillermo. The other two cases involve the arrest and charge of a doctor and the threats to an ambulance driver carrying a patient in a case of life and death!
Guillermo Foreman is not stateless
It is a most unfortunate event for me to read that a Belizean is being denied access and entry to his own country. Under international law a citizen is not stateless, and by law his state of birth/origin cannot deny him entry. As a matter of fact, it is upon these principles that deportations to your country of origin are done. Interestingly, one of the reasons the crooks come to Belize to get Belizean citizenship, is that citizenship status gives them an additional protection, by calling on the protection of their country of citizenship. Believe it or not, those fighting legal issues in other jurisdictions, always enjoy the benefit of knowing that in cases of deportation they can ask to be deported to their country of citizenship, thus they literally shop for jurisdictions that offer what they deem to be benefits that shore up their individual interests.
I am sure Belizeans do not have such a short memory that they will not recall the 2017 passport scandal involving Won Hong Kim, dubbed Citizen Kim. He was a South Korean national turned fugitive trying to escape prosecution in his original home country for financial crimes. He never visited Belize, yet corrupt Belizean officials facilitated both his nationality documents and resulting passport in a span of days, while he was physically in a detention centre/prison in Taiwan awaiting extradition. He wanted to avoid being extradited to South Korea, where the justice system would have dealt with him, and instead wanted to use the claim that he is a Belizean citizen to be extradited/deported instead to Belize. Being that he was not facing any charges in Belize, he was sure not to be held in prison and having to haggle through the legal system.
Of course authorities in Taiwan and South Korea had to have become alarmed upon becoming aware that he could have produced Belizean citizenship and passport dating to a time when he was detained. This international scandal rocked Belize and prompted a full audit of the Belize Immigration & Nationality Department and even a Senate Inquiry, of which to date there is still no report. However, you all get my point about citizenship and the right to entry as a citizen. Now having said that, I turn to the matter at hand, the denial of Guillermo Foreman’s request to enter the country to which he holds citizenship. I know the pundits will state that we have State of Emergency Regulations which prevent lawful Belizeans from entering the country. But I must say that, just because it is in writing and part of a Statutory Instrument, does not mean that it is lawful and cannot be challenged in a court of law.
You see, there are international conventions and treaties that ensure that a citizen cannot be made stateless nor denied entry or return to their own country. I know that those who want to prosecute Mr. Foreman for asking permission to be allowed to enter, will not be able to appreciate that laws can be challenged, and this is one law that has to be challenged as being unconstitutional and repugnant to the inalienable right of a citizen as well as contrary to the principles of “Right to Return”. This is a principle of international law which guarantees a citizen the right to voluntarily return to or re-enter his or her country of origin or of citizenship. That right cannot be taken away from Mr. Foreman by any law, I opine — the exception being in times of war. COVID-19 is not a war, and that is why the Quarantine Authority can quarantine you, but not deny you entry. Mexico now can deny him entry. Also, since the police went and brought him in and he did not bring himself in, there is another issue to address.
This right is fully addressed in modern treaties and conventions, such as the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the 1948 Fourth Geneva Convention. The first pronouncement of this right, however, can be traced to the Magna Carta (1215), which states:
“In future it shall be lawful for any man to leave and return to our kingdom unharmed and without fear, by land or water, preserving his allegiance to us, except in time of war, for some short period, for the common benefit of the realm. People that have been imprisoned or outlawed in accordance with the law of the land, people from a country that is at war with us, and merchants — who shall be dealt with as stated above —are excepted from this provision.”
If Mr. Foreman is not satisfied, he must ensure he seeks legal counsel and challenges any injustice done to him.
SOE – discrimination against Belizeans
I have said before and I will repeat again, in my view the regulations under the SOE are not well thought out and create what I believe are unintended contradictions and anomalies. The section which the police may seek to apply to Mr. Foreman consists of Regulations 18 and 19. However, I will start with 19 to make some poignant observations. It states:
“19.– (1) No Belizean shall be allowed entry through any port of entry unless that Belizean–
(a) is returning from abroad with proof of having received urgent medical care;
(b) is required to be in Belize to assist health officials in Belize in urgent medical situations.”
What is odd and absolutely absurd about this provision is that it applies to only Belizeans, and thus does not exempt NON-Belizeans from coming into Belize in general. As a matter of fact, I will go as far as to say that if there is a non-Belizean living in Belize only as a resident or visitor, he, based on this law, can return to Belize even if he had not been away on a medical emergency or was coming to assist with COVID-19, and they will NOT be committing an offence under these regulations.
The general rule is that all ports of entry and exit are closed with the exceptions stated at Regulation 16, which is for cargo, commercial and medical reasons. Regulation 18 states:
“18.– (1) All ports of entry into and exit out of Belize are closed.
(2) Every person entering or exiting Belize illegally commits an offence and, in addition to the imposition of mandatory quarantine, is liable to imprisonment for three months.”
The term “illegal entry” has a specific connotation in law, and while I will not go in-depth, suffice to say that a Belizean can never enter his own country illegally via a recognized port of entry. This section refers to “every person,” which must be read to include Belizeans and non-Belizeans. Thus, in my view, the law never envisioned that, except for war time, a country would prohibit its own from entering their own country. They must accept entry of EVERY Belizean; however, they can curtail certain movements; in this case, for the public health purpose, they can quarantine, but they CANNOT deny you entry, I opine! The regulation does not define “illegal entry,” and therefore, I summarise, one needs to then turn to the Interpretation Act or the Immigration and Nationality Act, which does not make provision for a Belizean to enter his own country illegally. It would be interesting to see how this will play out in a court of law.
This has also got to be read along with the Section 18 of the Constitution of Belize, which deals with the “protection of persons detained under emergency laws” and makes it clear that any regulations or law made during any period of public emergency, or which authorises the doing of anything during that period must be “reasonably justifiable in the circumstances of any situation arising or existing during the period for the purpose of dealing with that situation.”
Therefore, what needs to be questioned is whether the placing of this restriction on Belizeans alone is “reasonably justifiable” and what was the situation arising that required it. In my opinion, it is NOT justifiable to deny a citizen entry into his own country, where and when the same regulation allows for mandatory quarantine, should that citizen, in these circumstances pose possible threats of being infected, since the practical and lawful option is already stated in the regulation, which is mandatory quarantine. Also, that same regulation is not denying entry into the country to “persons”— Belizeans and non-Belizeans— who bring cargo or are carrying out commercial activities or responding to a medical emergency situation, without any stipulation of quarantine or any such measures. Thereby it defeats what would have otherwise been the intent of the regulations.
Thus, the question would be: “Is it reasonably justifiable to stop a citizen from re-entering his own country, where there is no war and there are measures that can safeguard him and others?”
I believe the issue is up for debate and a legal challenge to the highest court would settle the matter and set the needed precedent, since in my view this law is not only unjust, but must be tested so as not to set the wrong precedent for future States of Emergency in this changing world!