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US State Department issues 2023 Country Report on Human Rights

InternationalUS State Department issues 2023 Country Report on Human Rights

by Kristen Ku

BELIZE CITY, Wed. Apr. 24, 2024

The Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2023 by the U.S. Department of State has highlighted, among other things, instances of governmental overreach and police misconduct that took place in Belize over the preceding year.

Section 1: Respect for the Integrity of the Person

The report drew attention to what it classified as arbitrary and unlawful killings by law enforcement officers.

Among those incidents which were mentioned was the death of Dyandre Chi who was killed during an attempted arrest by police officers in Orange Walk Town. The officers involved had been arrested and arraigned for trial. Mention was also made of the 2022 death of Derrick Uh, a 20-year-old who died of heatstroke and suffocation after being left in the detainment section of a police van for over 13 hours. Uh had been detained at the San Joaquin Fiesta in Corozal for allegedly touching a woman inappropriately while intoxicated. Charges had been withdrawn from two of the officers who had been held responsible for the incident, but legal action continues against the others. Also, the report noted that officers implicated in the fatal beating of Andrew McDougal in the Stann Creek District were arrested.

On a positive note, it was noted that there were no reported cases of enforced disappearances in Belize in 2023.

Despite constitutional protections against torture, however, credible reports emerged of law enforcement officers engaging in such practices. The Belize Police Department’s Professional Standards Branch registered a significant increase in complaints against officers, indicating a worrying trend of misconduct.

Prison conditions remained harsh and potentially abusive. Reports indicated the use of extended periods of isolation and inadequate facilities.

The media reported instances where the government failed to adhere to laws against arbitrary arrest and detention, particularly noting a failure to promptly charge or release detainees.

Section 2: Respect for Civil Liberties

The freedom of expression and freedom of press are constitutionally guaranteed in Belize, but references were made in the report to instances of censorship and government interference, particularly when sensitive political matters were involved.

Libel and slander laws were used to suppress criticism, as seen in the legal actions initiated by the Commissioner of Police against local media outlets, noted the report.

However, the government did not restrict or disrupt internet access, nor did it censor online content.

While the law provides for these freedoms, there were reports of violations such as the denial of a demonstration permit to the opposition UDP, reflecting a selective enforcement of the law.

Section 3: Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The report said that Belize upheld its electoral commitments, with elections being deemed free and fair. However, political participation was marred by allegations of favoritism and corruption, particularly in the influence of political affiliation on the issuance of employment and government contracts.

Section 4: Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Corruption remained pervasive at all levels of government, said the report. It pointed out that despite legal efforts to combat corruption, enforcement was weak, and public officials often acted with impunity. The report said that a notable case was the investigation into an unapproved agreement by a former Minister—a likely reference to the inquiry into the Portico deal.

Section 5: Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

While domestic and international human rights groups were active, the effectiveness and independence of governmental human rights bodies were questionable, as seen by the limited capabilities of the Ombudsman’s Office, the report stated.

Section 6: Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

According to the report, significant issues remained in the protection against discrimination and societal abuses. Women, particularly, faced high rates of gender-based violence, and mechanisms for protection and compensation were insufficient. The report also said that trafficking in persons and discrimination against LGBTQI+ individuals were notable concerns, with the government showing limited progress in addressing these issues.

Section 7: Worker Rights

Belize’s legal framework supports workers’ rights to associate freely and bargain collectively, yet enforcement was inconsistent, especially in the informal sector, which makes up a large portion of the economy, said the report. Labor rights violations were common, and the country struggled to enforce the minimum wage and safe working conditions adequately, said the report.

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