Report on Human Rights Practices Country of Belize


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Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

In Section 1 of the report, which deals with Freedom from Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings, an extra-judicial killing in Punta Gorda involving a police officer was mentioned. Under the section dealing with arbitrary arrest and detention, the report looked at the State of Public Emergency that the government declared last September. The report went on to say that more than persons who had suspected gang affiliation were detained under the state of public emergency.

The constitution states that even under a state of emergency, detainees should be charged within seven days of detention, but authorities did not follow the law. The joint patrols were supposed to last 30 days but continued until the end of September.


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In looking at the press and media freedom, the report noted the BTL advertising freeze against the Kremandala media businesses. The provider explained it was a general cut on all advertising, but it did not reduce advertising with other media firms. Corruption: Allegations of corruption in government among public officials, including ministers, chief executive officers, and deputy ministers, were numerous, although no substantial proof was presented in most cases.

Investigations into corruption within the Immigration and Nationality Department in the period concluded in January. Public hearings of the investigation revealed several instances of questionable activities involving high-ranking government officials, including ministers of government. In March Minister of Human Development, Social Transformation, and Poverty Anthony Martinez was accused by one of his former employees of setting up a scheme to profit from public funds.

The employee alleged that Martinez asked him to open a bank account where funds would be deposited for the building of low-income houses, and then the money would be withdrawn and passed on to Martinez. In letters dated April 25, , the Commission informed the State and the Petitioners that it accepted the dates proposed for the visit.

Peter Laurie, and members of its Secretariat, traveled to Belize where it held meetings, individually and jointly, in Belize City with the Government of Belize, the Petitioners, and members of some of the Maya communities. Following its visit to Belize, the Commission informed the parties by letter dated May 25, that, based upon their discussions during the visit, it believed that grounds existed for achieving a friendly settlement in the matter. The Commission also provided recommendations for pursuing an amicable settlement of the matter and stipulated that in the event that there was no agreement between the parties by July 19, to enter into discussions for a friendly settlement, the Commission would proceed to consider the merits of the case and issue a report.

They also indicated that on June 7, , the State responded with a counter proposal and that there had not yet been agreement on all of the terms of the framework. By note dated July 9, , the State similarly informed the Commission that there had been some progress with settlement discussions between the parties. On July 18 and 20, , the Commission met with the parties in Belize City concerning their friendly settlement negotiations in the case.

In notes dated August 16, , the Commission requested confirmation from the parties of their availability for a meeting in Belize on September 4, in order to continue discussions to implement the Framework to Re-initiate the Friendly Settlement Process. In a responding letter dated August 24, , the Petitioners requested a postponement of the September 4, meeting. In a note dated March 25, , the State presented inquires to the Commission as to the nature of the response requested. In a letter dated November 5, , the Petitioners reiterated their request that the Commission adopted a report on the merits of the case expeditiously.

In their initial petition and subsequent observations, the Petitioners have contended that the State is responsible for violations of the rights of the Maya people under Articles I right to life , II right to equality before the law , III right to religious freedom and worship , VI right to a family and to protection thereof , XVIII right to a fair trial , XX right to vote and to participate in government and XXIII right to property of the American Declaration in respect of lands traditionally used and occupied by the Maya people.

In particular, the Petitioners claim that the State has granted logging concessions and oil concessions on the Maya lands without meaningful consultations with the Maya people and in a manner that has caused substantial environmental harm and threatens long term and irreversible damage to the natural environment upon which the Maya depend, contrary to Articles I, III, VI, XIV and XXIII of the American Declaration.

The Petitioners also contend that these measures form part of a broader failure on the part of the State to recognize and provide adequate protection for the rights of the Maya people to land in the Toledo District based upon Maya customary land use and occupancy, in violation of Articles II, XX and XXIII of the American Declaration. Further, the Petitioners argue that the State has failed to provide adequate judicial protection through the domestic legal system for their alleged violations of rights regarding lands and resources, contrary to Article XVIII of the American Declaration, due to delays in court proceedings instituted by them.

Factual Allegations of the Petitioners. In support of the claims in their petition, the Petitioners have provided numerous factual allegations concerning the circumstances of the Maya people and the land and resources to which they claim rights, together with corresponding affidavit, documentary and other evidence.

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These allegations relate to four main areas: the traditional use and occupancy by the Maya people of territory in the Toledo District of southern Belize; logging and oil concessions and their impact on the natural environment; lack of recognition and adequate protection of indigenous lands; and unreasonable delay in domestic judicial proceedings.

The Petitioners state that people who are identified as Maya have formed organized societies that inhabited the Toledo District of southern Belize and the surrounding region long before the arrival of the Europeans and the colonial institutions that gave way to the modern State of Belize. They also claim that among the historical and contemporary Maya people of the Middle American region encompassing Belize, distinct linguistic subgroups and communities have existed and evolved within a system of interrelationships and cultural affiliations.

Based upon these supporting materials, the Petitioners also provided details of the political organization, land use, land tenure and religious practices of the Maya communities of Toledo, particularly as they relate to the territory that they are said to have occupied and used for centuries.


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The Petitioners indicate, for example, that under the government structures that evolved under European colonial administrations and have continued as part of the municipal system of the governance of Belize, each Maya village has an elected alcalde , or village leader, who oversees community affairs in coordination with other leadership figures and a village council. The Petitioners also claim that the land use practices of the Maya people are comprised of both subsistence and cultural elements that form a foundation for the life and continuity of the Maya communities.

These elements include the use of concentric and broadening zones of land and streams surrounding the Maya villages for dwelling and subsistence purposes as well as swidden agriculture, hunting, fishing, gathering and transportation activities, as well as numerous sites throughout the agricultural area and the more remote forested lands that are regarded as sacred and used for ceremonial purposes and as burial grounds.

According to the Petitioners, the customary land use patterns of the Maya people are governed by a traditional land tenure system by which Maya villages hold land collectively, while individuals and families enjoy subsidiary rights or use and occupancy. They refer in this regard to maps within the Maya Atlas, which they claim illustrate the composite territory of traditional Maya land use and occupancy and the continuous nature of individual Maya villages of Toledo, by which the villages adjoin with each other and with other areas that are used in common by two or more Maya villages.

The Petitioners also contend that, with its continued designation of the lands in question as National lands, the State has continued to authorize and promote development activities on the lands without agreement or consultation with Maya communities and without accommodations for Maya resource use and cultural patterns, and refer in this connection to seven additional major development activities in or near Maya traditional territory.

In the context of the foregoing description of the traditional use and occupancy by the Maya people, the Petitioners contend that the State has violated the rights of the Maya people under Articles I, III, VI, XIV and XXIII of the American Declaration by granting logging concessions and oil concessions on the Maya lands in the Toledo District without meaningful consultations with the Maya people and in a manner that has caused substantial environmental harm and threatens long term and irreversible damage to the natural environment upon which the Maya depend.

Concerning logging concessions, the Petitioners argue that since , the Ministry of Natural Resources of Belize has granted numerous concessions for logging on a total of over half a million acres of land in the Toledo District, including sizeable concessions granted to two Malaysian timber companies, Toledo Atlantic International, Ltd. Also according to the Petitioners, there is no indication that government officials considered Maya land use patterns or cultural practices in the affected areas when they granted the concessions, and no accommodations for Maya interests or rights have been made as the logging has proceeded.

Concerning the concessions for oil development, the Petitioners claim that in late , they learned that the Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology and Transportation of Belize had approved an application by a company, AB Energy, Inc. The area covered by the permit is said to include land used and occupied by the Maya and to encompass most, if not all, of the Maya villages in the Toledo District. According to the petition, industry practice and the laws of Belize provide that if commercially viable oil deposits are located, a contract for petroleum operations guarantees oil extraction rights, which may in turn continue for a period of up to 25 years.

Further, the Petitioners contend that the logging concessions have been put into effect and have caused and will continue to cause negative environmental effects, while the oil concessions threaten to cause similar damage. More particularly, the petition states that the logging concessions cover areas of land that include critical parts of the natural environment upon which the Maya people depend for subsistence, including vulnerable soils, primary forest growth and important watersheds. The Petitioners also claim that the logging activities have affected essential water supplies, disrupted plant and animal life, and, accordingly, affected Maya hunting, fishing and gathering practices that are essential to Maya cultural and physical survival.

In support of their arguments, the Petitioners provide examples of environmental damage caused and threatened by the concessions granted to Toledo Atlantic International, Ltd. They claim, for example, that the Atlantic International, Ltd. According to the petition, a bridge across the Moho River at the village of Santa Anna was, at that time, under construction and, when completed, will dramatically increase logging under the Toledo Atlantic concession, [20] while Atlantic Industries completed the construction of a sawmill in February without an environmental impact assessment or informing the affected Maya people, signaling the onslaught of logging on a large scale.

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In light of the foregoing developments, the Petitioners claim that the logging activities in the Toledo District threaten long term and irreversible damage to the natural environment upon which the Maya depend. This includes in particular top soil erosion caused when land is stripped of forest cover, which, owing to the permeability of the soil and the drainage patterns of the Toledo region, also allows the characteristics of the soil to change very rapidly and impairs the capacity of the forest to regenerate.

According to the Petitioners, this in turn would injure the rotational system of farming used by the Maya people, and could further, and possibly permanently, diminish the availability of wildlife and plant resources. These developments could also permanently damage stream flows that are vital to water supplies, which in turn could also result in siltation threatening coastal areas, including mangroves and coral reefs.

Further, the Petitioners argue that the threat of future and greater environmental damage is intensified by the alleged inability or unwillingness of the State of Belize to adequately monitor the logging and enforce environmental standards. The Petitioners refer in this regard to, among other materials, a report by Dr. Winston McCalla on environmental protection and natural resource management legislation commissioned by the State of Belize for its Department of Environment. Moreover, the Petitioners argue that the oil concession granted by Belize threatens to amplify the environmental damage caused by the logging concessions.

For example, according to the petition, only approximately one-half of the Maya villages, including only a portion of the villages to which the present petition relates, fall within the reservations, and further, the boundaries of those reservations remain unclear. Moreover, the Petitioners provide descriptions of numerous efforts that Maya people have made for the Government of Belize to address and resolve their concerns about Maya land tenure and natural resource concessions in the Toledo District, including written correspondence and proposals, meetings with government officials, lobbying, and public demonstrations.

Unreasonable Delay in Domestic Judicial Proceedings. A further complaint raised by the Petitioners in their petition is the contention that judicial proceedings initiated by Maya communities to address their concerns have been fruitless because the proceedings have been unduly prolonged. The Petitioners allege that the procedural history of this litigation has unfolded in a way that has led to unreasonable delay in the resolution of the claims raised by the Maya people.

In addition, the Petitioners claim that in the course of the litigation, logging has continued on the lands used by the Maya people and has had a serious impact on the environment of the region and consequently on the inhabitants of several Maya villages. As a result, on April 17, , the applicants filed a motion for interlocutory relief in which they requested an immediate injunction suspending all logging concessions within their claimed lands and an injunction against the Minister of Natural Resources restraining the Minister from granting additional logging concessions or any other concessions for resource extraction.

The Petitioners also assert that the Court has yet to take any action on the motion for interlocutory relief, or indeed on any aspect of the merits of the case. Legal Allegations of the Petitioners. Rights Connected with the Logging and Oil Concessions. Based upon these arguments, the Petitioners claim that the Maya people of the Toledo District have rights of property over the lands and resources that they have traditionally used and occupied based upon customary patterns, and that these property rights include rights of occupancy as well as rights of access to and use or ownership of natural resources.

Further, the Petitioners claim that the State of Belize is responsible for violations of the right of the Maya to cultural integrity. The Petitioners argue in this regard that the Maya agricultural and other land use patterns are linked with familial and social relations, religious practices, and the very existence of Maya communities, and therefore implicate their rights to religious freedom, family and protection thereof, and to take part in the cultural life of the community under, respectively, Articles III, VI and XIV of the Declaration.

In support of their arguments, the Petitioners refer to the provisions of several international instruments which they claim recognize the obligation of states to protect minority groups, including indigenous peoples, in the enjoyment of all of the aspects of their diverse cultures and group identities. In light of these authorities, the Petitioners argue that Maya land and resources uses lie at the core of Maya culture and are imperiled by ongoing and planned resource extraction activities in the Toledo District without any apparent consideration or protection of Maya cultural patterns, and therefore that the State is responsible for denying the right of the Maya to enjoy their culture and maintain its integrity under Article 27 of the ICCPR and related provisions of the American Declaration.

The Petitioners also claim that the logging being permitted by Belize is causing substantial environmental harm, as particularized in their factual allegations, and that this harm has threatened the physical well-being of the Maya people, contrary to the right to life under Article I of the American Declaration and the right to preservation of health and well-being under Article XI of the American Declaration. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, [45] as well as the Rio Declaration adopted following the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in , [46] acknowledge the need for states to protect the natural environments upon which indigenous peoples depend, and that these norms are implicit in the provisions of the American Declaration in the context of indigenous land claim issues.

In the circumstances of the present case, the Petitioners argue that the environmental damage caused by the logging concessions in the Toledo District have undermined Maya food sources and threaten contamination of soils and waters which would have adverse direct health consequences for the Maya. They also claim that Belize has been unwilling or unable to enforce environmental norms against these damaging logging practices and, indeed, has actively facilitated the environmental threat, and therefore that Belize has failed to meet its obligation to guard against the degradation of the natural environment upon which Maya physical and cultural survival depend.

According to the Petitioners, self-determination is a principle of general international law that is affirmed in multiple international instruments, and at its core means that human beings, individually and collectively, have a right to be in control of their own destinies under conditions of equality. The Petitioners argue that for indigenous peoples, this principle establishes at a minimum the right to be genuinely involved in all decision-making that affects them.

In the circumstances of the present case, the Petitioners argue that meaningful consultations with the Maya of the Toledo District have not been held in relation to the logging and oil concessions, but rather that most of the concessions were granted without public knowledge, much less in direct consultation with the affected Maya communities. The Petitioners also contend that the State of Belize is responsible for violations of the right to equality under the law and the obligation to effectively secure rights concerning the Maya territorial lands more broadly.

The Petitioners argue that the legal system of Belize and its governing officials do not recognize Maya customary land tenure as a source of property rights, and the State does not otherwise provide adequate protection for the matrix of Maya cultural and subsistence practices related to land and resources. In support of this contention, the Petitioners refer to the work of bodies of the United Nations that have concluded that indigenous peoples historically have suffered racial discrimination and that one of the greatest manifestations of this discrimination has been the failure of state authorities to recognize indigenous customary forms of possession and use of land.

In the present case, the Petitioners assert that the Maya of the Toledo District are among the segments of humanity that have suffered this history of discrimination, and that the Government of Belize has accorded negative differential treatment of indigenous customary land tenure by maintaining an administrative and formal legal apparatus that fails to recognize Maya rights to lands and resources on the basis of customary land tenure. They also contend that, at a minimum, the State of Belize is obligated to adopt legislation or other appropriate measures to identify the geographic extent of Maya traditional lands and specifically define the legal attributes of Maya land tenure and resource use, in accordance with Maya custom.

The Petitioners therefore claim that the Awas Tingni case is firm precedent for the conclusion that the Maya communities have property rights over their traditional lands and that the State of Belize has violated those property rights by authorizing multiple development activities in Maya traditional lands. State Responsibility for Lack of Judicial Protection.

The third claim raised by the Petitioners is the contention that the State of Belize has failed to provide effective judicial protection for Maya rights, because the Maya people have attempted, without success, to obtain redress through the domestic avenues for their alleged violations of rights regarding lands and resources. As noted above, the Petitioners state that on December 3, , the TMCC and the Toledo Alcaldes Association, as the major Maya representative organizations in the Toledo District, filed an action for constitutional redress with the Supreme Court of Belize pursuant to a procedure provided for under Article 20 of the Constitution of Belize.

The proceeding alleged violations of the constitutionally-protected rights to property and equality under the law, and requested corresponding relief, in connection with the logging on Maya traditional lands and against the failure of government officials to recognize Maya land rights on the basis of customary land tenure. The lawsuit also included a motion for emergency interlocutory relief against the logging, and the proceedings were supported by affidavits, expert reports and other documentary evidence submitted by the applicants.

At the time of filing their petition with the Commission in August , the Petitioners indicated that over a year and a half had passed since the lawsuit was initiated and four months since the motion for emergency interlocutory relief was filed, and that the Belize Supreme Court had not yet reached a decision on the merits of the suit or on the motion for interlocutory relief. Based upon these circumstances, the Petitioners argue that the State is responsible for failing to provide the Maya with an effective right to judicial protection under Article XVIII of the American Declaration, which they claim requires a state to take affirmative steps to ensure that the remedies provided by the state through its courts are effective in establishing whether there has been a violation of rights and in providing redress.

The Petitioners also note that an essential element of effectiveness is timeliness, which requires that courts adjudicate and decide cases expeditiously, particularly where alleged human rights violations are ongoing and threaten to be irreparable. In the case of Belize, the Petitioners argue that although the Constitution of Belize provides for a judicial procedure to protect constitutional rights, that procedure has been ineffective as a means of protecting Maya rights.

They claim that despite the amount of time that has passed and the voluminous evidence that has been submitted to the Belize Supreme Court, the court has not progressed toward a determination of the rights or violations alleged by the Maya and redress for any determined violations. On this basis, the Petitioners argue that, due to its international obligation to provide effective judicial remedies, Belize is internationally responsible for this shortcoming of its judicial system.

On the basis of the allegations contained in their petition, the Petitioners have requested that the Commission declare that the State of Belize is internationally responsible for violations of rights affirmed in the American Declaration. The Petitioners also ask that the Commission recommend, inter alia , that Belize take measures, in consultation and coordination with the affected Maya communities, to suspend current and future permits, licenses and concessions for logging, oil exploration or extraction and any other natural resource development within the lands traditionally used and occupied by the Maya people of the Toledo District, and to establish and institute a legal mechanism under domestic law that will result in the official recognition of and specific guarantees for Maya customary land tenure and resource use, and lead to the prompt demarcation of Maya traditional lands.

This includes a description of the efforts to reach a friendly settlement through the assistance of the Commission. Further, the State emphasizes as a general matter that the issue of land and resource use in Toledo is of extreme complexity for Belize, as there are at least four clearly defined ethnic groups in Toledo and more in the country as a whole. According to the State, this kind of ethnic diversity in such close proximity makes the discussion and negotiation of issues along ethnic lines extremely sensitive.

The State refers in this regard to the principle of equality enshrined in Article II of the American Declaration, and asserts that this principle dictates that Belize consider the interests of all of its citizens and take a balanced approach to the resolution of the Maya, maintaining at all times its neutrality as the representative of all Belizeans. With respect to the specific issues raised by the Petitioners before the Commission, the State expressed its hope that the issues could be resolved through negotiations between the parties, but, if those negotiations proved unsuccessful, reserved the right to fully argue the merits to the case before the Commission.

In this regard, the State suggests that the issue of whether the Mayas of Southern Belize have aboriginal rights in the area remains unclear. In particular, the State asserts that four criteria are necessary for the establishment of aboriginal title: 1. Moreover, the State argues that it is not clear whether the facts asserted by the Petitioners are sufficient to establish that they have satisfied the elements required for aboriginal rights to be recognized.

In this regard, the State contends as follows:. Equally unresolved is the question whether or not the facts as asserted by Petitioners are sufficient to establish that they have satisfied the elements required for aboriginal rights to be recognized. Further to the affidavits submitted on its behalf, the Government draws attention to the dates of foundation Maya Atlas [sic] of the villages alleged to be affected by the acts and omissions complained of.

It is one of the fundamental arguments of the Government that the dates of foundation of most of the Mayan villages illustrates a significant break in the continuity of occupation of the area over which title is asserted. Furthermore, when those dates are compared with dates for foundation for other non-Mayan villages in the area such as Barranco it becomes evident that the Maya did not occupy that region to the exclusion of other organized societies. Finally, the issue of possible extinguishment of any existing aboriginal rights by certain acts of the Sovereign over British Honduras is also unresolved.

Based upon these submissions, the State argues that any decision on the merits of the petition must first answer the question of whether the Maya of Toledo have aboriginal rights in the lands in the Toledo District, and that any decision on this issue must be taken based on the common law and all relevant domestic legislation.

Atlantic Industries Ltd. As a consequence, the Committee recommended immediate revocation of the license. Because the ultimate responsibility for the issuance of the license rested with the entity issuing it and the company had made considerable investments with regard to the license, and because the members of the Review Committee expressed a willingness to participate in the negotiations of any such new application, the Committee recommended that Toledo Atlantic Industries Ltd.

Based upon these circumstances, the State argues that the Government has taken into account the concerns of the Belizean public, including the Maya people of Toledo, with regard to logging activity in the Toledo District in a way consistent with a respect for those concerns. According to the State:. The attempts at putting in place the proper mechanisms to secure the interest of all Belizeans with regard to land matters, evidenced by the pattern of behavior described above are significant.

Their significance should not be slighted especially when it is considered that Belize is a small, recently independent, developing country, still grappling with the remnants of a colonial system not appropriately suited to local realities. It is unrealistic to expect that an issue that has at its core, control of resources in a significant portion of the country will be resolved quickly and without difficulty.

In particular, the State argues that the Maya people continue to live in the villages that they have occupied since the dates of foundation recorded in their Maya Atlas and have never been removed or threatened with removal. The State also asserts that the Maya people continue to live in their customary way, including continued governance by the traditional Alcalde system, which the State claims is the only ethnic group whose traditional system of governance has been incorporated into Belizean law.

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In addition, the State claims that it has on repeated occasions issued leases to inhabitants of the villages for farmland surrounding the villages, and that issues of health, education and social welfare in Maya Communities are accorded the same treatment as those of other Belizean communities. Further, the State asserts that the Petitioners have provided insufficient evidence of decreased availability of farmland or that the Maya people are unable to hunt or gather medicinal plants or otherwise provide for themselves in the traditional way.

Similarly, the State claims that there is no evidence that it is likely that resources will be so diminished in the immediate future as to make it impossible for them to survive in their customary way, that sacred grounds have been violated or ancestral relics destroyed, or that any Maya person has died or is likely to die as a result of the actions complained of. With regard to the delay in the domestic proceedings, the State indicates that this is not a unique occurrence, and that in recent endeavors to improve access to justice in Belize, the Government of Belize has recognized that the civil justice system suffers from systemic delay.

In summary, the State contends that the concerns raised by the Petitioners about land use and tenure, negative environmental impacts, and greater participation in government, are not uniquely Maya issues, but affect the entire country and more specifically the traditionally less developed Southern Region. To the contrary, the State argues that it has taken significant steps to address the concerns raised by the Petitioners and to recognize the indigenous populations of Belize as unique sectors of the population and their status as equal citizens in the eyes of the government. As the Commission indicated in its admissibility report in this matter, the American Declaration constitutes a source of international legal obligation for all member states of the Organization of American States, including Belize.

According to the jurisprudence of the inter-American human rights system, the provisions of its governing instruments, including the American Declaration, should be interpreted and applied in context of developments in the field of international human rights law since those instruments were first composed and with due regard to other relevant rules of international law applicable to member states against which complaints of human rights violations are properly lodged.

In particular, the organs of the inter-American system have previously held that developments in the corpus of international human rights law relevant to interpreting and applying the American Declaration may be drawn from the provisions of other prevailing international and regional human rights instruments. Accordingly, in determining the present case, the Commission will, to the extent appropriate, interpret and apply the pertinent provisions of the American Declaration in light of current developments in the field of international human rights law, as evidenced by treaties, custom and other relevant sources of international law.

In determining the norms and principles of human rights law that are properly applicable in the present case, the Commission first observes that the Petitioners claims relate to human rights violations that are alleged to have been committed against the members of an indigenous people located in the Toledo District of Belize. The Petitioners have also alleged that the members of the above Mayan communities are descendents or relatives of Maya subgroups that have inhabited the territory at least as far back as the time of European exploration and excursions into Toledo in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

This claim has been supported with evidence from authorities who have studied the origins and history of the Maya-speaking people of the Toledo District. The Maya Atlas states:. Southern Belize has two administrative districts, Toledo and Stann Creek. The Toledo District has been Mayan territory for many centuries.

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Mayan people were first to occupy and use the land for subsistence agriculture. Four thousand years ago, the Maya were occupying the land that is now known as Belize. While the State has raised issues concerning the dates of establishment of particular Maya villages within the Toledo District, which are addressed in further detail below, the State has not presented evidence contradicting or otherwise disputing the long-standing ancestral connections of the members of the communities at issue to the Maya people in the southern area of Belize.

According to the official website of the Government of Belize:. Numerous ruins indicate that for hundreds of years Belize was heavily populated by the Maya Indians, whose relatively advanced civilization reached its height between A. Eventually the civilization declined leaving behind small groups whose offspring still exist in Belize contributing positively to the culturally diverse population. In light of the above information, the Commission finds that the petition in this matter has been lodged on behalf of the members of a people indigenous to the territory that presently comprises the Toledo District of Southern Belize.

In this regard, a review of pertinent treaties, legislation and jurisprudence reveals the development over more than 80 years of particular human rights norms and principles applicable to the circumstances and treatment of indigenous peoples. In the context of the inter-American human rights system, this Commission has long recognized and promoted respect for the rights of indigenous peoples of this Hemisphere. Additionally, special protections for indigenous peoples may be required to ensure their physical and cultural survival -- a right protected in a range of international instruments and conventions.

Special measures for securing indigenous human rights have been recognized and applied by other international and domestic bodies, including the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, [87] the International Labour Organisation, [88] the United Nations through its Human Rights Committee [89] and Committee to Eradicate All Forms of Racial Discrimination, [90] and the domestic legal systems of states.

In deciding upon the complaints in the present petition, therefore, the Commission will afford due consideration to the particular norms and principles of international human rights law governing the individual and collective interests of indigenous peoples, including consideration of any special measures that may be appropriate and necessary in giving proper effect to these rights and interests.

Right to Property. The Petitioners also contend that this practice of granting concessions is a component of a more general failure of the State of Belize to recognize and effectively secure the territorial rights of the Maya people, also contrary to their right to property.

Every person has a right to own such private property as meets the essential needs of decent living and helps to maintain the dignity of the individual and of the home. In analyzing the right to property in the context of the present case, it is first instructive to articulate the manner in which the domestic legal system in Belize currently provides for the right to property and the manner in which the territory of the Toledo District of Southern Belize is regulated within that system. This will be followed by a more specific analysis as to whether the members of the Maya people of the Toledo District have property rights in the territory at issue under applicable international human rights norms and principles, as well as any corresponding obligations on the part of the State to recognize and protect those rights.

Finally, the Commission will address whether the State is responsible for violations of any determined rights and obligations in respect of the Maya people of the Toledo District. As both parties have noted in their submissions to the Commission, Belize is a former British colony whose legal system is based upon the common law tradition. Among the rights protected under Chapter II of the Constitution of Belize is the right under section 3 d to protection against the arbitrary deprivation of property:. Whereas every person in Belize is entitled to the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual, that is to say, the right, whatever his race, place of origin, political opinions, color, creed or sex, but subject to respect for the rights and freedoms of others and for the public interest, to each and all of the following, namely-.

Further, Article 17 of the Constitution of Belize places certain conditions upon the compulsory taking of property:. The Commission also notes that neither of the parties has identified internal legislation of Belize that specifically regulates the situation of its indigenous peoples. In the context of the alleged victims in the present case, it is apparent that members of the Maya people of the Toledo District may, like other Belizeans, hold property privately in accordance with the formal system of land titling, leasing and permitting, and are protected in this regard by the corresponding provisions of the Constitution protecting the right not to be arbitrarily deprived of property.

In this context, the Petitioners argue that the formal system governing real property in Belize does not properly respect their land rights in several respects. Also in connection with the application of existing domestic law to the Maya people, it is not clear whether the Maya may be said to have aboriginal title to lands in the Toledo District under applicable domestic constitutional or common law.

The Petitioners contend that the Maya people have aboriginal rights to the territory of the Toledo District under common law. The State, on the other hand, suggests that neither applicable legal principles nor the facts asserted by the Petitioners support a finding that the Maya of Toledo have aboriginal rights under common law in the land they occupy. The Petitioners raised these issues with the domestic courts for determination in their December motion for constitutional redress, but as of the date of this report, the motion had not been decided.

Having articulated its understanding of applicable internal law relating to property and its present application to the territory of the Toledo District, the Commission will next address the status of the property interests of indigenous peoples under applicable international human rights law and the corresponding implications for the present case.

In evaluating the nature and content of the right to property under Article XXIII of the American Declaration in the context of the present case, several aspects of the evolution of international human rights protections pertaining to indigenous peoples are particularly pertinent. Among the developments arising from the advancement of indigenous human rights has been recognition that rights and freedoms are frequently exercised and enjoyed by indigenous communities in a collective manner, in the sense that they can only be properly ensured through their guarantee to an indigenous community as a whole.

More particularly, the organs of the inter-American human rights system have acknowledged that indigenous peoples enjoy a particular relationship with the lands and resources traditionally occupied and used by them, by which those lands and resources are considered to be owned and enjoyed by the indigenous community as a whole [] and according to which the use and enjoyment of the land and its resources are integral components of the physical and cultural survival of the indigenous communities and the effective realization of their human rights more broadly.

Nicaragua []. For indigenous communities, relations to the land are not merely a matter of possession and production but a material and spiritual element which they must fully enjoy, even to preserve their cultural legacy and transmit it to future generations. The Commission, through its reports on individual petitions and on the general situation of human rights in member states, as well as in its authorization of precautionary measures, has pronounced upon the necessity of states to take the measures aimed at restoring, protecting and preserving the rights of indigenous peoples to their ancestral territories.

These have been held to include the right of indigenous peoples to legal recognition of their varied and specific forms and modalities of their control, ownership, use and enjoyment of territories and property, and the recognition of their property and ownership rights with respect to lands, territories and resources they have historically occupied.

The Inter-American Court has taken a similar approach to the right to property in the context of indigenous peoples, by recognizing the communal form of indigenous land tenure as well as the distinctive relationship that indigenous people maintain with their land. According to the Court. Accordingly, the organs of the inter-American human rights system have recognized that the property rights protected by the system are not limited to those property interests that are already recognized by states or that are defined by domestic law, but rather that the right to property has an autonomous meaning in international human rights law.

Consistent with this approach, the Commission has held that the application of the American Declaration to the situation of indigenous peoples requires. This interpretive approach is supported by the terms of other international instruments and deliberations, which serve as further indicia of international attitudes on the role of traditional system of land tenure in modern systems of human rights protection.

In this connection, the Commission believes that respect for and protection of the private property of indigenous peoples on their territories is equivalent in importance to non-indigenous property, and, as discussed further below, is mandated by the fundamental principle of non-discrimination enshrined in Article II of the American Declaration. As the Commission has previously observed in the context of the interests of indigenous peoples in their territories:.

From the standpoint of human rights, a small corn field deserves the same respect as the private property of a person that a bank account or a modern factory receives […] []. For the organs of the inter-American system, the protection of the right to property of the indigenous people to their ancestral territories is a matter of particular importance, because the effective protection of ancestral territories implies not only the protection of an economic unit but the protection of the human rights of a collective that bases its economic, social and cultural development upon their relationship with the land.

In this connection, the Petitioners have also alleged that the Maya people have engaged in customary land use patterns, according to which the lands and their natural resources are used and occupied by the members of the Maya community in a variety of ways that are distinct from those recognized under the formal system governing real property in Belize. In particular, the information presented by the Petitioners indicates that land occupation and use by the Maya people is comprised of a village zone, that typically extend to two square kilometers and is used for dwellings, raising fruit and other trees and grazing livestock, an agriculture zone, that extends up to 10 kilometers from the village center where crops are planted on a rotational system, and a yet broader zone that encompasses large expanses of forest lands and waterways used for hunting and gathering for food, medicinal, construction, transportation and other purposes.

The information also indicates that the ancient and modern land use patterns of the Maya people have necessitated some degree of periodic movement by communities within the region at issue in order to maximize the use of their land and the quality of their crops. The Petitioners claim that these land use patterns have been and continue to be governed by a traditional land tenure system, by which Maya villages hold land collectively, while individual and families enjoy subsidiary rights of use and occupancy in that land.

Further, the Petitioners claim that these land use practices are significant not only for the subsistence of the members of the Maya communities, but also provide a foundation for the cultural life and continuity of the Maya people. I hunt gibnut, warrie, carasow, quam, and picare in the CRFR, among other things. I learned to hunt when I was very small. I learned by traveling from Maya village to Maya village to learn the secret way of Maya hunting.

This is the way of our ancestors, the ancient Maya people. I still hunt this way, in keeping with Maya religious beliefs. In accordance with our traditional ways, I burn incense to the patrons of the animals of the forest. I observe the limits of the gods of nature, as dictated by the rules of Maya hunting law.

For its part, the Government of Belize has stated in negotiations with the Petitioners outside of the procedures in the inter-American system that it recognizes that the Maya people of the Toledo District have rights in the lands and resources that they have historically used and occupied. That the GOB [Government of Belize] recognizes that the Maya People have rights to lands and resources in southern Belize based on their longstanding use and occupancy. The State also argues that a comparison of these dates of establishment with the dates for foundation of other non-Mayan villages in the area reveals that the Maya did not occupy the region to the exclusion of other organized societies.

These rights have arisen from the longstanding use and occupancy of the territory by the Maya people, which the parties have agreed pre-dated European colonization, and have extended to the use of the land and its resources for purposes relating to the physical and cultural survival of the Maya communities. Rather, in respect of its submissions concerning the dates of establishment of Mayan villages, the State has relied upon evidence provided by the Petitioners, specifically the Maya Atlas, which was prepared by the Toledo Maya Cultural Council and the Toledo Alcaldes Association with the assistance of professional geographers from the University of California at Berkley.

Although the State raises doubts concerning the continuity of Maya occupation based upon the dates of establishment of 13 of the 38 villages encompassed within the present petition, the information presented by the Petitioners indicates that the use and occupancy of territory by the Maya people extend beyond the settlement of specific villages to include lands that are used for agriculture, hunting, fishing, gathering, transportation, cultural and other purposes.

This is confirmed by the Maya Atlas itself, which illustrates the boundaries of Maya communal lands in the Toledo District to extend beyond the settlement of specific villages and to include areas surrounding all of the villages at issue in the present complaint, including those referred to by the State. These experts have also observed that most of the villages that have been founded in recent years are located in land that was already controlled by another community in order to accommodate population growth.

Beyond this, the Commission must clarify that it does not purport through this report to define and demarcate the precise territory to which Maya property rights extend.

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Rather, as discussed below, this is an obligation that must be fulfilled by the State in full collaboration with the Maya people and in accordance with their customary land use practices. The Commission also considers that this communal property right of the Maya people is the subject of protection under Article XXIII of the American Declaration, interpreted in accordance with the principles outlined above relating to the situation of indigenous peoples, including the obligation to take special measures to ensure recognition of the particular and collective interest that indigenous people have in the occupation and use of their traditional lands and resources.

While the Commission has considered the legislation and jurisprudence of certain domestic legal systems in identifying international legal developments relating to the status and treatment of indigenous people, the communal property right of the Maya people is not dependent upon particular interpretations of domestic judicial decisions concerning the possible existence of aboriginal rights under common law. It is also apparent to the Commission that despite its recognition of the property right of the Maya people in their traditional lands, the State has not delimited, demarcated and titled or otherwise established the legal mechanisms necessary to clarify and protect the territory on which their right exists.

In this regard, the record indicates that the present system of land titling, leasing and permitting under Belizean law does not adequately recognize or protect the communal rights of the Maya people in the land that they have traditionally used and occupied.

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