CCJ Says All Eyes are on Belize’s Maya Land Rights Case

CCJ Says All Eyes are on Belize’s Maya Land Rights Case

The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) held a court hearing this morning to get a status update on the implementation of the Maya Land Rights Consent Order. The Maya Leaders Alliance (MLA) and the Toledo Alcaldes Association (TAA) and the Government of Belize entered into the Consent Order on April 22, 2015, after a ruling from the CCJ. Under this order, GOB was required to develop a framework that recognizes and protects Maya customary land rights. In compliance with the court’s order, GOB submitted the Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) Protocol geared at governing any land affairs in the indigenous peoples’ communities. However, there has been much back and forth about the interchangeable use of the words “consent” and “consultation”. One of the biggest takeaways from this morning’s hearing is that there has been a lack of communication and non-responsiveness from the government, as pointed out by the Justices of the CCJ. Attorney representing the MLA and TAA, Leslie Mendez, says they discourage GOB’s intention to discontinue the involvement of Professor Rosa Celorio, who was contracted to guide the parties with the implementation of FPIC. Mendez says this would be detrimental to the process.

Leslie Mendez, Attorney at Law: “Can we start off by just at least setting out our position with respect to the indication that there is a desire or an intention to not renew the contract of Professor Celorio In that sense your honor we would be in disagreement with that and we are disappointed that it’s the first time that we’re hearing that this is the intention of the respondents as the appointment of the authority was something that was done with the agreement of both parties and so we mutually both sides are invested in the appointment of the authority. The reason why we feel very strongly about retaining the authority in addition to the fact that I think the authority has proved very valuable in guiding us in these hearings especially as it concerns clarifying some issues on international standards and indigenous people’s rights wright now what we see in the re spondent’s report we see that they are reporting that there is an increase in the intended activities in the communities so that there are various projects that they indicated are undergoing FPIC. The function of the authority was fundamentally paragraph four and paragraph four deals with FPIC and it’s an interim measure pending the finalization of the legislation, of the policy and of the mechanism to delimit the boundaries. And so I’m struggling to understand why at this point when we’re seeing an increase in the need for guidance on FPIC because it’s being implemented in a number of communities with respect to a number of projects why is it that we are at this point contemplating the non renewal of her contract where I think that right now specifically we would want to retain the avenue that the communities have to raise any concerns with respect to FPIC. In fact one of the proponents or one of the developers that is renewing or engaging the communities is US Capital and the authority has provided a report, has looked into the activities that US Capital and the community understands the context and so I think that it’s ill advised at this point to be speaking about the non renewal of the authority.”

The CCJ highlighted that international eyes are placed heavily on this case the ruling would be a historic one in recognizing and upholding the rights of Indigenous People. But, the court is not too impressed with how GOB is handling the case and Justice Adrian Saunders, says he is disappointed with the unbalanced efforts on GOB’s end for not complying with the 2015 Consent Order.

Hon. Justice Adrian Saunders, CCJ Judge: “I want to take you to some of the specific issues that were raised and discussed with Ms.Mendez because I am not sure whether it is that some of these issues have been put to one side and have been overtaken by a new overarching policy about which the appellants have not been involved in trying to give their views on, to shape, that policy. The FPIC protocol what’s the position with that.”

SC Andrew Marshalleck, Attorney: “It was being translated. It’s being applied in a number of instances and the translated protocol does have the name change in it. They’re working to translate it to Mopen and Kechi languages.”

Hon. Justice Adrian Saunders, CCJ Judge: “I am disappointed to hear that the FPIC protocol which is an important aspect of implementing that consent order could be finalized by one party, be implemented and the other party has not seen the final version. That is very disappointing.”

SC Andrew Marshalleck, Attorney: “I understand what your honor is saying but I think to put the side of the Commissioner forward the area that changed are titular, they have the policy. You’re talking about a piece of paper with a word change.”

Hon. Justice Adrian Saunders, CCJ Judge: “You see the international community is keeping a close eye on the way in which this entire matter evolves, the way in which it develops because the problems that it seeks to address are problems that other countries also are also grappling with. And the reason why this court became involved in the monitoring process is that one it’s a very complicated, complex order to implement but more so you want to ensure that there is a neutral body standing between the parties to keep them on the straight and narrow. To try and ensure that the court’s order is being implemented with integrity and in good faith.”

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