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CCJ delivers partial damages for Maya in land rights case

Friday, October 30th, 2015. Aaron Humes Reporting: On the heels of the historic admission in April by consent order between the Government of Belize and the Maya Leaders Alliance (MLA)MLA logo that the Maya system of customary land tenure gives rise to property rights within the meaning of the Constitution of Belize and an order that the Government develop a mechanism to recognize and protect Maya land rights in consultation with the Maya people,

the only outstanding issue was the matter of damages for breach of constitutional rights and special damages concerning an incursion onto farm lands in Golden Stream village, Toledo District, by Francis Johnston, now deceased.

The CCJ delivered its ruling today, and found that the Government of Belize breached the Appellants’ right to protection of the law by failing to ensure that the existing property regime, inherited from the pre-independence colonial system, recognised and protected Maya land rights.

A release for the cou rt states, quote, “The CCJ emphasised that the protection of the law is linked to fairness and the rule of law. It demands that the State take positive steps to secure and protect constitutional rights and to honour its international commitments, including its obligations to protect the rights of indigenous peoples.” End quote.

Believing that there was a more innovative use available for the broad jurisdiction offered it to grant redress under the Belize Constitution, the Court asked Government to introduce a BZ$300,000 fund for the Maya people as partial compensation.

The court however, could not find sufficient evidence to support the Alliance’s claim for damages in the Golden Stream incident, as according to President Byron the claim was not sufficiently backed.

The court decision was unanimous. Government is to pay 75% of costs for the Alliance. A report to the Court on the timeline for the new regime on land is due next April.

Monica Coc Magnusson and previously Antoinette Moore, Senior Counsel, served as Attorneys-at-law for the Maya Leaders Alliance while the Government of Belize was represented by Denys Barrow SC, Deputy Solicitor General Nigel Hawke and Ms Naima Barrow.

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