Tuesday, November 17, 2015. Aaron Humes Reporting: They won a major victory in the Caribbean Court of Justice earlier this year when the Government conceded that they have special customary rights over the land in and surrounding their villages in the Toledo District.
But while GOB has consented to help the Maya define and enforce those rights through a special commission, every attempt by the Maya Leaders’ Alliance (MLA) and Toledo Alcaldes Association (TAA) to dialogue with Government since April’s ruling has been ignored, even while Prime Minister Dean Barrow has been insisting that not all Maya are on board with the concept of customary rights.
Meanwhile, according to the Maya, there have been continued violations of their rights on the ground in Toledo, most notably the incident between Maya villagers of Santa Cruz and a black Belizean, Rupert Myles, who has a common-law relationship with a Maya woman from that village, where Myles bulldozed part of the Maya ruin of Uxbenka in order to establish a pathway to his house in the village and was physically detained. We will have an update on that case later, but first to today’s return by the MLA and TAA to the CCJ to ask for more clarification on certain matters. We spoke to Pablo Mis, program coordinator for the Maya Alliance, this afternoon in Belize City who explained that the Maya asked the court to rule on and clarify whether the Government’s actions have violated the consent order; the nature of the rights of the Maya people as to deciding who can or cannot live in their communities and finally the $300,000 fund for implementation of the decision.
GOB asked for another chance because of their distraction by the recent general elections, and the Court said that while it was not necessary to look at the outstanding issues at this time, the Maya could not be kept waiting and so it asked Government to get to work and deliver a report on progress of implementation by January 21, 2016.
So now that the Government has another chance, will they deliver? Mis told us that when the United
Democratic Party (UDP) first took office in 2008 they similarly blamed elections for not enforcing then-Chief Justice Abdulai Conteh’s ruling in the first Maya Land Rights case which involved Santa Cruz and Conejo. So while they are disappointed about having to come back to court again, the Maya are ready to talk, according to Mis, who outlined the work they have done in preparation for this historic moment – an Alcaldes Bill that essentially outlines Maya customary law and an official framework which has been presented to the Government.
As for the Prime Minister’s repeated comments about the ability to define Maya boundaries, customs and law, Mis says the court saw merit in the Maya’s arguments that their plight is real.
But on whether the issue had any part to play in the results of the recent general elections, where both Toledo District constituencies went decisively to the People’s United Party, particularly Toledo West, as did Stann Creek West more narrowly, Mis told us he has no way to be sure but points out that the Maya people are conscious of national issues as much as their own.
The case comes back to court on January 21, 2016, ahead of an April 2016 deadline for a full report on progress in implementing the full decision. The MLA and TAA were represented by Monica Coc-Magnusson while Deputy Solicitor General Nigel Hawke represented the Government of Belize.
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