Posted: Thursday, March 14,2019. 4:00 p.m. CST.
By Aaron Humes:On Wednesday, the annual report of the U.S. State Department on Human Rights worldwide was released, covering 200 countries.
Belize’s 22-page section highlights various human rights issues and violations, including “allegations of unlawful killings by security officers; allegations of corruption by government officials; crimes involving violence targeting LGBTI persons; trafficking in persons; and child labor.”
The report’s authors state, “In some cases the government took steps to prosecute public officials who committed abuses, both administratively and through the courts, but there were few successful prosecutions. While some lower-ranking officials faced disciplinary action, criminal charges, or both, higher-ranking officials were less likely to face punishment, resulting in a perception of impunity.”
While an officer who killed a man from Punta Gorda Town has been charged with manslaughter in a case reported in January, the case against the eight persons detained by a combination of Belize Special Assignment Group, police and others dissolved in September.
Eighteen complaints were filed with the Ombudsman Lionel Arzu for police abuse and unlawful detention. A July case was cited with two male minors held for alleged theft of firearms from a security firm. The boys said they were mistreated and submitted their complaints to the Professional Standards Branch.
The ‘State of Emergency’ imposed in two areas of Southside Belize City was listed as an example of arbitrary arrest or detention, in this case, to address gang violence. It notes that “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.” Some 100 persons were held; seven in ten were released after seventy days and the remainder was further held under suspicion of engagement in gang activity, illegal possession of firearms and ammunition, and suspicion of murder. It was not known if any sought the intervention of a court to question the reason for their detention as is their right.
In a general review of police and prison conditions, the report found no major violations except for the usual beatdowns to obtain confessions, mostly thrown out at trial.
Under the section of freedom of the press and expression, the report takes note of Belize Telemedia Limited’s decision to withdraw advertising from Kremandala Limited, owners of KREM Radio and Television, under the guise of a general cut in advertising expenditure which was not initially realized.
Concerning corruption, the report into the Special Select Committee on Immigration remains due after public hearings ended in early January 2018, and there was no investigation of claims made against Minister Anthony “Boots” Martinez by a former employee of a scheme to rake off public funds through contracts with the Ministry of Works. There were the usual complaints against the Lands Department and other government ministries.
No action has been taken against the several members in public life who have failed to file their formal declarations under the Integrity in Public Life Act with the Integrity Commission, which continues without a chairperson.
The report cites unconfirmed stories of forced involuntary sterilizations of Maya women at church-based medical missions and state-run hospitals; abuse of male minors being held in the same conditions as adult males during the public emergency in the City; the heinous case of Baby Alyssa Nunez where her stepfather has been charged with murder and rape; reports of child sexual exploitation in the ‘sugar daddy’ situation; four homicides, one attempted homicide, one robbery, and 17 cases of harassment and physical assault on young persons based on sexual orientation and gender identity from January to September per UNIBAM; issues with labour rights and industrial disputes between the Christian Workers’ Union and separately the Social Security Board and Port of Belize Limited.
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