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Shoulder to Shoulder?

Posted: Thursday, June 4, 2020. 1:06 pm CST.

The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.

By Lisa Shoman: I know we care deeply about what happens in the world. It IS important. We can’t look away. And it may even help to foment the HARD conversations we need to have about race and racism in Belize. About xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, gynophobia and all forms of hatred and discrimination.

I am very troubled by the many serious issues facing us in Belize but I want to focus my laser on one such burning injustice against Belizean BDF soldiers by their own.

In January of this year; the media alerted Belizeans of serious, rampant allegations of sexual assault and misconduct involving BDF recruits and top BDF Officers interacting with them – for context, see: https://edition.channel5belize.com/archives/197605

We were all assured at the time by the powers that be, including the BDF Commandant General Ortega that something would be done about it.

General Ortega said “ I don’t know how much you know about the military but we have guidelines for everything, what we call standard operating procedures and we do that and I believe this investigation will help us improve what we have on those.”

Sounded like there would be a serious focus on finding and eliminating wrongdoing against BDF recruits, right?

Two days ago, the Ministry of National Security via a press release confirmed that “the investigations into the alleged reports of extortion, maltreatment, sexual assault, and sexual advances at Price Barracks in Ladyville have concluded.”

According to that release, “the investigation recognizes that some progress has been made in response to the victims of the alleged misconduct “

How absolutely and utterly underwhelming.

First of all, these are not just “victims”. They were BDF recruits. They may now be BDF soldiers. But there is no acknowledgement of that.

Secondly I’m sure it is of NO COMFORT WHATSOEVER to any BDF recruit or soldier who was impacted to know that “some progress has been made” – and yet the investigation has concluded. What progress? What redress? What?

The release informs (in a rather self congratulatory tone) that “the report highlights the need for more targeted organizational and strategic changes for progress to continue “ WHAT?

What does that say? What does it even mean?

Excuse me while I try to fix my mental whiplash reaction. That bit of bureaucratic buffoonery made my head spin.

It means nothing, in point of fact. It means nothing really for those BDF recruits and soldiers who were violated by those superior only in rank to them.

The release admits that there is “some wrongdoing and negligence by personnel within the units involved.”

Note that it does NOT say that BDF senior personal violated the trust, human dignity and personhood of the BDF recruits they were responsible for.

They can’t admit that. It would open the BDF and by extension the GOB to civil suits for wrongdoing and negligence.

At the time, Brigadier General Ortega referred to these acts as “grossly unacceptable”. They have now been downgraded to “wrongdoing and negligence by personnel within the units involved”

And what will happen as a result of the “wrongdoing and negligence”?

Probably nothing. The release says merely that “these are being addressed internally by the Belize Defence Force and the Belize Police Department where appropriate.”

To many of us, and to most of the BDF involved, this must sound like what happens when my rescue puppy Bart takes a dump…it is buried in sand by his rapidly moving back feet. A minute later, no doodoo can be discerned.

And let’s not forget – the release also grandiloquently says “a critical part of of this process of institutionalization” is “standardizing terminology and policy implementation design across all military services”.

That frankly, means nothing. It is bureaucratese. It is doublespeak.

The press release says that “policy must be given a more permanent place within the military organization and culture”.

So wait, what have they been following in the last 39 years? Their own instincts? Some outmoded tradition learned from our colonial masters in which the higher ranks abuse the lesser? What?

The outrage doesn’t end there though. The release smugly notes that the recommendations “cover the spectrum of strategic proposals to improve prevention, victim response, and accountability.”

Not. A. Single. Word. About. Sanctions.

Not a word about stamping out abuse and violations about addressing abuser responses. Not a word about reparation to the abused or about restorative justice.

In other words, the BDF will talk its way out of this one, promise to do something and will do what?

What exactly will they do to eliminate what the BDF now calls “misconduct” – which sounds like what my puppy Bart does when he tears up my doormat?

I’ll tell you what.

The BDF will eliminate “the cases of misconduct “ by “holding its members to the highest standards of ethical conduct” and for what?

To “preserve the credibility and moral authority necessary to carry out its mission”.

Wait. Wasn’t the BDF already “holding its members to the highest standards of ethical conduct” ?

No? So is it going to make changes in order to stamp out wrongdoing, misconduct, assault, violation and impunity? That remains to be seen.

But understand. The BDF is FAR MORE concerned about the desire “to preserve the credibility and moral authority necessary to carry out its mission”.

In the entire press release there is NOT ONE SINGLE WORD of regret or remorse for what happened to the BDF recruits. Not one word of condemnation for their violators.

And if I were one of those recruits, I’d feel raped by the cold indifference of the BDF press release to what happened and of its Commander. And I would not expect a damn thing to happen to my violators.

According to one media house, the BDF will try the matter disciplinarily and they will face penalties internally. That means BDF will judge BDF for acts against other BDF.

Shoulder to Shoulder, nuh? I won’t hold my breath waiting for that.

If the recent murder of George Floyd and the riots in the US teach us anything, it is that one day, injustice will cause the people to rise up and reject it.

We are called a Belizean to denounce any form of abuse or violence or violation against our frontline defenders by those entrusted with their training, safety, and well being.

I denounce the BDF for how they are dealing with this investigation.

It is not enough. J’acuse…!


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