Posted: Thursday, April 21, 2022. 8:49 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes: The U.S. State Department concludes in its annual report on human rights issues in Belize that Belize continues to deal with “significant human rights issues,” including “inhumane treatment by security and prison officers; widespread and serious corruption by government officials; trafficking in persons; and the worst forms of child labour.”
It adds that the government of Prime Minister John Briceno “took steps both administratively and through the courts to prosecute some public officials who committed abuses, but there were few successful prosecutions. The government did not effectively implement the laws on corruption, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.”
The 2021 report opens with two particularly egregious instances of the arbitrary deprivation of life at the hands of security personnel: BDF soldier Jessie Escobar being shot to death by a member of a joint BDF-police patrol on September 5, 2021, and the killing of 14-year-old Laddie Gillett by Police Corporal Kadeem Martinez in Placencia, as Gillett and a friend were heading back to the resort where they were staying with their family and allegedly confused with suspects in an incident at a hotel. In the former case, the police officer and soldier accompanying accused shooter Raheem Valencio are alleged to have provided inaccurate statements to investigators, allegedly with intent to pervert the course of justice in the case.
Those are the worst examples, but a total of 105 registered complaints were made against officers of the Belize Police Department through August, not counting those made to the Ombudsman’s Office which numbered a quarter of all complaints. 60 investigations were completed and 14 officers dismissed by internal disciplinary tribunal.
The state of emergency issued by the Government to deal with a rise in gang killings in the middle of 2021 was cited for arbitrary arrest or detention and targeting gangs through house raids and arrests. The Supreme Court’s ruling against citizen profiling by police officers was also cited.
While the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent closure of land borders meant some foreign nationals who were imprisoned for immigration offenses could not exit the country and were therefore kept in prison beyond their sentence, the U.S. hailed efforts to regularize refugees and those seeking asylum status, including the removal of the 14-day limit for registering for refugee and asylum status with the Ministry of Immigration and establishment of a Refugee Eligibility Committee to protect refugees and to assist asylum seekers and vulnerable migrants.
When it comes to corruption and lack of transparency in government, section four of the report says that allegations of corruption in government among public officials were numerous, but that in most cases, no substantial proof was presented. It cites the Commission of Inquiry into the sale of government assets between October 2019 and November 2020.
As it relates to discrimination and societal abuses, the data revealed from the Belize Police Department is that sixty-two percent of reported sexual violence was against girls between the ages of ten and nineteen. Women were the victims in seventy-seven percent of the 1,794 domestic violence cases registered with the department up to the end of September 2021. Sexual assault was a problem in the BDF. While there is protection from sexual harassment in the workplace, no criminal cases have ever been brought under this law. While the report speaks to men’s average earnings per month being more than that of women, it was primarily due to the position held and restrictions on women working in certain industries.
The Family Services Division in the Ministry of Human Development registered 220 cases of sexual abuse and assaults on minors by mid-2021; in 2020, there were three hundred and sixty-six for the entire year. The report also makes reference to the “sugar daddy” arrangements as it relates to the exploitation of children. According to UNICEF, twenty-nine percent of women ages twenty to forty-nine were married or cohabiting before age eighteen.
The report takes notice of efforts to address union issues (mentioning the protests by the trade unions generally over salary cuts and the Christian Workers’ Union (CWU) specifically), work and labour issues including still-prevalent forms of the worst practices regarding child labour.
Non-governmental organizations including the Human Rights Commission of Belize (HRCB) and the United Belize Advocacy Movement (UNIBAM) were cited for their work in their respective fields.
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