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U.S. State Department spotlights mistreatment in Human Rights Report

Posted: Wednesday, March 22, 2023. 10:39 am CST.

By Aaron Humes: The United States’ Department of State Annual Report on Human Rights Country Practices for Belize has spotlighted complaints of minority and politically sensitive groups within Belize as well as gaps in the administration of service with regard to human rights.

The foremost of those operators is the Belize Police Department, whose Professional Standards Branch according to the report “registered 69 formal complaints against members of the BPD and concluded 17 investigations with recommendations.” These included wounding, discharging a firearm in public, extortion, theft, harassment, perverting the course of justice and child rape. Two officers were dismissed, and the Department has undertaken refresher courses in human rights training for members. The suicide of a Belize Defence Force (BDF) soldier following an alleged rape ordeal was also spotlighted.

Regarding freedom of expression and of the press, the report highlighted the experience of Channel 7 News reporter Cherisse Halsall during her coverage of the CARICOM-SICA Summit when she entered a restricted area and had to be removed at the direction of the Government Press Office.

The Office of the Ombudsman remained unfilled until the appointment of Retired Major Gilbert Swaso in December to replace Lionel Arzu and was generally non-functional. Arzu won a lawsuit regarding compensation at the end of his term in office.

Regarding conditions for women, there was a 20 percent increase in domestic violence cases, two-thirds resulting in no charges being filed. While there was at least one conviction for rape and charges filed with respect to assaults on women, the experience of Tracy Thompson who was murdered in April and others show there is much more work to be done. Government has publicly acknowledged the scope of that work and elevated the National Women’s Commission (NWC) to the status of a statutory body. The report also notes that “According to some NGOs, women from socially conservative communities seeking tubal ligation sought the permission of the husband for cultural and religious reasons. Emergency contraception was not always available as part of methods for family planning.”

Instances of child abuse and discriminatory practices were reported, as well as discrimination against the LGBT community and lesbian women in particular. The report also made a note of the continuing experience of indigenous Maya communities in the south and those of the trade unions and labour force generally.


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