The Caribbean Court of Justice, the highest court in land, has given a landmark ruling on the Maya people of Belize. It says that the Mayas have suffered for centuries at the hands of the different systems of Government in Belize. The direct result of that is that the Government of Belize must make "reparation" by setting up a fund valued at 300 hundred thousand dollars of public funds. That will mark the first step of the Government's compliance with the obligation it recently undertook to develop laws and other measures to protect Maya Rights. Essentially, the CCJ declined to award damages but ordered reparation instead.

That was the ruling that the CCJ handed down this morning via teleconference from their headquarters in Port of Spain, Trinidad. As viewers are aware, the Government of Belize has settled the Mayan Land Rights case by conceding that Mayan Land Rights do exist and that a proper framework needs to be established to protect those rights.

Not content with that major victory, the claimants pressed on and asked the court to consider granting them damages. They were asking for relief for all the years when the various governments, both in the colonial the post-colonial eras, had not done anything to protect those rights which were never recognized before. Their reasoning was that by taking a hands-off approach, the successive governments allowed outside elements to cause harm to the Mayas use and enjoyment of their lands.

It's a very significant judgment with far-reaching implications, and tonight, courtesy the CCJ, we have very rare video of inside a Belizean courtroom for that moment when President Justice Dennis Byron read from the Court's executive summary. Here's what he had to say:

So, what do the litigants have to say? Well, as with the surprising resolution taken last time, both the Government, which was being sued, and the Mayan claimants, are satisfied with the outcome. They granted us an interview outside of court:

Cristina Coc - Spokesperson, MLA
"The court has found and has issued an order for the government of Belize to as a starting point, set aside $300,000.00 Belize dollars for a fund specific for the benefit of Maya people to begin to put in place mechanisms and legislation to protect the rights of the Maya indigenous people of Belize."

Denys Barrow, Attorney for GOB
"In my view the government is very happy with this decision. It's a lovely decision. I think lawyers, I think academics, I think university students, I think commentators will find a lot in this decision for which to be grateful. I am certainly very grateful for it and I commend the CCJ for their decision."

Cristina Coc - Spokesperson, MLA
"The court has found that damage is due to the Maya people. In fact the court found that under the protection of law, that under current regime of property rights, it does not protect Maya customary land rights and therefore the rights of the Maya people have consistently been violated. It's also spoke overwhelming to the issue of the government of Belize lack of respect of international law, of their treaty obligations, that seeks to protect people from any forms of racial discrimination including indigenous people like the Maya people."

Pablo Mis, Program Coordinator, MLA
"It is a very profound decision for Belize, for the Caribbean in particular. In fact we have heard of the Caribbean community seeking reparations."

Denys Barrow, Attorney for GOB
"They did not award damages to the Maya. They awarded what they called reparation. Its a lovely concept. I am very fully in support of it and they award reparation for as they said the centuries of discrimination that the Maya have suffered. So this is not anything which the UDP government has done, the PUP government has done, but this is a result of the state of the law which has prevail in Belize for centuries."

Cristina Coc - Spokesperson, MLA
"We are very happy. We are very pleased. This is a very historic moment for Belize. It is certainly an uplifting time for the Maya people, because we recognized that for centuries we have been oppressed and the Caribbean Court of Justice emphasized that this oppression, as a result of this oppression, it is the duty and the obligation of the state now to provide redress."

But, might there be a wrinkle? In April, when Denys Barrow granted us an interview, he shared the Government's concern that to concede damages for the wrongs against the Mayans would open the state up to risks of other ethnic groups choosing to sue for past injustices. Is that the same view of the Government now? Here's what he said then, followed by what he said today:

File: April 22, 2015
Denys Barrow, Attorney for GOB

"I made the point that they Maya are not entitled to damages for deprivation of their rights, for the oppression which they have suffered any more than the Africans, the other Indian persons, East Indians, Garifuna, Mestizo, everybody. So everybody has a claim against the colonial system, which we inherited upon independence. It is now at the stage where, these claims have been brought forward and government is in a position and it has magnificently done - to say, you know what? Let us give the Maya their wish and put their system of land ownership on a legal statutory legislative footing. So this is what government has agreed to do. Government should not be made to pay, you and I should not be made to pay any damages to the Maya for the wrongs they have suffered through the years."

Daniel Ortiz
"Is there a concern from the government that because of the precedence set here, other ethnic groups living in Belize will want to - like a floodgate has been open?"

Denys Barrow, Attorney for GOB
"That has been a concern. I don't know how strong it is now especially in view of the way how this case, the way how the decision has been founded. So it's not to my mind an immediate fear, but it is a consideration which was be borne at the back of government's mind."

In today's hearing, the CCJ ordered that the Government must pay 75% of the Claimant's legal costs in this case.

Both sides will report back to the CCJ by April 2016 on whatever progress has been made through consultation between the Mayans and the Government.

Channel 7