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#503557 - 04/21/15 12:59 PM Toledo Maya triumphant in historic CCJ hearing  
Joined: Oct 1999
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The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) has been able to broker a major settlement between the Government of Belize and the Maya of Toledo, southern Belize, in what leading Maya activist, Cristina Coc, said has been a 30-year struggle for them.

“It’s been quite the struggle,” said Coc, spokesperson for the Maya Leaders Alliance (MLA), one of the parties to the CCJ appeal, adding, “…we’ve reached a certain point of maturity with our communities understanding that we will not tolerate any further violations.”

Although the CCJ had set two days’ of hearing to be held in its historic first sitting in Belize—being held as the court enters its 10th year of operation and its 5th year as the final appellate court of Belize—the court has today remarkably been able to lead the parties into developing a consent order, which settles virtually all the points of contention between the parties.

“It is a good step forward for the communities and the Government, as we attempt to implement this court order, because it is an order that has to be implemented…” said Antoinette Moore, SC, attorney for the Toledo Maya.

“I am happy to report that the situation is that there is settlement on almost all of the issues which were raised in this appeal and the issue which remains outstanding is the matter of damages or compensation which the Maya are claiming should be awarded,” Denys Barrow, SC, attorney for the Government of Belize, told the media after a case management session which concluded this afternoon.

Barrow told the press that substantial issues have been agreed and compromised on by the parties, as well as determined by the court.

“The Maya certainly are equally entitled to the respect for the rights which they possess in relation to lands that they have used and occupied and this is what the Government was quite free in accepting…” Barrow told us.

“The Government also acknowledged and accepted voluntarily that it would do what was necessary to ensure that the mechanism is developed to put the Maya rights under proper administrative and legislative footing. So there is a lot more to come and I think this is when the rest of society, the rest of the communities, would be able to make their contributions as to how this matter should move forward. So I think, really, what we are looking at is for there to be equality and fairness all around,” Barrow added.

“We are ecstatic that the Government has finally decided to get on the right side of history. All along for the last 30 years we’ve been saying the same thing. Our position as a Maya people has never changed. We’ve continued to say it: that those lands that we currently use and occupy – that we’ve occupied for generations, have been our homelands; have been our lands and finally the Government admits that we have been right all along,” Coc told the press.

“They have not only admitted that – they’ve submitted and signed on to a commitment that says they are going to protect that. They’ve affirmed our rights to those lands and resources, and they’ve agreed to protect that. So, of course, we are ecstatic. We’ve come a long way…” she continued.

The Government has, however, not moved from its position on its liability to pay damages to the Maya. Barrow maintained that any damages which should be paid for any particular injury should have been claimed against the person who did the damage.

The Maya are claiming $61,000 for alleged land rights violations in Golden Stream Village, as well as broader damages, “moral damages” for wrongs which the Maya say have been done to them over the years and perhaps over the decades, Barrow explained.

The Government attorney said that since all that remains to be determined during the scheduled CCJ hearing on Wednesday and Thursday is the issue of damages, the court is expecting to spend perhaps not more than an hour hearing submissions on damages from the parties.

Barrow told the press that a lot of the history of this litigation and a lot of the baggage stems from a failure to understand what the Supreme Court decision, as originally given, encompasses. On the one hand, he said, there was the view by the wider community that the Maya had been given the whole of Toledo; on the other hand, there was the view that what had been given was simply a recognition of the rights which the Mayas have as human beings and as persons who have historic claim on the land on the basis of their occupation.

Barrow said that the Maya’s physical occupation over the period entitles them to rights, just as, in another part of the country, occupation for, say, 30 years, would entitle someone to squatters’ rights.

She said that the parties are coming to the same conclusion through fundamentally different paths; and those conclusions are that the Maya have rights, and the lands must be demarcated and ultimately titled so that the Maya people can enjoy those rights.

She said that whereas the Government maintains that those rights are not based on indigenous ancestry, the Maya continue to refute that stance.

Moore added that the order which the CCJ has made is now affirming what the Court of Appeal ruled, and that ruling had in turn affirmed what the Supreme Court had previously ruled: that the Maya of Toledo have rights over the land based on their indigenous ancestry or indigeneity.

Naima Barrow, Barrow’s daughter and co-counsel for the Government, said that the recognition to rights also extends to the Maya’s culture to farm in a certain way, to fish in a certain way, to come together in a certain way and to administer their affairs in a certain way, so it is all of those things that have to be looked at.

[Linked Image]

Last week, Maya leaders issued a statement, again decrying what they say are illegal contracts issued by the Government over Maya lands. We asked Barrow whether he expects that this issue will be ventilated and finally settled at the CCJ, and he said, no! He said that there is more which needs to be done, and this will include dialogue with other Belizean communities in the south, as well as with the wider Belizean society.

Moore said, on coming out of the case management session held today, “We actually have an agreed upon order that will be signed by the Caribbean Court of Justice indicating these things, as well as the court retaining some supervisory jurisdiction over this matter.”

Moore said that the land dispute has gone on for many, many years and unfortunately the Government has previously made commitments to the Maya which it has not honored. She said that it is important to the Maya community that the CCJ will maintain some kind of supervision ever after the case concludes, “…to ensure, hopefully, that the Government does indeed do what they say they’re going to do…”

Coc said that it is not only the 23 villages which are parties to the case that will benefit – the benefits will accrue to all 38 Maya villages, but, she said, today’s victory is one for all of Belize, because it shows that when you are consistent in standing on the right side of justice and defending that, that justice will come.

Alfonso Cal, president of the Toledo Alcaldes’ Association, another party to the CCJ appeal, also expressed his jubilation in speaking with the press today. He said that their Belizean brothers and sisters can see that although they have endured in the struggle for a long time, they are still fighting together, united, and other Maya villages which did not join the appeal will still benefit from the protection which the 23 litigating villages will receive.

“We are also hopeful that on Wednesday we will come out 100% victorious! We feel 100% victorious already!” Coc said, referring to the matter of damages which the CCJ is expected to probe on Wednesday.

Amandala

#503570 - 04/22/15 05:00 AM Re: Toledo Maya triumphant in historic CCJ hearing [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 55,706
Marty Offline
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In honor of the successful CCJ campaign for Maya Communal Land Rights. Sad when indigenous Belizeans have to fight their own government for justice; inspiring when vindicated. Tony Rath

Maya Q’eqchi and Mopan of Southern Belize Win Major Land Rights Victory in the Caribbean High Court

The Caribbean Court of Justice, Belize’s highest appellant court, yesterday reaffirmed the unbroken chain of lower court affirmations that the Maya Indigenous People of southern Belize have rights to lands they have customarily used and occupied. The Court affirmed that these traditional land rights constitute property within the meaning of the provisions of the Belize Constitution that generally protect property free from discrimination.

The judgement, which was rendered by agreement between the Maya representatives and the Government of Belize, requires the government to demarcate and register Maya village lands, and protect them against incursions by outsiders. The Court accepts the government’s undertaking to adopt the necessary ‘legislative, administrative, and/or other measures’ to that end and, in the meantime, to abstain from and prevent acts that would adversely affect Maya land rights. The Court retains supervision and in twelve months the parties will report on implementation.

“We have been dragged through the courts for over 30 years but today we are happy that the highest Court again stood with the my people to ensure that Belize gets on the right side of history,’ said Alfonso Cal the highest traditional leader for all the Maya villages. Cristina Coc, Spokes Person for the Maya Leaders Alliance and Toledo Alcaldes Association explained that the Court judgment marks yet another opportunity for Belize to rewrite its relationship with the first peoples of Belize. She elaborated that the fight of the Maya people is for all grassroots and marginalized peoples in Belize and worldwide. Professor James Anaya of the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program explained that the judgment “reinforces the international standard that indigenous peoples have collective property rights based on their own customary land tenure systems, even when they do not have formal title or other official recognition of those rights, and that states are bound to recognize and protect those rights.”

The Court judgement is the culmination of decades of litigation filed against the Government of Belize by the Maya Leaders Alliance and the Toledo Alcaldes Association on behalf of the Maya villages. The Government of Belize in the past has vigorously contested the Court assertions of Maya Customary land rights. The government reversed this position and came to an agreement that was the basis of the Court’s judgment by consent. While the major issue of Maya land rights has been settled, outstanding before the Court is the Maya’s claim for compensation for damages. The Court will hear the arguments on damages on Wednesday, April 22. After the Court hearing the Maya People will hold a press conference on this historic judgement at the Best Western Hotel in Belize City.

The Maya People’s victory today is a victory for all marginalized peoples in Belize and worldwide. The Maya People expresses gratitude and appreciation for the support that grew stronger year over year from Belizeans, the many Indigenous Peoples that sent their prayers and words of encouragement worldwide, to the Inter American Commission for Human Rights for its report of 2004 which helped to inform domestic litigation, the United Nations bodies that have raised consistently awareness on the need to protect Maya people’s rights and most deeply to our legal team that was put together and coordinated by the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy (IPLP) Program at the University Of Arizona James E. Rodgers College Of Law.


#503609 - 04/23/15 04:57 AM Re: Toledo Maya triumphant in historic CCJ hearing [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 55,706
Marty Offline
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Commentary: The court ruling on the Maya land case in Belize will also impact Garifuna

By Wellington C. Ramos

Long before the Europeans came to the Caribbean, Americas and other parts of the world, people and nations were living in peace in their respective territories on this planet earth. History tells us that it was not only the Europeans that were roaming this planet committing atrocities against other people and nations in the beginning but several other nations as well.

However, when we examine the nature of the atrocities that were committed against people and nations before the new world order was established in 1945, they are guilty of the most genocide and violations of human rights. Many of these occurred during the colonization of the world, when they went to all the continents and established their brutal rule by force with no regard to the indigenous people and nations.

The establishment of the United Nations, World Court and other international institutions, gives people and nations the opportunity to seek redress and reparations for all the atrocities committed against their people and nation. Some of these indigenous people and nations have sought redress in national and international courts but have been denied justice.

The feeling by the governments of these countries is that, if they were to grant them redress, it would set a bad precedent for other indigenous people and nations to bring more cases against them. Many indigenous people and nations are extinct from this planet because of the atrocities committed against them by Europeans and their subsequent governments.

For those who still exist today, like the Mayas in Belize, Central America and the Garifuna people in St Vincent and the Grenadines, only God knows how they still exist. The Spanish and the British came to torture, kill, imprison and displace these people. A significant amount of their men, women and children were killed. Today, in the countries of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua atrocities and human rights violations are still occurring.

The governments of all countries in the world have the power to ignore or totally disregard the rulings from the national, regional and international courts. This has been happening in this case with the Mayas in Belize for years now. Another issue is the role of the political parties and the lawyers in this case. It appears to me as if when the UDP are in power the PUP lawyers aggressively go after the government and when the PUP are in control of the government the UDP lawyers do the same.

It was clear that both the UDP and the PUP were inclined not to grant the Mayas their customary land rights. This may have motivated the Mayas finally to take their case to the Caribbean Court of Justice for final resolution. All they were doing was playing politics to get the Mayan votes and keep them divided. The failure by both of these political parties to act based on the court rulings is enough evidence for anyone to come to this conclusion.

Both the UDP and the PUP are afraid that the Mayas will be given special rights to their land that other Belizeans do not have. The fact is that these indigenous people had these rights centuries before the British, Spanish and Belize government claimed Belize to establish their control.

This may have motivated the Mayas finally to make the right decision to take their case to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), which is Belize’s highest court. It will be left to be seen if the UDP administration will now abide by the court ruling. If they do not, the Mayas will take Belize to the International Court of Justice for final resolution.

Belize cannot afford to have the Guatemalan claim and the Maya claim cases going before the world court because it will appear that these people are fighting for something that does not even belong to them. It is better to settle with the Mayas than to play hardball, because it will only get worse later on.

Now that the Mayas have won their case, it is time for the Garifuna people, organizations and the National Garifuna Council to bring their case to retrieve all the Garifuna Reserves that were granted to the Garifuna people by the British government when they landed in Belize. Even the Mennonites in Belize have rights to their lands and no Belizean can go to their communities and do as they please.

Over the years the governments of Belize have used eminent domain to take some of these lands for public use, village and town expansion without consulting the Garifuna people. The officers of the National Garifuna Council at the time went along with all of the government’s land grabs. Let us see if the new officers in this current organization will do the same thing.

If the National Garifuna Council (NGC) does not take advantage of this ruling, other Garifuna organizations in Belize and abroad will be forced to do something on behalf of their people to protect their lands. We who live in the southern parts of Belize cannot go anywhere else to control and claim land. The people in the north and west will never allow us to do that. The land availability in the north and west is becoming less due to population growth, village and town expansion, the cane farming and other industries.

When those lands are all used up, these people will be coming to the south to take or buy lands from our people who are desperate for money. We have some people among us who like to say that they will take our land because we are not doing anything with it. Yes, we have land but no machines or capital to do some constructive things with our lands.

The constant depriving us of capital by our governments to develop the land is a policy that works to the other people’s advantage to buy our land from us for little money. Then they label the people in the south as lazy and beggars. Even some of our own people, do not understand the Belize’s government policies towards the south and the impact it has on poverty in the southern part of Belize.

I now call on all Garifuna men and women in Belize and abroad to ask the National Garifuna Council of Belize to address the Garifuna Reserves in the Stann Creek and Toledo Districts. This issue has remained quiet for too long. Some of our people in Belize would like to address this issue but they are afraid of losing their jobs and other repercussions that will follow. To them I say have no fear because the spirits of our ancestors will be with you all throughout your struggles and they have never abandoned us.

The first thing we need is an inventory of all Garifuna lands in the south. The Lands Department has a map and we should get it now to see where the lands are and what their current status is. If any of those lands were sold to any individual or individuals without our written consent and approval, we will demand that the government of Belize revoke those titles. They will then be issued the same amount of land elsewhere. We know what to do about our problems and we are going to do what is needed to be done.



The Caribbean Court affirmed that these traditional land rights, belonging to 38 Maya villages in Belize’s Toledo District, constitute property as defined in the provisions of the Belize Constitution that generally protects property free from discrimination.

High Court Orders Belize to Recognize and Protect Maya Traditional Property and Rights

On April 19th the Caribbean Court of Justice announced its judgment affirming the 2013 holding of the Court of Appeal of Belize that the Maya indigenous people of southern Belize have rights to the lands they customarily have used and occupied for many generations.

In the judgment, the court affirmed that these traditional land rights, belonging to 38 Maya villages in Belize’s Toledo District, constitute property as defined in the provisions of the Belize Constitution that generally protects property free from discrimination.

The court's judgment, which was entered by consent of Maya parties in the case and the Government of Belize, will require the government to demarcate and officially register Maya communal lands, and protect them against incursions by outsiders. The Court accepted the government’s undertaking to adopt the necessary “legislative, administrative and/or other measures” to that end and, in the meantime, to refrain from and prevent acts that would adversely affect Maya land rights. The Court also ordered that, in 12 months, both the Maya communities and the Government present a report about implementation of the judgment.

"This judgment of the Caribbean Court of Justice sets an important precedent worldwide, building upon ever-greater recognition of the rights of Indigenous Peoples internationally," said Professor James Anaya who has been involved with the case since 1996 as the chief architect of the legal strategy. Anaya is an internationally known legal scholar and advocate and was also the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples from 2008-2014.

Anaya explained that the judgment "reinforces the international standard that Indigenous Peoples have collective property rights based on their own customary land tenure systems, even when they do not have a formal title or other official recognition of those rights, and that states are bound to recognize and protect those rights."

He further noted that, “the case sets an important precedent for understanding that such traditional indigenous property rights are protected by the constitutions and laws across the world that generally protect property.”

Anaya also pointed out that the Caribbean Court of Justice decision followed a 2004 report issued by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) that found Belize in violation of its international human rights obligations for failing to recognize and protect Maya customary land tenure. Although the Government mostly ignored the IACHR findings, the same report helped bolster the Maya claim and was referred to in lower court decisions that were then affirmed by the Caribbean Court of Appeals.

For representatives of the Maya communities that have been fighting for their rights for decades, the recent court decision, which was consistent with the IACHR findings, was very good news.

"We have had to grovel before these courts for more than 30 years," said Alfonso Cal, the top traditional leader for the Mayan people.

"But now we are happy that the highest court has stood again with my people by putting Belize on the road towards the right side of history," Cal asserted.

Cristina Coc, a spokesperson for the Maya Leaders Alliance said that the court's judgment provides Belize with another opportunity to rewrite its relationship with the first peoples of the country. She stated that the struggle of the Maya people was also for all of the marginalized people of Belize and the world.

"We're hoping that the courts in this country and elsewhere will do the same thing," Anaya added, noting also that many courts throughout the Americas are looking at precedents in dealing with indigenous rights to territory and resources.

"Belize is in a crossroads right now, and it has a chance to reverse the history of denial of rights to Mayan people," he said.

"And it is incumbent upon international agencies and donor countries that they support Belize as they move forward with judgments to recognize Mayan peoples rights," Anaya said.

Source



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