This morning, the Government of Belize and the leaders of the Maya communities of the south were back before the Caribbean Court of Justice for another of the court's compliance hearings. The CCJ is continuing its oversight of the implementation of its judgment on Maya customary land rights. The court is trying to make sure that Maya land rights become a real system that is recognized and integrated into the traditional land ownership system at the Lands Department.
But the Government has so far been unable to satisfy the indigenous Maya with the pace of implementation. They continue to complain that the state is dragging its feet, and they say that the Government and the Maya Land Rights Commission have frustrated all attempts to speed up the process. The Commission was set up by the Government specifically to implement the CCJ judgment
Well, the Maya went back before the CCJ in a teleconference hearing this morning to complain that not much has changed since the last adjournment. The hearing lasted a little over 2 hours, where the judges went line by line into the draft of an alternate dispute resolution document.
Once that was done, the judges then heard from both sides on the progress - if any - on the draft working plan. That's basically a map of the next few months and years that will outline what systematic steps need to be taken to get Maya Customary land tenure on the books at the Lands Department. And once again, the Maya had only complaints about the Government's foot dragging.
Outside, after the lengthy court hearing, 7News spoke with Cristina Coc, the spokesperson for the Maya Leaders Alliance and the Toledo Alcaldes Association, and here's what she had to say about the latest disagreements between the Maya and the Government over the slow pace of implementation:
Cristina Coc - Spokesperson, MLA/TAA
"I think that the court has seen very clearly, despite the fact that they only see bits and pieces of the real picture of how the Government treats the Maya people, and how it continues to fail to appreciate the rights of the Maya people in Southern Belize. [GOB] continues do everything thing possible to disregard and disrespect good faith consultations, and to delay the process of implementation. We are 3 years this decision was given, and to date, we still have come to agree to a very simple task that is of a joint work plan, a road map that would set out what it is that the court has ordered the Government to do. Now, time and time again, we come to the court, we listen to the way that the Government has created this excuse after excuse, and fail to recognize - we are convinced that this Government, this commission, is incapable of recognizing and give regard to due process. this commission seems to think that they can just dictate, that they can inform, that they can make unilateral decisions, all the while failing to recognize that this is the life of our children."
The press asked Coc to offer examples of the decisions that the Maya Lands Rights Commission has taken that they disagree with, and which they believe are not in good faith. Here's what she had to say:
Cristina Coc - Spokesperson, MLA/TAA
"The Commission met with us after so many times of coming back to this very court, and asking the court to have the commission take undertakings to meet with us because they refused to meet with us. They refused to have good faith negotiations with us, particularly on the workplan, and because they were pressed to do they ended having a few meetings with us where they presented to us a draft framework of a workplan. We continue to give, time and time again, our inputs. In one point in time, they gave us a work plan that came from the Solicitor General, and then later on, told us that that was a wrong version of the workplan. The commission said that's not the version that they approved, that the commission approved. And so, the commission said that they had a new version, but did not provide us with that version at the time that they informed us. They provided that later. Recognizing that we have court deadlines, and court obligations, we reported to the court on the draft workplan that was provided to us. When we came back to give feedback on the final version that the commission was supposedly saying was the corrected version, they told us this is final talk about workplan, we will not take anymore of your inputs. We're just gonna submit a workplan unilaterally because, at the end of the day, this is the Government's workplan, while the court tried to have us come to a joint workplan. Now, recognizing that this breeds no good attempt to bring about trust, to bring about mutual partnership or working relationship, we felt that the fighting was over after the court. But, it seems the commission refuses to mend relations with the Maya people, and really act in good faith. So, that is a disappointment, however, We are hopeful that as the court continues to maintain supervision over this process, if there is no agreement, we hope that the court will - for lack of a better word - hold our hands to really come point by point to agree on this workplan because this is the bulk of the work that needs to be done. Other issues that we have that they make unilateral appointments, for example, hiring consultants that they don't even talk to us about, consultants that are inadequate, in our point of view because, first of all, you bring in consultants from Guatemala, who speak only Spanish. Understand that the Maya people don't speak Spanish. Our native language is Quechi and Mopan Maya. We learned English, and at the same time, we are being told you're not going to be provided with even your language translators, your native language translators, then we're compounded with having to deal with yet another foreign language, on top of the English that we have to contend with."
The court will convene for another compliance hearing by teleconference closer to the end of this year. We contacted Lisel Alamilla, the Chair of the Maya Land Rights Commission, for a response to Cristina Coc's public complaints against the Commission, but she told us that she is on vacation at this time.
We did get a chance to speak with Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte, and he told us that from his perspective the implementation of the judgment is going as fast as it possibly can. He then used the example of simply demarcating one of the Mayan villages, so that their boundaries are clearly defined. Peyrefitte said that there is very little agreement on where the villages begin, and where they end, and so, it's not "an overnight thing" to properly demarcate Maya customary land, which is one of the many steps in implementing the CCJ judgment.