CCJ grants historic constitutional relief to Maya people

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CCJBELMOPAN, Belize, Friday October 30, 2015 – In a historic ruling today, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) ordered the Belize government to pay members of the Maya community compensation for breaching their constitutional rights.

A fund of BZ$300,000 (US$150,375) is to be set up as a result of the order.

The CCJ ruling was in favour of 25 members of the Maya community of the Toledo District who have been fighting for recognition and protection of Maya land rights before local and international courts for about two decades.

Their appeal before the CCJ arose out of litigation triggered by an incursion onto farm lands in the Golden Stream village by a now deceased man. While that appeal was being heard by the CCJ in Belize, the Mayans and the government entered into a Consent Order on April 22, 2015 which recognized the Mayans’ property rights.

The Consent Order also requires the government to develop of a mechanism to recognize and protect Maya land rights in consultation with the Maya people. The parties are to report to the CCJ on the chosen mechanism by April 2016.

Under the Consent Order, the CCJ was asked to decide whether the Appellants should be granted damages for breach of constitutional rights, which was the main focus of today’s judgment.

“The CCJ found that the Government of Belize breached the Appellants’ right to protection of the law by failing to ensure that the existing property regime, inherited from the pre-Independence colonial system, recognized and protected Maya land rights,” the Trinidad-based court said in a statement.

“The CCJ emphasized that the protection of the law is linked to fairness and the rule of law. It demands that the State take positive steps to secure and protect constitutional rights and to honour its international commitments, including its obligations to protect the rights of indigenous peoples.”

However, the CCJ said it could not find sufficient evidence to support the Mayans’ claim for special damages arising out of the Golden Stream incursion.

“While acknowledging that the remedial action to be undertaken by the Government under the Consent Order was reparatory, the CCJ felt that innovative use should be made of the broad jurisdiction to grant redress under the Constitution based on the centuries of oppression and marginalization suffered by the Maya people,” it stated.

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