What are the CCJ ordered Maya Land Rights? Print E-mail
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Written by By Shane D. Williams   
Thursday, 21 January 2016 00:00

The Maya Land Rights Commission is getting set to open its office in Punta Gorda and plans to hold consultations throughout the Toledo District shortly after. The Caribbean Court of Justice has affirmed that the Maya people of villages in the Toledo District have rights to property based on customary land tenure. The court handed down a consent order that for some appears to be ambiguous. The order did nothing to explain what property exactly are the Maya people entitled to or which exact group of people are entitled to such right. The order seems to have left more questions than answers and where answers are not available the interested parties have inserted their own. However, according to Indigenous Affairs expert, Queen Counsel Anthony Ross, there isn’t cause for confusion in regards to the consent order handed down by the CCJ. Ross says, “The order of the Caribbean Court of Justice is quite clear.”

The Commission’s role is to explain to the Belizean people the points in the consent order issued by the Caribbean Court of Justice on Maya land rights; gather information on the desires of Maya people in Toledo villages; include feedback from other residents of the area and make recommendations to Government for the execution of the consent order. Government has until April 30 to report its progress to the Court.

The main points of the consent order has been released to the public and it does not call for any assignment or distribution of land to the Maya people, as some have suggested. It does not mean that villages will be labeled “Maya Village” and those of other ethnicity will be required to leave. The order does not even mean that Maya people are entitled to special rights in regards to land acquisition and it surely does not mean that they will live under different laws from all other Belizean. As explained by Ross, “The effect of [the order] is that Maya customary land tenure exists in the Maya villages in Toledo and gives rights to collective and individual copyrights.”

In simple terms, the Maya people have occupied land in certain villages for decades. They have developed and protected those properties. In most cases this is done in a community effort. The order is simply saying that the people who have occupied, developed and protected the land for so many years have a right to claim such property. Furthermore, they have the right to claim such property as a community and collective ownership should be recognized by the Government of Belize. However, if a member of the community wishes to privately own property they have toiled on for years then he or she has that right too and the Government should recognize that right.

There have been questions about what will be done about private property that are currently in Maya villages. The commission is not at a stage where it is willing to weigh in on such questions as yet but the consent order is clear on this as well. Point number five in the consent order made public by the Maya Land Rights Commission states, “The constitutional authority of the Government over all lands in Belize is not affected by this order.” Therefore, land titles that have been issued by the Government of Belize are not affected by the ruling. All other crown land still belongs to the Government and the Maya people, either individually or collectively, are free to apply for title to the land they have occupied.

The right for the Maya people to own land based on costumary land tenure is a fundamental human right but they must remember that Belize is a sovereign nation with a democratically elected Government and an established Constitution under which ALL citizens must abide. Ross says, “We are now on the other side of a new day that is dawning…I would really hope that an atmosphere of cooperation rather than confrontation will prevail.