A validation workshop on Belize’s Draft Report under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ICCPR, was recently held at the George Price Center for Peace and Development in Belmopan. Present to participate in the draft inputs were representatives from the Human Rights Commission of Belize, UNIBAM and sub-groups, Government Ministries, Traffic Department, Elections and Boundaries, Belmopan City Council and others.
The ICCPR is one of the core human rights Treaties and is regarded as one of the three pillars of the International Bill of Human Rights along with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The ICCPR was adopted in 1966 and entered into force in 1976.
Orla Kantum Coleman, Director of International Affairs Cooperation in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs explained to the Guardian that the event was very important, because it gives everyone an opportunity; especially for non-state members, to comment on the draft report destined to the human rights committee within the ICCPR. Orla Coleman also says that members of the public can continue to make comments during next week before it goes to Cabinet. That draft report is now available online at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, http://www.mfa.gov.bz/
In his welcome address, Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Sylvester said that the validation workshop was to discover “…leakages that undermine the protection and promotion of human rights that are under our watch…”
In his remarks later that day, the Hon. Wilfred Peter Erlington, Minister of Foreign Affairs stated that Belize acceded to the ICCPR in 1996, but that many of the fundamental rights were already enshrined in the Constitution. The Covenant covers a range of civil and political rights, including physical integrity rights that involve individual liberty, political participation, non-discrimination and equal participation of the law.
According to the Hon. Wilfred Erlington, the Covenant had been observed as part of the daily work of our Judiciary and our Law Enforcement Agencies. He also said that the Covenant had required that Belize submit an initial report to the human rights committee one year after accession, but this had not been possible.
“But our Government is committed to the implementation of all this treaty obligation,” he said.
Belize’s Foreign Minister also said that one of the observations made in 2013, was related to the prevention of the excessive use of force by law enforcement officers. At that time it was expressed that the Professional Standards Branch would be adequately resourced, ensuring that law enforcement personnel continue to receive training and prevention of torture and ill treatment. He said that there were a number of observations relating to Article 7 of the Covenant, which states that no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
If these cases are observed from the Professional Standards Branch, said the Foreign Minister, there is an actual decline in the cases of excessive force for the same period 2012 to 2014. He reported that to ensure that the numbers of incidents giving rise to complaints were reduced, cameras were installed in all police stations, officers were trained on human rights and there was improved supervision. Also, the Office of the Ombudsman and the Professional Standards Branch continue to work together, signing a memorandum of understanding on January 26th of this year with the objective of strengthening the cooperation of the two offices.
Many have contributed to the draft report to the ICCPR, where stakeholders have been very supportive and cooperative in the data collection and drafting process. The process of granting official sanction to the document, will soon take center stage; towards a Covenant that guarantees us many rights that we now enjoy today.