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CCJ sets Timetable for Maya Land Rights Implementation Print E-mail
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Thursday, 22 February 2018 00:00

The Caribbean Court of Justice will take steps to help the Government of Belize and the Maya of Southern Belize implement a judgment of that court so that Maya Customary Land Tenure be observed. That consent order was delivered back in April 2015, and from the perspective of one judge sitting on the case, “…We cannot continue in the way that we have continued up to now.”

That statement was made by Justice Jacob Wit at the last hearing before the CCJ, which was held on Monday, February 19 via teleconference. These hearings have been taking place since April 2016, because the court decided to retain jurisdiction to ensure that the judgment would be implemented.

At the last report hearing, on October 30, 2017, the Government committed that it would have a draft working plan for the implementation of the judgment. This working plan is to be a road map, from the Government’s perspective, of how best to formally implement a customary land rights system. The idea is that this new system that would fit into the current land rights system that the Lands Department currently has for private land owners. It was supposed to be available for the CCJ to review before the February 19 hearing, but the Attorney General’s Ministry did not have it ready for the court.

Secondly, before this latest hearing, the Government was supposed to have held two consultation meetings with the representatives of the 39 Maya Communities. That was to be done so that the two sides could have a meaningful discussion on how to improve the Government’s ideas for this draft working plan. It was later revealed that only one of those meetings actually happened.

When the two sides went before the court, the judges were informed that the Government had not honored its commitments, and so the court imposed a mandatory deadline on the Attorney General’s Ministry to produce this working plan by March 9.

There are other important elements of this implementation, which neither side have been able to finalize. One of them is an alternative form of dispute resolution. That needs to be in place as part of Maya Customary Land Tenure. From the court’s perspective, there needs to be some sort of adjudication process, so that the Maya communities can have their complaints of infringement of those customary land rights heard. Those complaints could involve issues like logging and mining permits, which the Government may grant without properly consulting the Maya people, as the Government is now required to do.

It is here that the CCJ Judge, Jacob Wit, made it clear that no real progress after nearly three years is not acceptable.

Justice Wit said, “A dispute resolution framework needs to be established. We ask you to do so. We got a dispute resolution proposal from the government’s side and a letter from Mrs. Coc-Magusson reacting on that. The idea is that we will sit together, you and I, and I propose that that will happen this week… I will give you some thoughts how I want to get this done, because after 3 years the party have not succeeded in getting anything done in this regard and this cannot continue…. The Dispute resolution framework that is proposed is much too complicated. I think there needs to be an authoritative person and I think that could be a retired judge from Belize, somebody of that stature. That is in short, succinct way the direction I would like to discuss with you, and I insist that we get to some sort of results, as we cannot continue in the way that we have continued up to now. Of course you do not have to agree with me, but it would be advisable that in some way you do.”

Other important issues unresolved at this time is that there has also been no official survey done by the Lands Department of the land that 39 Maya Villages of Toledo sit on. That will determine where exactly these customary land rights will apply.

The parties are expected to go back before the CCJ on March 15 for another report.