Maya Communal Lands reaffirmed at CCJ

Saturday, May 2nd, 2015

The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) has formally declared that a prior judgment of the Belize Court of Appeal stands, affirming that Belizean Maya Communal Lands Rights exist. That declaration was made in Belize City on Wednesday April 22nd in the packed courtroom of Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin. Antoinette Moore, attorney for the Maya Claimants, took the opportunity outlining her submissions that the Mayas deserve damages for all the years when their customary land rights were ignored.17 Maya Land dispute
The CCJ was scheduled to listen to arguments in regards to the Maya Communal Lands Rights, but before arguments began, the Court delivered a consent order. The order was entered into by both the Maya claimants and the Government of Belize (GOB). The order declared that a judgment of the Court of Appeal stands, meaning that Maya Communal Land Rights existed. With that affirmation, the court accepted GOB’s agreement to develop necessary administrative and legal steps to protect those land rights. The mechanism must be developed in full consultation with the Mayas in southern Belize. Those land rights will include land ownership rights at the Lands Department as well as any other terms agreed upon by both the Maya communities and GOB.
Within the consent order declared by the court, it includes that GOB has to consult with the Mayas of southern Belize on ways how people or entities from outside those communities will get permission to exploit resources inside Maya Communal Lands. The order makes it clear that GOB cannot grant concessions and permits for resource exploitation, such as logging permits, oil exploration concessions and land titles, without first consulting with the villages affected by such decisions.
The Executive Director of Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM) Froyla Tzalam called it a day of victory for the Maya people of Belize. “It’s an affirmation of our rights and because of that, if we are the owners of our land, we must be party to anything that happens to our property. We have never asked for squatters rights, we are not squatters, we’re indigenous people, aboriginal people and certainly the judgment that was read out today made no mention of squatters. So I definitely agree with how the judge pronounced his judgment.”
The CCJ has set April 30, 2016 for the litigants to report back to the court as to progress made to fully implement the Communal Land Rights System.
However, the attorney for the Maya Claimants out lined a submission that the Mayas deserve damages for all the years when their customary land rights were ignored by GOB. She went back as far as the mid 90’s and even as early as last year when GOB entered into agreements with companies such as US Capital Energy for resource exploitation within the Maya Communal Lands. Moore said that it was 20 years of struggle against the GOB’s indifference to protect Maya rights.
GOB’s attorney Denys Barrow responded that the Government is not liable for any damages, and said that any damages which were done against the Mayas should be sought against the persons who committed them.
The CCJ reserved its decision on whether or not the Maya claimants are due any damages that they have now claimed.

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