Belize Commits to 127 Human Rights Recommendations Following UN Review

Belize has recently agreed to carry out some 127 human rights recommendations that came out of the Fourth Universal Periodic Review (UPR) under the United Nations.  This UPR is a compilation of assessments made in various countries to measure the degree of complicity when it comes to international human rights.  The assessment on Belize was made back in January through a delegation led by Minister of State for Human Development, Elvi Vega-Samos.  According to the 20-page review on Belize, it was noted that some six years ago the Office of the Ombudsman was to be transformed into a national human rights institution which remains pending.  On the flip side, Belize has made significant progress in its efforts, including the Amnesty Program, the land undertaking with the indigenous community, the national birth-registration campaign as well as the amendment to the compulsory age for school children.  Minister Francis Fonseca spoke on the undertaking by the government to carry out the recommendations.

Francis Fonesca, Minister of Foreign Affairs: “Belize has accepted, as you noted, the great, great majority of these recommendations. For us, really, it’s about equality, equity, inclusion. Those are critical priorities for us. We are very, very committed to ensuring that there’s gender equity, for example. We want to ensure across the board that there is equality of treatment in terms of people who live in our society. People should not be discriminated against for gender or any other of these factors. Another critical area for us is, of course, human trafficking. We want to address that in a very comprehensive way. We want to ensure that we are not, we’re doing everything we can to ensure that people are not being trafficked through our country and that our citizens are not a part of any human trafficking network. So a lot of good work is being done. Very proud of the fact that we just recently, in the last House meeting, approved for example the Disabilities Act which is again a critically important part of our human rights agenda, ensuring that people with disabilities have every opportunity to lead meaningful, productive lives. So that is the spirit in which we are approaching these recommendations.”

In the discussion on human rights, the question came up about law enforcement.  In recent weeks, the public has seen where dozens of known gang affiliates were taken up to prison under a State of Emergency.  Coupling that are several videos where Police are seen acting aggressively with suspects.  Going hand in hand with that, however, is the shooting of the Roaring Creek Police Station and the home of the Police Commissioner.  The question arises on how a balance can be created.

Francis Fonesca, Minister of Foreign Affairs: We have in place laws, that’s why we have laws in our society, and we have a judicial process. Every citizen of Belize every person is afforded due process. Every person is presumed innocent in the eyes of the law before they are convicted of a crime. So when you’re dealing gangs or dealing with criminals obviously that is much more complex and much more challenging but even there if we are to ensure that we continue to be a democratic society that believes in the fundamental rule of law, even when we are faced with these challenges, we have to make sure that we are following due process, that we respect the rule of law. And so as difficult as it is when we’re dealing with these hardened criminals, sometimes we see them as having no regard for life, having no respect for the society in which they live even there, we can’t be like them. We can’t, you know, we can’t be like them. We have an obligation to respect the rule of law and to try to ensure that we are following due process. And even in those cases, make sure that those people are afforded their rights, that their rights are protected. Now, as I said, their rights can never, you know, trump the rights of the society as a whole. So that’s the challenge and that’s the balance. And so we’ll always have these very difficult issues where as we’ve seen over the weekend where the police, the authorities are faced with these issues. And I think, again, we have to look at each case individually. We have to make sure that we get the full story, full picture of what happened. Very often, there are only small clips that are put out there. We have to get the full picture. But at the end of the day we do not want to live in a society where the police do not respect the rights of individuals, do not respect the rights of citizens, even when we’re dealing with people who are, we believe, are involved in criminal activity. Because if you go down that road, that’s a very, very dangerous road to go.”

In the UPR document, it noted the revised human rights and use of force policy in 2022. Despite that, however, the Office of the Ombudsman continued investigating cases involving excessive use of force. To enhance the criminal justice system, Belize had also introduced the Senior Courts Act (2022) and the Time Limit for Judicial Decisions Act (2021), which were aimed at expediting court processes and decreasing the time that prisoners spent on remand before trial, among other objectives.

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