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CCJ Gets Update on the Maya Consent Order

The Caribbean Court of Justice this morning was given an update on the progress made in implementing the Maya Consent Order. On April 22, 2015, the Maya Leaders Alliance and twenty-three other villages and the Attorney General of Belize *entered into *a Consent Order in which, among other things, the Government of Belize agreed to develop a mechanism to recognize the land rights of the indigenous Maya people. The last meeting was held on January 21, 2021 when the CCJ gave the directions that the parties will meet to discuss the plan and timeline to implement the recommendations and provide an outcome by the end of March and a compliance report be submitted before May 13, 2021. The compliance report has been provided related to what the government has done to implement the recommendations. Reacting to the actions that the government took was attorney Leslie Mendez, who appeared for the Maya community.

Leslie Mendez, Attorney for Maya Communities: “Yes there was a communication to the third parties that they are to cease surveying activities but in fact the reason for that the state states to them is that the expiration of the permission that was granted. That implicitly is accepting the legality of the permission to survey which we have said was granted without the consent of the communities. So that is one example in which it seems that this new government is simply not recognizing the legality and the implications, the injunctive implications of paragraph four, the obligations that third parties have under paragraph four to consult and obtain the consent of the communities and the obligation that the government has to advise third parties accordingly as well as their public officials. The same is what we’re seeing in Indian Creek your honors. Indian Creek in fact presents an even more concerning situation because we are seeing an escalation in the activities. As we have reported that there has been an escalation of the activities that third parties are undertaking in Indian Creek. Now it is true that the commissioner has taken some steps and has brought the parties together and perhaps I can report on that meeting because it happened after the compliance reports. During that meeting we met with the leaders of Indian Creek myself and the representatives of the third parties along with the commissioner. Again one of the main concerns there is that it was apparent that there’s a reluctance from this government to explicitly tell and advise third parties that they are to obtain the permission, the consent, that they are to consult with the communities if they want to undertake any activities in their lands. I say that because I asked repeatedly the commissioner as to what this government’s interpretation, what he considers are the implications of paragraph four particularly in light of the authority’s report and no clear answer was given, your honors. And so that presents a serious concern because what happens with this is that third parties, and I will venture to say that particularly these third parties, are emboldened by that reluctance.”

Participating in today’s hearing was Rosa Celorio. She joined George Washington University Law School in 2018 after serving the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States as a senior attorney for more than ten years. In this matter, she is the authority that made several recommendations. Celorio also expressed concerns.

Rosa Celorio, The Authority: “One aspect of concern that I have is that I do commend the government because I do see some efforts from the government and this is reflected in the reports. You know you do see efforts to consult, you do see cease and desist orders in specific cases when they realize that there wasn’t an appropriate consultation process for granting of a permit and when I did my visit last year and I spoke with government officials they were all committed to compliance with the CCJ consent order, they were aware of it etc so I do think that there’s positive indicia here of the context where they can progress positively. But I just want to highlight a number of concerns and I think the letter related to Indian Creek kinda represents a lot of what I’ve been seeing recently. Despite the issuance of the reports the reality is that we still continue seeing third party incursions in the Maya villages and the granting of permits and authorizations and sometimes this is legal and sometimes this is illegal so it’s important to keep this in mind and so we keep on seeing the repetition of the same problems. You know when I received for example the most recent complaints related to San Pedro Colombia Village related to I got a second complaint for example for the Laguna Village even though we have a report issued last year it seems that there was again the same repetition of patterns. You know I’m very concerned about the non expedited nature of action. Like I commend the government for the efforts that it has taken so far but I do think that some of these matters need much more expedited time frames, be more concrete. I also want to highlight the FPIC protocol this is something that I’ve actually highlighted in most of my concluding reports I even highlighted in my recent technical opinion on consent agreements. I think this is a fundamental tool in this process you know to guide consultation process, to guide consent processes and I’m very concerned that there’s been a very lengthy discussion about this FPIC Protocol. We have the CCJ consent order that was adopted six years ago in many years and we’re still seeing all these delays in approval of the  FPIC Protocol and tools that we know are important to prevent me receiving complaints. I think the fact that I’m still receiving complaints denotes that a lot of the structural issues are still there and so I really call the government to act faster. They have the capacity to do that because I have seen it. I think they are engaging in efforts and I think that they want to do this but I think there’s a need to act faster than what we’re seeing and I think also there is a need to act more concretely to see time frames also when it comes to compliance with the recommendations and to respond to some of the concerns that were just voiced by the Maya presentation as well.”

The government was represented by Samantha Matute-Tucker. Minister of Human Development, Families and Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, Dolores Balderamos Garcia, along with Minister of State Elvia Vega and Commissioner for Indigenous People, Greg Choc. Minister Balderamos-Garcia told the court that the government recognizes the importance the Consent Order.

Dolores Balderamos Garcia, Minister of Human Development, Families & Indigenous People’s Affairs: “This entire process is under serious ______ and we will be receiving certain representations from our counsel by the 6th of July your honors an we do beg for the opportunity to have a little more time and we are requesting for the 10th of July and I do want to indicate to the court we’re listening extremely keenly and we intend to take all the representations under full advisement as we go forward. Thank you for indicating that many efforts have been made but we realize that the matter is extremely complex and so I want to indicate our full commitment but please allow us that extra time.”

The government is expected to submit a working plan by July 26 of this year, detailing the plan to implement the recommendations