An internal investigation has been launched at the Belize Defence Force following several allegations of sexual harassment by senior officers. In a release issued by the BDF, the allegations are several and include extortion, maltreatment, sexual assault and sexual advances at the Training Company with the recruits being the victims. According to the Ministry of National Security a special investigative team led by Assistant Superintendent Sherlette Ramclam Recent honor graduate of the FBI Academy; Inspector Shaida Mckenzie lead investigator at the Crimes Investigation Branch in Belize City; Josephine Garbutt Senior Administrative Officer at the Ministry of National Security and Retired Commissioner of Police Gerald Westby, Chairman of the Civilian Complaint and Review Board. According to the Brigadier General, Stephen Ortega, he is taking this matter seriously and will deal with it in the strictest way possible.
Brig. Gen. Steven Ortega, Commander, Belize Defence Force: “The Defense Act covers military matters so persons in uniform and yes we do have a sexual harassment policy that if you breach you will be disciplined and the civilians they’re governed, most of the persons who work here are open vote, they’re governed by the regulation or public service regulations.”
Reporter: How many complaints are we talking about ? We’ve heard about seventy complaints against these senior officers.
Brig. Gen. Steven Ortega, Commander, Belize Defence Force: “I wouldn’t know. I don’t see the reports because at the end of the day they will come to me. So the investigators they go through whatever they need to do and then they formulate what charges need to get filed and afterwards those come to me. “
Reporter: One of the victims that we spoke to yesterday said that she went to the Commandant with her complaints.
Brig. Gen. Steven Ortega, Commander, Belize Defence Force: “I’m the Commander presently and I haven’t received any complaint as such.”
Reporter: You haven’t spoken to any of the female recruit, anybody here about those allegations of sexual assault ?
Brig. Gen. Steven Ortega, Commander, Belize Defence Force: “None of them about that. No.”
Reporter: But as the Commandant shouldn’t you know how many allegations have been made so far this broke since Tuesday.
Brig. Gen. Steven Ortega, Commander, Belize Defence Force: “Yes it broke since Tuesday but I chose not to get involved in the investigation because I will at the end of the day try these cases so that’s like a judge being part of the investigation, how will that look ?”
Ortega also spoke of the black eye that the allegations give to the force, particularly under his watch.
Brig. Gen. Steven Ortega, Commander, Belize Defence Force: “Of course no Commander will feel good to have negative reports coming out but I believe at the end of the day we’re here to fix problems that exist and there is only one way to fix it; if we investigate it and put proper measures in place to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”
Reporter: What’s the time frame in terms of the investigation.
Brig. Gen. Steven Ortega, Commander, Belize Defence Force: “I’m not sure I haven’t spoken to the investigators yet in terms of them giving me a timeline, we’ve been very busy with getting this day on the way. Presently we do have guidelines. I don’t know how much you know about the military but we have guidelines for everything, what we call standard operating procedures and we do that and I believe this investigation will help us improve what we have on those.”
We will keep following this story to see if anyone will be held accountable.