A press release from the Ministry of National Security on the investigation into sexual assault allegations within the Belize Defence Force did more to confuse its readers than inform them. The release was lacking in pertinent information such as the crimes that occurred and the persons who would be disciplined, if any. Attorney-at-Law and Activist Lisa Shoman has taken to Facebook to express her outrage at the way the investigation was handled. Love News Reporter Courtney Menzies sat down with her and delved into the issue of sexual assault among the ranks of the BDF.
Courtney Menzies, Love FM News: Back in January over 50 female Belize Defence Force recruits came forward with allegations of sexual assault against senior officers prompting what should have been a thorough investigation. Not six months later this investigation has concluded and the results are severely underwhelming. On Monday we reported on a vague press release from the Ministry of National Security in which they stated “the Investigation points to some wrongdoing and negligence by personnel within the units involved. These are being addressed internally by the Belize Defence Force and the Belize Police Department where appropriate.” This has stirred unrest among the public who have taken to social media to demand transparency with the way the investigation is being handled. One of these persons lobbying for this is attorney Lisa Shoman. According to her this culture of sexual assault in the BDF being swept under the rug is nothing new and that she is disappointed that the only justice the recruits get is a scanty press release.
Lisa Shoman, Attorney at Law / Feminist/ Activist: “Brigadier General Ortega promised that he had no tolerance for this and that there would be a full investigation. Well as far as I know the media has not been given any report to date, the public has not been given any report of the investigation. What we have is a very vaguely worded press release that was put out basically stating that the Ministry of National Security has concluded the investigation into allegations of what it calls misconduct in the BDF. Now lets understand misconduct to me is what bad pikni do. Misconduct to me is behavior that does not rise to being an assault, a violation, sexual harassment, none of these things because none of those things are offences. I’ve had a lot of respect and admiration for the BDF dating back to 1981 for the thirty nine years they’ve been in existence but frankly at this point to me this is a period of time that should be one of great shame because you’re perfectly right this basically says don’t worry about it we’re gonna handle it internally and if there is anything for the police to see we’ll let them see that. That is not good enough. I would not be surprised if you don’t see young women sticking up their neck to complain again because they done see what you get- nothing.
Courtney Menzies, Love FM News: Shoman is encouraging other Belizeans to stand in solidarity with the female recruits and continue to demand that more be done to sanction those that are found guilty of sexual assault.
Lisa Shoman, Attorney at Law / Feminist/ Activist: “Belizeans have to get up and demand that our sisters, our daughters, our cousins, our granddaughters are being kept not only safe but treated with respect and equal dignity; we demand nothing less and this press release says not one word of remorse or regret about what has happened to any of the young women who complained about gross violations. It shouldn’t have to wait until it reaches a charge of rape for somebody to go to the police and for charges to be laid against people. I search my mind and I cannot now remember anybody who has been dishonorably discharged from the BDF for violating or assaulting a female BDF officer or soldier.”
Shoman is calling for a report to be issued to the public which outlines the details of the investigation. In addition to this case, Love News understands that a member of the LGBT was raped earlier this year at one of the military camps in the west. A credible source indicated that no rape kit was done on the victim but a report was made internally. To date no one has been held accountable for the incident.