Home Affairs Ministry Proposes Tougher Penalties for Gang Activity

Home Affairs Ministry Proposes Tougher Penalties for Gang Activity

Amid the declaration of two States of Emergency within six months, the Ministry of Home Affairs wants to increase the penalty for gang charges and establish a gang detention period. The measures were both implemented following a spate of gang violence and murders perpetrated by alleged gang members. However, many have criticized the efficacy of the SOEs given the uptick in gang activities that usually re-occur once the men are released from prison. Minister of Home Affairs Kareem Musa concedes that more needs to improve the police’s efforts and deter criminals from causing chaos.

Karen Musa, Minister of Home Affairs: “I think there is high time for us to have a discussion, a consultation period even, because I don’t think necessarily the state of emergency was designed for this type of gang intervention, so to speak. And so we could start having the discussion of amending legislation, of even amending the constitution for a gang detention period, as opposed to utilizing the state of emergency, because like you rightly said there are just a very small few handful of young men that insist on carrying out this type of criminal activity. They do not want to change. I know that a majority of them do want to change, but there is that handful that will continue to wreak havoc. And so we will continue to apply pressure, but I think in terms of amending legislation that is one aspect we can look at. A different mechanism to put in place as a such as a gang detention period. Also we’re going to be looking at over the course of the next three months amending legislation for gang and gun violence and so having possession of a firearm as you know could carry up to five years imprisonment we’re looking to increasing that penalty again going through a consultation period with all the stakeholders, with magistrates, with judges, with the DPP’s office to see how we can improve the Firearms Act and increasing the penalty for illegal firearms and perhaps even establishing a specialized court to deal with gang and gun violence. So a specific Supreme Court or High Court judge that will address specifically matters and issues arising out of gang and gun violence.”

Musa underscored that while there are hundreds of alleged gang members in Belize, there are only a handful of bad actors creating issues for the police.  

Kareem Musa, Minister of Home Affairs: “It just seems that regardless of the penalty, regardless of the convictions, because we are receiving a lot of convictions coming out of the High Court, these young men, like I said, they are only a handful of them that refuse to cooperate, that refuse to try to turn over a new leaf. And so it’s simply a matter of increasing the penalties because, like I said, we are getting the convictions out of the courts.”

Reporter: What would the gang retention period look like? Would you go full Bukele and lock them up indefinitely?
Kareem Musa, Minister of Home Affairs: “I wouldn’t want to go there as yet Courtney. It’s not something that I would want to see in place. I don’t think we have arrived there as a country as yet. We don’t have the types of kidnapping, extortion of businesses, of individuals that took place in El Salvador. We do have a lot of gang violence where young men unfortunately are just killing one another senselessly. And so yes, we can look at an extended period but an indefinite lockdown of individuals the way that Salvador has done it, I don’t think that we are there yet.”

The SOE was extended and will run for 3 months.

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