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Human Rights Report Highlights Infractions and Challenges in Belize

The 2015 Human Rights Report has been released and has highlighted several infractions and challenges experienced particularly in the area of law enforcement and prosecution in Belize.  The 23-page document goes into detail on certain reports and incidents and states in its Executive Summary that the most important human rights abuses were done via excessive force by security forces (especially the police), lengthy pre-trial detention as well as harassment and threats based on sexual orientation or gender identity.   While those were listed as the most important, there were other problems cited including the corruption of officials, discrimination in the area of domestic violence against women, sexual abuse of children, trafficking in persons and child labor.  The report is divided into seven sections ranging from arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life to respect for civil liberties and freedom in the political process.  In Section one where it deals with deprivation of life, the July 2015 incident where Hilberto Sotz died whilst in custody at the Caye Caulker Police Station after being detained for questioning into a series of burglaries was documented.  This case has had no finality to it as at November 2015 although two officers were arrested on the charge of murder.  Under Section one of the human rights document, while it was noted that there were no reports of politically motivated disappearances, there is a case that remains unsolved whereby three fishermen remain unaccounted for since August 2015 and the families have pointed fingers at the Belize Coast Guard due to a previous encounter had with the men at sea.  The Ombudsman Report was used as a reference in the report whereby it was noted by the Ombudsman’s office that complaints of abuse by the Gang Suppression Unit.  While there have been complaints made against other patrol units around the country, majority of them came out of Belize City.  The case of June 2015 where a man sustained several injuries including two large cuts to the head whilst being detained was referred to.  This, too, has had no finality; the only progress made is that a Special Constable was placed on suspension while the officer accompanying him at the time of the incident was disciplined internally for failing to contain the situation.  As it relates to the prison facility, the 2015 Human Rights Report stated that the Belize Central Prison managed by the Kolbe Foundation is yet to meet international standards.  In the area of prosecution, the document notes that a backlog of lengthy trials remain particular for murder cases.  Problems cited for this backlog were the delays in police officers completing their investigations, court delays in the preparation of dispositions and adjournments in the court.  In addition to those, the Belize Police Department was noted as being lacking in resources specifically, a forensic laboratory for the analysis of human specimen and ballistics which would strengthen some cases before the courts.  Judges were also noted as being slow in issuing rulings which have been seen to take as long as one year or even longer.  The Belize Constitution, according to the report, provides for an independent judiciary which the Government generally respects the country’s judicial independence.  Section one continues in different areas including trial procedures under which it states, quote, “Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have the right to defense by counsel, a public trial, and appeal.”  End of quote.  That section concluded with the statement, quote, “The rate of acquittals and cases withdrawn by the prosecution due to insufficient evidence continued to be high, particularly for sexual offenses, murder, and gang-related cases. These actions were often due to failure of witnesses to testify because of fear for life and personal safety.”  End of quote.  The 2015 Report on Human Rights is prepared by the US Department of State.