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Plan for customary Maya land rights needs more work

The issue of Maya customary land rights remains before the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) which three years ago ordered the Government of Belize to create an effective mechanism to identify and protect Maya lands in accordance with Maya traditional governance. Both parties agreed that a work plan is needed but the appellants, Maya Leaders Alliance and twenty three Mayan villages believe that the Government is dragging its feet. Attorney General, Michael Peyrefitte, explained that there many factors need to form part of the work plan.

Michael Peyrefitte, Attorney General:There has to be a work plan going forward and we are in the stages of that work plan we’ve finalized it and we are trying to work through that work plan. We have to have a course as to where we are going because remember it’s a balance. The courts themselves know that under the consent order yes the Mayan have customary land rights but at the same time those rights cannot trump the constitutional authority of the government; so while yes you may have customary land rights that doesn’t give you the right to determine who gets public land I mean that is where that balance has to be met. So the Ministry of Natural Resources has to come on board, local government has to come onboard, mining has to come on board everything has to come on board so with that then we have developed a work plan finally and we are going to see where that work plan takes us and based on that we will also have input from the Mayas and now we have the Garifuna people who are saying ‘well listen we have to be counted as part of this too we are indigenous people to we want to be a part of that technical team.’ so we have to have that technical team going forward to determine lands and we have to further develop that work plan and work with the one that we have to ensure that we are on the proper path. We have a body that determines disputes, its called the courts. We have the court there like I said if there is one thing that I can agree with Said Musa on and I’ve searched years for this one thing is that we cannot have a balkanization of Belize- you cannot have a parallel government or a parallel system that doesn’t acknowledge the one that we have or is not subject to the one that we have. It’s like for example when they wanted and were pushing for the whole Alcalde system, the Alcalde system cannot be superior or independent of the constitution and the laws we have, it has to be subjected to because even though we acknowledge and recognize the beauty of the Maya a Maya individual is not any more important than a Kriol person, a Garifuna person or any other person who calls themselves a Belizean- there is nothing special about your status. So we have to ensure that while we recognize their history and contributions to Belize we don’t violate other people’s’ rights as well.”

At the last court session the CCJ established April 16 as the deadline for both parties to agree on and submit a dispute resolution mechanism.