US Human Rights Report Highlights Belize’s Challenges in Justice and Social Issues

US Human Rights Report Highlights Belize’s Challenges in Justice and Social Issues

In the US Human Rights Practices Report 2023, Belize’s review by the US Department of State had several categories, including but not limited to, abuse, backlog of court cases, and freedom of expression as well as freedom to assemble or associate.  The document is 39 pages with the first segment addressing what it coins as arbitrary or unlawful killings.  The report recalls four separate cases where police officers were involved.  Those cases include the March 2023 killing of Dyandre Chi in Orange Walk Town where Corporal Esmin Flores and Police Constable Salomen Cowo were arrested and are currently remanded at the Belize Central Prison.  The other case noted in the report was the death of Derrick Uh in Corozal in August 2022.  In this matter, Uh was detained and left unattended inside a police van for 13 hours.  Four officers were initially charged with manslaughter, namely, Inspector Isaias Sanchez, Sergeant Rosario Romero, and Police Constables Errol Peralta and Alrick Borland.  By the end of June, the charge was withdrawn from Sanchez and Romero.  The third case cited was the death of Andrew McDougal which occurred in December 2022 in the Stann Creek District.  The investigation was launched after cellphone video footage showed McDougal being beaten by police officers.  An autopsy report indicated McDougal died of internal bleeding due to the beatings.  Two police officers were arrested for his death, John Lucas and Jameel Lewis.  Another officer, Tessa Stuart, was charged with perverting the course of justice because she lied in her statement.  All three officers were suspended.  The matter was referred to prosecutors and was pending before the court. In the fourth case, the US Human Rights Report cited the killing of 14-year-old, Laddie Gillett in 2021.  In this matter, Police Constable Kareem Martinez was found guilty and sentenced to 18 years in prison.  Gillett was shot in the back on a beach in Placencia, Stann Creek District. Another portion of the report dealt with Child Marriages in which it says Belize did not do much to enforce its laws on this issue.  The report notes that while the law sets the legal minimum age to marry as 18, marriages were still allowed for persons 16 to 17 years old without consent from parents or guardians.  It went further by citing data from UNICEF that shows 29 percent of women ages 20 to 49 were married or cohabiting before reaching 18, and early marriages were more prevalent in the districts of Toledo, Corozal, and Orange Walk, among the Maya and Mestizo ethnic groups. Little effort was made in 2023 to address this social issue as only the National Commission for Families and Children was found having sensitization sessions with a faith-based organization that encouraged and condoned early marriage. As we noted, the US Human Rights Practices Report for 2023 was released yesterday.

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