CCJ’s First Session In Belize; Mayan Customary Land Rights

In 2013 the court of Appeal handed down a judgment on the case of the Maya Customary Land Rights to have the matter heard before the Caribbean Court of Justice, the highest court in the region. That was after a two year and a half delay on the matter. Today all parties met at the court room for case management. After years of deliberation in the courtroom Government is giving up on all claims. Our Colleagues at channel 7 spoke to the Attorney for the Government who says a settlement has been reached on almost all claims.

Denys Barrow – SC, Attorney for GOBvlcsnap-2015-04-21-10h44m35s62
“There is settlement on almost all of the issues which were raised in this appeal and the only matter which remains outstanding is the issue of damages or compensation which the Mayas are claiming. I think a lot of the history of this litigation – a lot of the baggage stems from a failure to understand what the Supreme Court judgement has originally given, includes and encompasses. There is under one hand the view in the wider community that the Maya have been given the whole of the Toledo district. There is the view on the other hand that what has been given were simply recognition of the rights which the Mayas have as human beings and as persons who have a historic claim to the land or occupation of the land. so I think the fact of their physical occupation over the period that they have been there, would entitle them in the same way how in a different part of the country if someone has been living there, in government land for 30 years they have what we called ‘squatters rights’.”
Antoinette Moore –  Attorney for Mayansvlcsnap-2015-04-21-10h44m45s142
“We are coming to the same conclusion but through fundamentally different paths. So we are coming to the conclusion that yes, Maya people have rights to the land. Yes indeed those lands must be demarcated and ultimately titled, so that Maya people can have complete rights to those lands. Now the government wants to say it is not based on their indigeneity and we are saying that’s not so. Now we put that dispute to the side basically because we are coming to same results, that the Maya people have lands. But I must say that this court is now in the order that’s been entered by this court, is now affirming what the court of appeal said which affirmed what the Supreme Court said. And that is that the Maya people have rights to the land based on their indigeneity. So I do not accept whatsoever that the basis of this ‘the squatters rights’.”

 

Christina Coc, spokesperson for the Maya Leaders Alliance, told our colleagues at Channel 7 that they are ecstatic and pleased that the government has final aligned themselves with the right side of history.

Christina Coc –  Spokesperson, Maya Leaders Alliancevlcsnap-2015-04-21-10h46m46s57
“We’re ecstatic that the government has finally decided to get on the right side of history. All along for the last 30 years, we’ve been saying the same thing. Our position as a Maya people has never changed. We’ve continued to say that those lands that we currently use and occupy, that we’ve occupied for generations has been our home lands. And finally the government admits that we have been right all along. We have been right all along, they have not only admitted that, they’ve submitted and signed on to a commitment that says they’re going to protect that. They have affirmed our rights to those lands and resources and they have agreed to protect that and so of course we are ecstatic.

 As we told you, an agreement has been reached on all matters except for one- which is the claim for damages. We heard arguments on both side of this matter.

Antoinette Moore – Attorney for Mayans
“The claim for damage is really our two-fold; one is, what we call Pecuniary or actual damages that were suffered by one particular village and this was in 2008 which really prompted the second case being brought on. When an outside individual claim to have lease to lands in a Maya village came in and bulldozed the crops of several villagers. And so those persons in that village and ultimately that village suffered damages. And we have claimed for that as well as a general damages for all of the villages really having to fight all these years for rights that they’ve always had. And that the government simply failed to either recognize or recognize and then failed to protect.”

Denys Barrow, SC – Attorney for GOB
“Government is saying that government is not liable to pay any damages and that any damages which should be paid for a particular injury done should have been claimed against the person who did the damage and not government.”

The case will be heard on Wednesday April 22nd.

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