Court reduces land rights of Maya people

On Thursday afternoon the Court of Appeal delivered a split decision in relation to the second Maya Land Rights case, appealed by the Government against the Maya Leaders’ Alliance (MLA) and Toledo Alcaldes’ Association (TAA), which had won a landmark judgment in 2010 extending rights of communal property previously owned by two villages, Conejo Creek and Santa Cruz, to the entire Toledo District, and enjoined the Government to facilitate the Maya people in the management of that area. With the mania for oil exploration in the Sarstoon Temash National Park and elsewhere at fever pitch, the Government appealed that decision, and the result came today after hearing in 2011. Leaders of the Maya community packed the courtroom to hear President of the Court, Manuel Sosa, deliver the reasoning. It was a divided decision: Justice Sosa did not agree with his counterparts, Justices Dennis Morrison and Brian Alleyne, who is no longer sitting with the Court. Morrison and Alleyne agreed with the Government that certain of the orders made by Chief Justice Abdulai Conteh in 2010 could not stand but reaffirmed the Maya’s rights over their lands. The two sides are to write in on costs and the President apologized for the delay in judgment, blaming it on overwork from many complex cases. Attorney for the MLA and TAA, Antoinette Moore, offered her summary of the case after briefly reading the judgment and meeting with her clients.

Antoinette Moore – Attorney for the Maya Leaders Alliance:

vlcsnap-2013-07-26-10h54m06s171I believe the essence of the case is the affirmation of Maya Customary Land Rights, that Maya people have a right to the land that they have traditionally used and occupied, that they have inherited from their forefathers.  They have a right to use that land in the way in which they use it, because of course at the Supreme Court we said it was said that it was discriminatory to require them to chop up the land and put it in individual leases if that is not their customary way.  This Court has affirmed that, and that is the essence of the case. But the practical part is very important as well. Unfortunately it seems that the Court, the majority decision, was not convinced of the merit of that part of the case.

Moore goes on to detail what may happen next.

Antoinette Moore – Attorney for the Maya Leaders Alliance:

It would be premature for me to say.  I’ve not yet been instructed, although my clients have spoken about this previously, if a decision was this way or that way, what would we do?  I would say it’s very likely that we will go to the CCJ. I would also say that it’s very likely that the Government will wish to go to the CCJ on the part of the appeal that they lost.

SATIIM Executive Director Greg Choc offered his thoughts.

Gregorio Choc – Executive Director, SATIM:
vlcsnap-2013-07-26-10h53m24s204It’s bittersweet I think. At least the court has affirmed that we have rights to the land, that we are owners to the land and that we have rights to those lands as properly defined under the constitution. So in terms of the rights, I believe that we can proceed to protect those rights even if the government doesn’t see it fit.


So will you be taking advice in terms of the possibility for certain constitutional rights?

 Gregorio Choc:
Absolutely, this is not the end here – we are going to take this definitely to the CCJ.

The judgment was a massive 198 pages and when it is available we will offer more details.

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