Mayas win historic case against the Government of Belize

On Monday, Belize’s Chief Justice Doctor Abdulai Conteh’s ruled in favor of 38 Mayan Communities in the Toledo District, affirming a 2007 judgment that the villagers of Santa Cruz and Conejo have constitutionally protected customary land tenure rights over the areas surrounding their communities. The Chief Justice’s judgment, presented in a tow-hour-long reading in court, confirmed all the rights demanded by the Maya communities. Human Rights Attorney Antoinette Moore represented the Maya leaders and said today that they are extremely pleased with the ruling. “Well, obviously I am extremely pleased. We were confident that we had a strong case both in evidence, in fact, and in law, and it has been affirmed by the Chief Justice this morning in his two-hour reading of the judgment affirming all of the rights; the property rights, the cultural rights, the right to life of the indigenous people the Mayan people of Belize.”

From the onset of the legal dispute, the government had stated that it would appeal the case to the highest court, this being the Caribbean Court of Justice. Moore says they are prepared should this happen. “I don’t think that the possibility of an appeal or the eventuality of an appeal actually tempers our victory. It is a victory for justice as I believe Ms. Coc probably just said. It is a victory for the rights of all Belizeans and at the fact that an appeal may be forthcoming does not temper that whatsoever. We are extremely happy; extremely pleased and look forward in fact to a higher court affirming these same rights.”

The Chief Justice mentioned that the government and Mayan leaders should be partners when issues rise on the governing of communal land rights. “The Mayan people wish to be partners with the government of Belize. We have done so…my clients have done so in the last decade since I have been involved. They have sat at the table with each government. They have talked to anyone and everyone that would listen. They have attempted to negotiate; they have attempted to reach a resolution without coming to court and in fact one of the results of those discussions was the ten points of agreement. So the Maya people are clearly desirous of cooperating with and acting as a partner to the Government of Belize. The Maya people are Belizeans not withstanding obviously what the Government to Belize argued in this last case. But the Maya people are Belizeans and proud to be Belizeans and proud to be indigenous people.”

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