The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights meeting in Mexico City for its 152nd special session has not minced words in expressing its displeasure with the Government of Belize over what it sees as serious human rights violations.
Among the perceived violations are:
1. The legislation in place which criminalizes consensual relations between same-sex adults in Belize.
2. Legislation in Belize prohibiting certain people from entering the country (gays and prostitutes) based on their sexual orientation.
3. Failure of the State to comply with the Commission’s recommendation with regard to Mayan indigenous communities, “to obtain free, prior and informed consent” of the Maya peoples for oil exploration, road construction and other developments including illegal logging on Mayan lands.
4. Failure of the State to respond to requests from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to provide information on the above-noted areas.
The Commission also sees a need for Belize to adopt measures to protect the rights of migrant lesbian and gay persons, especially with regard to their labour rights. It concludes: “The Inter-American Commission emphatically reiterates that the State of Belize comply immediately with the recommendations in this report.”
What is the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and does it have the authority to be giving orders to the sovereign state of Belize?
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is an autonomous organ of the Organization of American States (“OAS”) whose mission is to promote and protect human rights in the American hemisphere. It is composed of seven independent members who serve in a personal capacity. Created by the OAS in 1959, the Commission has its headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Since Belize is a member of the Organization of American States and relies heavily on the OAS, especially for mediating our territorial dispute with Guatemala, Belize cannot afford to ignore pronouncements from the Commission. Member States of the OAS also established a court in 1979 to enforce and interpret the provisions of the American Convention on Human Rights. This court is armed with judicial powers, and can impose fines on any member state which, in its view, is in violation of Human Rights. The seven judges of the court are from Peru, Costa Rica, Uruguay, Chile, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico.
The Court can only adjudicate among OAS states which acknowledge and accept its jurisdiction, and Belize is not among those states. Other countries which acknowledge the court’s jurisdiction include Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, and Venezuela.
No Caricom country, except for Trinidad and Tobago, has subscribed to the jurisdiction of this court. Trinidad and Tobago which signed the convention in 1991, suspended its ratification in 1998.
Belmopan may have to swallow its pride and proceed to seek the “free, prior and informed consent” of the Mayan communities of the south with respect to oil exploration, already under way, and road construction in Toledo, already nearing completion. Belize’s treaty obligation as a member of Caricom would also oblige Belmopan to lift restrictions on lesbians, gays and prostitutes who seek to come to Belize from other Caricom states.
But civil rights for gays and lesbians living in Belize is another matter. Even if the Government should choose to revoke the existing law criminalizing gay and lesbian actions, the question of “gay rights” – the notion that gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to have same-sex relationships, including same sex marriages, will not sit well with the Belizean electorate.
Any administration that succumbs to LGBT pressure of this kind is likely to face serious voter disapproval at the polls.