By Benjamin Flowers
Belize has a major problem with police brutality, according to the U.S. State Department Country Report on Human Rights practices 2016.
The report, issued earlier this month, analyzes human rights practices in seven categories: Respect for the Integrity of the person; Respect for civil liberties; Freedom to participate in the political process; Corruption and lack of transparency in government; governmental attitude regarding international and nongovernmental investigation of alleged violations of human rights; Discrimination, societal abuses, and trafficking in persons; and Worker rights.
Of those sections, the most negative report came from abuses that law enforcement personnel, particularly the police, committed against Belizeans.
“The most important human rights abuses included the use of excessive force by security forces (especially the police),” The USDS said. “The government occasionally ignored reports of police abuse, delayed action, failed to take disciplinary action, or transferred accused officers to other areas within their department.”
The report pointed out that three police officers stood trial for the death of a man in police custody. The department said that the case, and its surrounding details highlighted the death of 30-year-old Edwin Ixpatac, who died under the watch of the San Pedro police, emphasized the abuse of Belizeans’ human rights by police.
The report also highlighted that the Ombudsman’s Office had received 217 new complaints of police abuse in 2015 and that 41 percent of these were either investigated, resolved, or under investigation. Police abuse, particularly from the Gang Suppression Unit, was the most common complaint. The department’s Professional Standards Branch (PSB) got complaints about police brutality from all over the country; however, the majority of those reported cases came from Belize City.
From police brutality, the report also listed lengthy pretrial detention, and harassment and threats based on sexual orientation or gender identity, as other major human rights issues in Belize. Corruption and governmental transparency also had negative ratings in Belize, as the USDS pointed out the illegal land transaction where the son of former Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar Vega, unduly received 400,000 in compensation for land which already had an owner.