By Alexis R. Milan
Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, a United Nations expert from Geneva, who is the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, has written to the Government of Belize, urging the government to ensure respect for the rights of the country’s Maya people to non-discrimination on traditional property.
The independent expert’s call comes after the arrest of the 13 Maya persons and local leaders charged with unlawful imprisonment for their action in expelling a non-Maya individual, Rupert Myles, from their village lands.
“Under international human rights standards, indigenous peoples have the right to use, develop and also to control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership,” Corpuz said.
Santa Cruz is one of 39 Maya villages within the Toledo District of Belize, whose rights to traditional lands have been affirmed by the legal system in Belize, including most recently in April 2015, by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), the highest court of appeals in Belize’s legal system, Corpuz noted.
She added that the Maya village of Santa Cruz holds customary rights to its village lands, which the government must respect and protect, as affirmed by a 2007 decision of the Supreme Court of Belize.
The Special Rapporteur urged the Government to establish dialogue with Maya leadership and discuss outstanding issues of concern regarding this case, as well as the broader land tenure situation of the Maya people, in a spirit of partnership and mutual respect.
“The current situation of conflict and mistrust cannot be allowed to persist”, she added.
Shortly after the UN expert’s public statement went out, the Toledo Alcalde Association released a follow-up statement.
It noted that the Government of Belize was sent a letter by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an arm of the Organization of American States (OAS) in which the Commission inquired about the circumstances of the Santa Cruz incident as well.
Myles was allegedly building a house on ancient Maya ruins in the village of Santa Cruz, in violation of Maya customary law and apparently, despite repeated requests for the removal of the house.