BENEFITING: RAINFOREST FOUNDATION INC
Location: Belize Partner: Maya Leader’s Alliance
Why this project is important:
The Maya of Southern Belize have set important international legal precedent in their fight for their land rights. With a recent government challenge, however, upholding their victories will be essential. We think the case is critical, not only for the Maya, but as a significant point of reference for our partners, as well as other indigenous peoples in the Americas.
Background:The Maya of Southern Belize have a total population of about 21,000 Mopan and Kekchi speaking people, divided among 38 communities. They have sought recognition of their land rights since the mid-1990s and have obtained considerable victories on the national and international levels. In a landmark decision in 2004, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recognized their communal property rights and recommended that Belize demarcate and title traditional Maya lands, setting an important precedent for indigenous peoples in the region. In October 2007, a historic ruling by the Supreme Court of Belize recognized the rights of two communities, Conejo and Santa Cruz, to their traditional lands and resources. In June 2010, the Supreme Court expanded these same rights to the remaining 36 Maya communities in Southern Belize.
Despite these victories, however, Maya lands continue to be invaded by loggers and ranchers, and the government continues to issue leases to outsiders. The government also announced its decision to appeal the landmark 2010 Supreme Court judgment.
What we’re doing: This project seeks to uphold and enforce the recent Supreme Court decision, so that the Maya communities can have a real say over what takes place on their lands. This includes legal work and advocacy, community engagement, and outreach.
Maya land rights timeline
• 2000: Maya leaders and the government of Belize sign the “Ten Points of Agreement,” which acknowledges Maya land rights.
• 2004: the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recognizes Maya communal property rights, and recommends that Belize demarcate and title Maya traditional lands.
• 2007: the Supreme Court of Belize rules in favor of recognizing two Maya communities, Santa Cruz and Conejo. The ruling is the first to cite the recently passed UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
• 2010, the Supreme Court of Belize upholds its 2007 decision, paving the way for recognition of the remaining Maya communities in Southern Belize.