Press Release

IACHR Urges Belize to Guarantee the Rights of Maya Indigenous Communities

May 6, 2013

Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern regarding the human rights situation of the Maya indigenous communities in the District of Toledo, in Belize, who are the petitioners in Case No. 12.053.

According to information received by the IACHR, private companies have been recently carrying out oil exploration and exploitation and logging activities in the traditional lands of Maya communities under permits issued by State authorities without prior consultation. Specifically, the information indicates that illegal extraction and destruction of natural resources from traditional Maya lands in the Toledo District has taken place recently with the alleged collaboration and/or acquiescence of State agents. The IACHR also received concerning reports of a newly-granted logging concession in traditional Maya lands without the required consultation.

If this information is accurate, the reported incidents would represent a violation of the communities' rights to use and enjoy their ancestral lands and territories, which in turn threaten their ability to preserve their life, integrity, and way of life as indigenous communities.

On October 12, 2004, the IACHR issued the Merits Report No. 40/04, Maya Indigenous Communities of the Toledo District (Belize). The Commission found, among other things, that the State of Belize had violated the Maya communities' right to property by not recognizing their communal property right to their ancestral lands and territories. The Inter-American Commission recommended the State of Belize to delimit, demarcate and title the territory through a free, informed, prior consultation, and to abstain, until then, from any act that might affect this territory.

The IACHR has sent numerous communications to the State of Belize requesting information on the compliance of these recommendations. The majority of those have not been answered. In addition, the State did not attend the working meeting on this case, scheduled to take place during the 147 Period of Sessions, in March 2013. The Commission expresses its concern on this situation and urges the State to provide information as soon as possible about the measures adopted to comply with those recommendations.

States must guarantee that indigenous peoples are consulted on all matters that may affect them, taking into account that this consultation must be aimed at reaching agreement with regard to the administrative or legislative actions that have an impact upon their rights. The right to prior consultation is especially relevant for the conduction of development or investment plans or projects and for the implementation of extractive concessions in ancestral territories, given that these plans, projects or concessions, in undermining the natural resources that are present therein, can affect the survival and cultural integrity of indigenous peoples and their members. The effective participation of indigenous peoples through their own institutions and distinctive forms of organization is required before the approval and implementation of these plans, projects or concessions, as a guarantee of their individual and collective survival.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 32/13