16 August 2012
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today held a meeting under its review procedure to discuss how Belize was implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, in the absence of a report from the State party.
Fatimata-Binta Victoire Dah, the Committee Rapporteur for the review of Belize, said that after 10 years of waiting and fruitless attempts to contact Belize, the Committee was examining the situation in Belize under the review procedure. Belize had signed up to the Convention in 2001, without any reservations. Its legislation proclaimed the principle of non-discrimination on the basis of colour, sex, religion and gender and used an original approach. However, reports suggested that racial factors affected areas such as economic prospects, land possession and equal treatment before justice-administering organs.
During the discussion, Experts made observations about the situation of racial discrimination in Belize, including that the Committee would draw upon the recommendations made to Belize during the Universal Periodic Review process in 2009, including recommendations that Belize establish a national human rights institute and promote training on human rights and non-discrimination. In the absence of a report the best course of action might be to dispatch an expert to Belize to evaluate the situation. As well as facilitating cooperation with States, implementing international instruments should most importantly benefit the people.
After a discussion on how to proceed, the Committee decided that it will adopt concluding observations on Belize towards the end of its session, which concludes on 31 August.
The Committee will next meet in public at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 21 August for an informal meeting with non-governmental organizations from the Republic of Korea, Austria and Finland. At 3 p.m. the Committee will begin its review of the combined fifteenth and sixteenth report of the Republic of Korea (CERD/C/KOR/15-16).
Opening Statement by Committee Chairman Alexei Avtonomov
ALEXEI AVTONOMOV, Committee Chairperson, said that the Secretariat had attempted in vain to establish contact with the Belizean authorities. The Committee had been willing to be flexible but Belize had not responded; it had therefore been decided to consider the situation in Belize in the absence of a report.
FATIMATA-BINTA VICTOIRE DAH, Committee Rapporteur for the review of Belize, said after 10 years of waiting and fruitless attempts to contact Belize, the Committee had decided to examine the situation in Belize under the review procedure. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Panama City had in 2011 provided information about the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination to Belize, along with information about the reporting procedure and how to prepare a report. However, Belize had not handed in a report by 2011 and it seemed that this Committee was not the only treaty body which was still awaiting a report from Belize. During the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review of Belize in 2009, several States had requested that Belize submit the overdue reports to the various treaty bodies.
Ms. Dah said that in the absence of a report she would present the situation in Belize based on concluding observations of other treaty bodies and reports of United Nations agencies, civil society and universities. Providing some basic information about the country, she pointed out that the territory was divided up into six districts and had a very young and urbanised population. Belize City by itself held one third of the population, while other areas were experiencing rapid population growth. The society was multinational and multilingual, made up by various ethnic groups: the Maya, the English, the Chinese and the East Indians, among others. The Creoles made up 30 per cent of the population and resided mainly in the Belize district. Many sources also referred to the Arab group which included Afghans and Pakistanis, who were reportedly part of the elite. In addition, 6 per cent of the population belonged to no specific ethnic group and were of multiple origins, according to the 2010 census.
Belize hosted about 40,000 migrants, notably from Nicaragua and El Salvador, both of which had experienced civil wars. There were also Guatemalan migrants, who had arrived more recently, and it would appear that those who had been given land in Belize were now being accused of unjustifiably occupying Belize territory. There had also been cases of human trafficking in migrants, which had led to the adoption of relevant legislation in 2003.
Ms. Dah said that Belize had been mostly populated by Maya, while the British had also brought over slaves from Jamaica for their plantations, or raided slaves belonging to the Spanish. During the period of colonisation, the Creoles held the reins of political and economic power but the mestizo population had increased and was now in the majority. While the society seemed to be varied and united under the slogan “We are one”, there were clear gaps between the communities which made it difficult to live together in harmony. Specific bodies featuring local judges who addressed issues in communities were operating in rural areas.
In terms of legal provisions, Ms. Dah noted several positive points. The Belizean Constitution, as well as other legal instruments, guaranteed fundamental and public rights. Also, while Belize had not yet signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the country apparently accepted the numerous appeals for it to become a party. In 1991 Belize had established an ombudsman, who could take up cases by himself or have them referred to him. But with minimal resources the bureau had ceased operating last year due to a lack of resources, and the mandate of the ombudsman came to an end. During the Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council, it had therefore been recommended that Belize provide sufficient resources to the ombudsman, as well as establishing a national human rights institution and training police officers in human rights. This being said, there were several civil society organizations which dealt with human rights education and training.
Belize had signed up to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in September 2001 without any reservation, Ms. Dah went on to say. Discussing articles 2 to 7 of the Convention was difficult in the absence of a report but she could say that national legislation did proclaim the principle of non-discrimination on the basis of colour, sex, religion and gender. Belizean legislation also used an original approach in that it referred to state policies aimed at eliminating social and economic privileges regardless of race. The efforts under the slogan “We are one” were also notable but, all in all, data would be helpful in assessing discrimination in Belize.
There had been a widespread belief until recently that there was no discrimination in Belize. The everyday Belizean might even think that there was no segregation. But quite to the contrary, reports suggested that young people of specific neighbourhoods could not move out due to lacking economic prospects, while other areas faced disproportionate crime and murder rates. In both cases some ethnic groups were over-represented, which pointed to discrimination. Furthermore, with a shift in the majority from Creoles to mestizos, the latter were being targeted and rejected based on their Spanish language. Mayas were also victims of the same type of stigmatisation, considered by some as backwards because they were living in keeping with their culture, and others treated them as foreigners. Opinions were also divided regarding the right to equal treatment before tribunals and other justice-administering organs; this was enshrined in the constitution but most charged persons were of African descent, and poverty played a major role in access to justice.
Turning to land discrimination, Ms. Dah said that Mayans had been involved in a 12-year battle about their right to land. The recognition of their right appeared to be a yoyo effect in the hands of the Government. The right to land was recognised both as an individual and a collective right but the law had only been applied with a limited scope. When excluded people turned to the courts, there had been significant delays and in the interval the Government had continued to grant concessions, which was alarming. Nonetheless, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Government of Belize had marked the turning point regarding land and indigenous peoples, and Ms. Dah felt that a bridge was being established between the two continents to deal with the problem.
In concluding, Ms. Dah said that the clearest limiting factor was the absence of an official contribution from Belize, be it in the form of data or a response to the Committee. Nothing could replace interaction, and the Committee was therefore engaging in the review procedure unwillingly. The Committee’s preliminary concluding observations would hopefully allow holding the dialogue which the Committee had tried to establish for 10 years.
Comments by Committee Experts
A Committee member said that as Belize had participated in the Universal Periodic Review but had not respected its reporting obligations with regards to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Committee could highlight its complementarity by adopting particularly concise concluding observations.
A Committee member fully agreed with the analysis presented by Ms. Dah and underlined that the Committee, in drafting its concluding observations, would draw upon the recommendations from the Universal Periodic Review in 2009. That included recommendations that Belize establish a national human rights institute in conformity with the Paris Principles; promote training on human rights and non-discrimination for police, government and justice officials; implement the United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous people; and respect customary law.
It was noted that the High Commissioner for Human Rights could liaise with the Permanent Mission of Belize to offer assistance with producing the report. Nonetheless, if the country had succeeded in drafting the report for the Universal Periodic Review, it could also draft this report.
A Committee member said the best course of action for the Committee, in absence of a report, could be to dispatch an expert to the country to evaluate the situation in light of the Convention. States should know that the Committee could resort to this measure. As well as facilitating cooperation with States, the implementation of international instruments should first and foremost benefit the people, another Committee member said. Belize was perfectly aware of the Committee procedures and at this stage it was a political decision whether or not the Committee should adopt concluding observations.
Following a discussion on how to proceed with the concluding observations, Mr. Avtonomov, the Chairperson of the Committee, highlighted that Ms. Dah could not conduct a visit to Belize in the absence of an invitation from the State party. The Committee could adopt concluding observations on Belize at this session without making them public until February, for example, while awaiting a reaction from Belize.
For use of the information media; not an official record