5 May 2009 (morning)
For use of information media; not an official record
· The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group reviewed the fulfillment of human rights obligations by Belize this morning, during which 20 Council members and observers raised a number of issues pertaining to the human rights situation in the country.
· Presenting the national report of Belize was JUDITH ALPUCHE, Chief Executive Officer at the Ministry of Human Development and Social Transformation of Belize, who stated that the essential meaning of human rights in Belize was to ensure the dignity of Belizeans as they lived their lives and fulfilled their destiny. Belize has always viewed development as inextricably linked to human rights. The Government of Belize was scaling up its efforts to provide complete free education at the secondary level, having achieved this at the primary level. The Government has begun a National Health Insurance scheme, piloting this in the most vulnerable areas of Southside Belize City and the southern districts of Belize. The intention is to roll out the NHI nationally. Many cultures co-existed peacefully, harmoniously and respectfully and with a deep appreciation for the contribution that each culture makes to a multicultural Belize, she added. Belize was a party to the majority of the major international human rights treaties, as well as human rights instruments in the Inter American System. Belize was actively studying a number of human rights treaties, including the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, with a view to becoming a State Party as early as September. It was noted that the Government has signalled the need for technical assistance in several areas including human rights education, human rights monitoring and human rights reporting to international treaty bodies.
At the frontline of the Government’s efforts to promote and protect human rights was the Ministry of Human Development and Social Transformation, which has adopted a progressive human rights based approach to its work, she stated. Four quasi-government bodies have been established with the purpose of ensuring Belize’s compliance with human rights commitments to key vulnerable populations including children, women, the elderly and people living with HIV and AIDS. Moreover, an independent Office of the Ombudsman was established in 1999. The Government of Belize has adopted a zero tolerance approach to police violence and the Police Department has incorporated a course on human rights at the Police Training Academy. The National Report Belize submitted in February 2009 sought to provide an accurate, comprehensive and frank overview of the human rights situation in Belize. In 2007 a National Gender Based Violence Plan was developed to facilitate a strategic response to the persistent problem of gender based violence. Similarly the Government sought to provide strong protection and active promotion of children rights. The National Committee for Families and Children has spearheaded the development and implementation of the National Plan of Action for Children and Adolescents 2004-2015. The Government has also recently appointed a Special Envoy for Children.
Responding to questions posed in advance by States, the head of delegation said her Government intended to fully engage with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people following a letter sent by him containing allegations emanating from a complaint received from the Maya Leaders Alliance of Belize. It was recalled that on October 18, 2007, the Supreme Court issued a ruling on the Cal case which contained provisions similar to the recommendations of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, with respect to delimiting, demarcating, titling or otherwise protecting Mayan communal property based on customary use and practice. Notwithstanding the difficult and complex situation described above, the Government of Belize was committed to the implementation of the Supreme Court ruling, which was similar in many respects to the recommendations of the Inter American Commission on Human Rights. It was also noted that in February of 2008, following general elections and a change of government, discussions between the Parties were re-established. As of this date, however, a consensus on the matter has not been reached, but communication between the Parties continues.
· During the three-hour interactive discussion delegations noted a number of positive achievements of the State under review. These included the appointment of the Ombudsman in January 2009; the introduction of human rights training at the Police Academy; efforts to tackle the problem of HIV/AIDS, including the HIV/AIDS in the workplace policy; advancements in the area of the promotion of women’s rights; steps to combat human trafficking; the National Plan of Action for Children and Adolescents 2004-2015; the State’s human rights-based approach in development planning, social services and gender policy formulation; efforts to curb gender based violence, including the National Gender Policy and the National Gender Based Violence Plan 2007-2099; and efforts to address the concerns of vulnerable groups, such as women, children and the elderly.
· Issues and questions raised by the Working Group, comprised of the 47 members of the Council, and Observers participating in the interactive discussion related to, among other things, the main difficulties facing the Ombudsman’s Office; monitoring of State prison facilities; the measures envisaged to incorporate the provisions of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; measures taken by the Government concerning the question of customary land-use and the rights of indigenous people; the Government’s position on the possible creation of a national human rights institution; support afforded to economically disadvantaged families, particularly those in rural areas; and the measures aimed at HIV/AIDS prevention among persons deprived of their liberty.
Additional issued pertained to the measures taken to fulfil recommendations made by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), as regards widespread poverty among women as being one of the causes of violations of women’s rights and discrimination against them; whether a special programme or micro-credit scheme existed to support women’s entrepreneurship; the intention to improve the equal enjoyment of all rights of children belonging to minorities and indigenous peoples; steps envisaged to fully implement the Domestic Violence Act; the intentions of the tate to review its legislation with a view to prohibit all forms of corporal punishment for children; and steps being taken to protect children from all forms of exploitation or abuse.
· A number of delegations also posed specific recommendations. These included: to consider ratifying the Optional Protocol of the Convention against Torture; to consider the complete abolition of capital punishment in domestic legislation; to ensure that a human rights-based approach is mainstreamed across government policy; to continue to strengthen efforts to ensure that all police and security officers received human rights training; to consider ratifying the United Nations Convention Against Corruption; to strengthen the Office of the Ombudsman and the Police Department’s Office of Internal Affairs in order to improve capacity to hear and investigate complaints; to provide defendants in all serious criminal processes with an attorney when they cannot afford one by themselves; to review legislation and practice with a view of ensuring effective access to asylum procedure and upholding of the principle of non-refoulement; to consider ratifying the Optional Protocols to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and to consider ratifying the Convention on the Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances.
Other recommendations included, for Belize to recognize the social, cultural and property rights of persons belonging to minorities and indigenous Maya people; to protect Maya customary property rights in accordance with Maya customary laws and land tenure practices in consultation with affected Maya people of the whole Toledo district; to improve the situation of vulnerable groups as a matter of priority; to step up programs to eradicate poverty and improve social indicators; to take concrete measures to enhance women’s access to health care, in particular to sexual and reproductive services; to accede to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; to further strengthen activities directed to HIV prevention as well as stigma and discrimination of people living with HIV; and to adopt measures to promote tolerance as regards privacy and non-discrimination, which would also facilitate more effective educational programmes for the prevention of AIDS.
Belize was also encouraged to continue to address the persisting gender inequality in the country; to continue to implement the recommendations of Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women; to take targeted measures or affirmative action to ensure active participation of women in labour market and to close the wage gap between men and women; to take appropriate legislative measures in order to ensure that no person can be subjected to criminal sanctions for same-sex activity between consenting adults; to fully implement the Domestic Violence Act; and to accede to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Additionally, the State under review was encouraged to implement the recommendation of the Committee on the Rights of the Child to prioritize effective measures to reduce poverty amongst indigenous and minority children; to seek technical assistance to fully implement the Plan of Action for Children and Adolescents 2004-2015; to review legislation with a view to prohibit all forms of corporal punishment of children; to abolish corporal punishment for children; to change the legislation concerning criminal age of responsibility of children and to raise the age limit to 18 years; and to rectify the possible shortcomings in the registration procedure of all new born children.
Another set of recommendations included for Belize to work to complete the process to accede to main international human rights instruments; to establish a national human rights institution in accordance with the Paris Principles; to strengthen efforts with regard to timely reporting to United Nations Treaty Bodies; to extend a standing invitation to the United Nations Special Procedures; to conduct a systematic evaluation on the merits of establishing a national human rights institution; and to submit overdue reports to United Nations Treaty Bodies. Some States also called on the international community to step up its efforts to assist the people of Belize through technical assistance.
· Members States taking the floor during the interactive discussion were the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, the Russian Federation, Italy, Ukraine, Mexico, Canada, Argentina, Azerbaijan, Slovenia, Germany and Japan.
· Observer States participating in the discussion were Algeria, the United States, the Maldives, Turkey, Trinidad and Tobago, the Czech Republic, Jamaica and Latvia.
· The five-person delegation of Belize consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Human Development and Social Transformation, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, the Embassy of Belize in Belgium and the Permanent Mission of Belize to the United Nations.
· The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of Belize are the Russian Federation, Malaysia and Brazil.
· In accordance with its institution-building package, the three documents on which State reviews should be based are information prepared by the State concerned, which could be presented either orally or in writing; information contained in the reports of treaty bodies and Special Procedures, to be compiled in a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and information provided by other relevant stakeholders to the UPR including non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, academic institutions and research institutes, regional organizations, as well as civil society representatives, also to be summarized by OHCHR in a separate document. The reports on Belize can be found here.
· The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of Belize on Thursday, 7 May.
· When the UPR Working Group continues its work this afternoon at 3 p.m. it will review the fulfillment of human rights obligations by Chad.
Additional information on the Universal Periodic Review mechanism can be located at the UPR webpage - http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/UPRMain.aspx.
To access the webcast for the UPR session please visit http://www.un.org/webcast/unhrc/index.asp
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