15 March 2013
The Human Rights Committee today reviewed how Belize implements the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in the absence of a report. The Secretary of the Committee, Kate Fox, said Belize had stated it would be absent due to issues of finance.
The Committee had received written responses from Belize in response to a list of questions which had been sent to the State party.
Committee Expert Margo Waterval, Rapporteur on the situation in Belize, welcomed the written responses but expressed her disappointment that the delegation was not present, saying that she regretted that it would be impossible to hold a constructive dialogue with the State party. She noted the failure of Belize to enact legislation in line with the Covenant and asked about the status of the Covenant under domestic law. The State party had expressed its reservation to free legal assistance as mentioned in the Covenant, and she urged the State party to withdraw its reservations to the Covenant.
Ms. Waterval asked about the availability of remedies for individuals claiming a violation of their rights as contained in the constitution and the Covenant. Was there public and official awareness of the Covenant and had specific training on the Covenant been given to judges, lawyers and law enforcement personnel?
Had any steps been taken to set up a national institution in accordance with the Paris Principles to protect human rights? Had a new Ombudsman been appointed since the last one’s contract expired in December 2011?
Another Expert had heard from a non-governmental organization that Mayan lands and culture were damaged due to Belize’s failure to demarcate and title the lands and its granting oil and hydro electric licenses. Another Expert wanted to know about equality between men and women. In Belize women earned 45 per cent of what men did. In the written responses, Belize had reported that they had concluded work on an equal opportunity plan between 2010 and 2013. The Expert wondered if the State had worked with civil society on this plan. In cases of domestic violence, police had been advising women to return to their homes and the perpetrators. Had there been trials and convictions related to domestic violence?
Belize’s constitution interpreted non-discrimination in terms of race, colour, political opinions, gender and such, but left out such considerations as sexual orientation. No final safeguard paragraph existed. Homosexuality in Belize was seen as an anti-natural offence and could carry a sentence of up to 10 years. Homosexuals could also not be considered migrants. The police had no statistics on discrimination because of sexual orientation as it was not considered a category. An Expert was concerned that homophobia would increase as the Government upheld the status quo. How could the State justify a law on immigration based on sexual orientation?
Regarding the death penalty, flexibility was given to judges in the law. The last time someone was executed was in 1986. Why couldn’t the State change the law and bring it into line with the Covenant?
Experts said that in 2012, there were 239 cases of problems with the police but the word torture was never used in the report and the information was vague. While cases were investigated, the action taken would depend on the actions of the complainant. How were cases of torture investigated? The rehabilitation of victims was non-existent, which an Expert regretted deeply.
Corporal punishment was a serious problem in families, schools and in other institutions. Belize had only prohibited corporal punishment in schools.
The State had said it had improved the Kolbe prison conditions, which had 15,000 prisoners, with drinking water, food, heating and medicines. Access to condoms was prohibited and this had led to a rise of HIV at the prison. An Expert expressed concern about pre-trial detention of between two and three years.
Many juveniles were also charged with murder and lawyers were not appointed until late in the process. The right to communicate with family or counsel was sometimes not respected. The age of criminal responsibility had been raised to 12 and there were 66 juveniles being held. Excess remand detention of children was a concern.
Another Expert asked about the protection of persons from trafficking, which was a serious problem in Belize. There had been two convictions in 2012 and nine victims were under protection. Weren’t the numbers extremely low?
Regarding the rights of persons with disabilities, Belize had ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. There were about 35,000 persons with disabilities in the country, or 11 percent of the population. There was no specific law on persons with disabilities.
The under-reporting of cases of rape was a concern for another Expert. In practice sentencing had been more lenient than the maximum of eight years in prison. The Rapporteur asked about data regarding domestic violence.
Another Expert expressed concerns about non-refouelement for refugees.
The concluding observations and recommendations of the Committee on the situation in Belize will be released towards the end of the Committee’s session, which concludes on Thursday, 28 March.
The next public meeting of the Committee will be held at 3 p.m. on Monday, 18 March, when it will start its consideration of the initial report of Macao Special Administrative Region of China (CCPR/C/CHN-MAC/1).
For use of the information media; not an official record