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BELIZE: I-A Commission says GOB must protect indigenous people of Toledo

The Reporter (BELIZE)
January 5th, 2007

By permitting oil exploration on indigenous lands in the Toledo District the Government of Belize is violating treaty obligations and also a 2004 ruling by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

This is the official view of the environmental group Global Response, which insists when the government of Belize gave its permission for Texas-based oil company, U.S. Capital Energy, to conduct seismic surveys in the Sarstoon/Temash National Park without consultation, it violated the rights of the Ketchi and Garifuna people who inhabit this land.

Eight years ago, in 1998 the Toledo Maya Cultural Council and the Indian Law Resource Center filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, arguing that by granting logging and oil concessions without consultation with the Toledo native communities, the Belize Government was violating certain human rights guaranteed under the American Declaration of Rights.

In October 2004, six years later, the Inter-American Commission rendered a verdict in favour of the petitioners and ruled the Government’s failure to consult and the negative environmental effects arising from the concessions were in fact violations of the Treaty.

Global Response has joined other local environmental groups to say that allowing new oil explorations in the Sarstoon/Temash National Park is another contravention of this 2004 ruling.

The Sarstoon/Temash National Park is Belize’s second largest national park, encompassing an area of 41,000 acres of pristine forest and coastline along the southern border with Guatemala.

The park includes 16 miles of Caribbean coastline and contains 14 ecosystem types including undisturbed mangrove, the only comfre palm forest* in Belize and the only known lowland sphagnum moss bog* in Central America.

* Comfre palm is a rough, hairy perennial herb - not a tree. Its roots contain tannin and are used widely in herbal medicine and treatments.

* Sphagnum moss, also known as bog moss is found in wet boggy soil, growing in clumps.

The moss is permeated with capillary cells which retains water . It is used in potted plants and in some countries it is used as a dressing for wounds.

The park is home to 226 species of birds, 24 species of mammals, 22 species of reptiles and 46 species of butterflies.

In 2003 the Government of Belize signed an agreement with the Sarstoon/Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM) giving it authority to manage the park and for the last four years SATIIM has been the organisation taking care of the park and making sure environmental laws are obeyed.

SATIIM represents five Ketchi Maya and Garifuna indigenous communities in the area and is internationally recognised as an organisation with legal powers to enforce the law.

Global Response has announced it will launch a letter-writing campaign directed at destruction of the biodiversity which affects the livelihood of the local people living on the land.

Greg Choc Executive Director of SATIIM, is opposed to U.S. Capital Energy coming in and using dynamite to conduct seismic surveys in this protected area.

“When it comes to certain decisions, outside money has more clout than local governance- or even international law,” he says.

“A wealthy foreign corporation can set off dynamite and extract oil without an environmental impact assessment or a mitigation plan.”

“This selective application of the law is a violation of human rights of the indigenous people in Belize,” he says.





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