Land Tenure, Property, Indigenous Rights, Constitutional, Land Use, Forests, Evidence

In this case, the plaintiffs are representatives of the Maya indigenous population of the villages of Santa Cruz and Conejo in the south of Belize. They request from the court the recognition of their traditional land rights by the Belize land legal framework and require measures to be taken by the Government to protect Maya customary property rights in accordance with Maya customary laws and land tenure practices and in consultation with the Maya people. In addition, the government should abstain from registering the Maya land, issuing any leases or grant to land or resources from the Maya people, issuing any concession for resources exploitation.

The plaintiffs pointed out that the absence of recognition of their traditional rights was an obvious violation of their constitutional right to property and to their indigenous rights provided by sections 3 and 17 of the Belize Constitution. They also stressed that those traditions have always been in used among their communities, that they have been accepted by the colonial powers during the colonial times.

The judge of the Supreme Court held that Maya traditional collective and individual land rights gives rights to property rights as provided by sections 3 and 17 of the Belize Constitution. As a result, the Supreme Court issued a declaration acknowledging individual and customary rights of the Maya population from the villages of Santa Cruz and of Conejo and ordered to the government to determine, demarcate and provide official documentation of Santa Cruz’s and Conejo’s title and rights in accordance to Maja customary law and practices. Finally, the court ordered the government to abstain to grant any lease or license over the lands and the resources within the perimeter of those two villages without prior and informed consent of the Maya communities.