For over a decade, the indigenous Maya peoples of southern Belize have been seeking legal recognition of their customary land rights. Moira coordinates the legal team representing Maya villages before the Belizean courts, with Belizean attorney Antoinette Moore, supported by the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program in Arizona.
In a landmark judgment in 2007, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Belize affirmed that the Maya villages do hold collective title to their lands based on their own customary land tenure system, and ordered the government to demarcate and issue titles to two Maya communities. He also prohibited the government from leasing, selling, or issuing concessions over those lands. In his decision, the judge also invoked international law, including the recently passed United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This decision has been called “an important precedent”, and was the first case in any domestic court, any court in the world that not only looked to international law to articulate indigenous peoples’ rights, but also cited the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.
The Maya people returned to court and in 2010 again won a judgment protecting all the southern Maya villages from interference with their lands. The appeal of this judgment is ongoing, and is expected to eventually be heard by the Caribbean Court of Justice.
Please click here to view the complete case synopsis.