Amnesty International Report 2003 - Belize
|Publication Date||28 May 2003|
|Cite as||Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2003 - Belize , 28 May 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3edb47d06.html [accessed 24 April 2014]|
Covering events from January - December 2002
Head of state: Queen Elizabeth II, represented by Colville Young
Head of government: Said Musa
Death penalty: retentionist
International Criminal Court: ratified
A constitutional amendment bill to resume executions was proposed, but had not been voted on by the end of the year. There were several reports of excessive use of force and killings in disputed circumstances by law enforcement officers. Prison conditions did not meet international standards, and there were reports of torture and ill-treatment of detainees.
In a move to resume executions, a constitutional amendment bill was proposed in September, but had not been approved by parliament by the end of the year. If passed, the legislation would remove the right of appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) in the United Kingdom – the final court of appeal for Belize – in cases involving Class A murder. This would make the Belize Court of Appeal the final appellate court in such cases. Class A murder, comprising the most serious cases of murder, carries a mandatory death sentence in Belize. Appeals to the JCPC in other criminal and civil cases would be retained. Those on death row who had not instituted proceedings before the JCPC prior to the approval of the bill would have to lodge their final appeal before the Belize Court of Appeal.
The constitutional amendment followed a ruling in March by the JCPC to uphold the previous decision of the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal that the imposition of a mandatory sentence of death was unconstitutional. The ruling is binding upon those countries which have the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal as their appeal court – Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
The last execution in Belize took place in 1985. Approximately six people were on death row at the end of 2002. Two people sentenced to death in 1993 and 1994 had their sentences commuted to life in prison, in accordance with previous JCPC rulings regarding people who had spent five or more years on death row.
- In March the Belize Court of Appeal upheld the convictions for murder and death sentences imposed on Gilroy Wade (alias "Hooty") and Glenford Baptist, but acquitted Oscar Catzim Mendez, who had been sentenced to death in the same case.
There were several reports of excessive use of force and killings in disputed circumstances by Belize Police Department (BPD) officers and the Belize Defence Forces (BDF). Human rights organizations, lawyers and journalists reported that torture and ill-treatment by the security forces were widespread but often remained unreported because of victims' fear of retaliation.
- During a protest against increased bus fares in Benque Viejo del Carmen on 24 April, police used excessive force against demonstrators and sprayed tear gas indiscriminately, affecting up to 300 people, including at least 60 young schoolchildren. BPD officers shot and injured two demonstrators at close range with M-16 rifles: Marcos Sánchez, aged 15, was shot in the chest; and Marlon Gámez, aged 24, was shot in the leg. According to reports, police also arbitrarily arrested people and beat some of those detained. Many of the officers involved had not received training in crowd control. The government told AI that "the confrontational attitude adopted by some demonstrators led to the injuries to both police officers and civilians".
Conditions in Hattieville Rehabilitation Centre, the main penal institution in Belize, remained poor. Severe overcrowding exacerbated already insufficient sanitary and drainage facilities, posing serious health risks. Many cells lacked sufficient light and ventilation, and some leaked when it rained. In both the women's and men's facilities, juveniles were sometimes held with adult offenders, as were detainees on remand with convicted prisoners. In August the government passed legislation granting control of the prison management to a private company, which subsequently initiated a number of positive reforms to improve conditions and rehabilitation. However, government mechanisms to ensure the company's compliance with international and domestic standards had yet to be fully established.
Torture and ill-treatment
In May guards in Hattieville Rehabilitation Centre beat and then shot and injured four detainees following a failed escape attempt. Guards reportedly beat the four men, all foreign nationals, with rifle butts and batons, and kicked and punched them. A guard then reportedly went from one detainee to the next deliberately shooting each at close range with a pistol. Three of the detainees were shot in the leg and one sustained a superficial bullet wound to the head. According to reports, the four men were again severely beaten. All needed medical attention in hospital.
Indigenous and border issues
Calls by Mayan community leaders to the government to institute clear policies regarding rights of land ownership and occupation of the Mayan communities in the south continued. Incidents of killings in disputed circumstances by law enforcement officers in the area were reported.
- In October, two Mayan men, Alfredo Chen and Seriano Choc, were shot dead and three others from their community were wounded in a confrontation with police in Otoxha village in the western Toledo district. Police reportedly said that two of their officers were acting in self-defence after they were attacked by a machete-wielding mob while attempting to gather evidence of illegal logging in the area.
- In May the government reportedly gave ex-gratia payments to the family of three Guatemalan men who were killed by Belizean security forces near the village of San Vicente in the Toledo district near the Guatemalan border in November 2001. An Organization of American States (OAS) mission in December 2001 had determined that these were unlawful killings, but a Belizean commission of inquiry in 2002 said the forces had acted in self-defence.
Belize failed to offer a meaningful mechanism for people fleeing persecution to apply for asylum, in violation of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention to which Belize has acceded.
AI country visits
AI delegates visited Belize in November to gather information on human rights concerns from a wide range of sources.