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TITLE:  BELIZE HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1993
DATE:  JANUARY 31, 1994
AUTHOR:  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE

                             BELIZE


Belize is a parliamentary democracy with a Constitution enacted 
in 1981 upon independence from the United Kingdom.  It is 
governed by a Prime Minister, a Cabinet of Ministers, and a 
Legislative Assembly.  A Governor General represents Queen 
Elizabeth II in the largely ceremonial role of Head of State.  
Both local and national elections are scheduled on a 
constitutionally prescribed basis.  

The Belize Defence Force (BDF) consists of regular and reserve 
infantry and small air and maritime wings.  The 750-member 
Police Department is responsible for law enforcement and 
maintenance of order.  It is responsible to and controlled by 
civilian authorities.  

Belize is a developing nation with an economy dependent 
primarily on agriculture.  The Government favors free 
enterprise and actively encourages investment, both foreign and 
domestic.  In 1992 the gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 
5.3 percent in real terms, and the per capita GDP was $2,170.

Constitutional protections for the fundamental rights and 
freedoms of the individual, including women and all ethnic 
groups, are upheld by the judiciary.  An active press and 
increasingly independent radio and television stations buttress 
the people's civil and political rights.  However, there were a 
number of credible reports of police abuse and mistreatment, 
and at least one allegation of police killing an unarmed 
suspect during the year.  The Government promised to investigate
complaints and punish those officers guilty of wrongdoing.  
However, none were charged or punished for human rights abuses 
in 1993.  Domestic violence against women is a chronic problem; 
in addition, there continued to be credible reports of employer 
mistreatment of immigrant workers in the banana industry.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1  Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including 
           Freedom from:

     a.  Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of politically motivated killings.  There 
were several allegations of misuse of lethal force by police 
officers in 1993, constituting extrajudicial killings.  In each 
of three such cases reported and investigated during the year 
in which excessive force was alleged to have been used in the 
course of hot pursuit or arrest of criminal suspects, the 
Director of Public Prosecutions determined that there was 
insufficient evidence to prosecute.  However, charges were 
filed against a police officer following a 1991 incident in 
which a prisoner was killed in police custody when the officer 
apparently tried to break up a fight between prisoners.  That 
case had ended in a hung jury in early 1993; the prosecutor 
filed charges again and a new trial is pending.

     b.  Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

     c.  Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading 
         Treatment or Punishment

Torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or 
punishment are expressly forbidden by the Constitution.  
Nonetheless, there are occasional credible reports of 
mistreatment and abuse by police.  Such allegations are 
investigated by the Police Department, the Police Complaints 
Board, and on occasion, by special independent commissions 
appointed by the Prime Minister.  No police or prison officer 
was charged with or convicted of such an offense in 1993.

     d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest or detention, and 
these provisions are respected in practice.  A detainee must be 
informed of the cause of detention within 48 hours of arrest 
and must be brought before a court within 72 hours.  In 
practice, detainees are normally informed immediately of the 
charges against them.  Bail is granted in all but the most 
serious cases.  However, many detainees cannot make bail, and 
backlogs in the judicial system often cause considerable delays 
and postponements of hearings, resulting in overcrowded prisons 
and prolonged incarceration without trial.  

Exile is forbidden by the Constitution and does not occur.

     e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial

Persons accused of civil or criminal offenses have 
constitutional rights to presumption of innocence, protection 
against self-incrimination, defense by counsel, public trial, 
and appeal.  Trial by jury is mandatory in capital cases.  
Those convicted by either a magistrate's court or the Supreme 
Court may appeal to the Court of Appeal.  In some cases, 
including those resulting in a capital sentence, the convicted 
party may make a final appeal to the Privy Council in the 
United Kingdom.  

These constitutional guarantees are respected in practice, 
although the judiciary's independence from the executive branch 
has been questioned by observers who note that judges must 
negotiate renewal of their employment contracts with the 
Government and may thus be vulnerable to political interference.
The Supreme Court and magistrate courts suffer backlogs 
aggravated by the inability to maintain a full complement of 
judges.

There are no political prisoners.  

     f.  Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 
         Correspondence

Constitutional provisions for the protection of personal 
property, privacy of home and person, and recognition of human 
dignity are generally honored by the Government.  Police are 
required to obtain judicial warrants before searching private 
property except when they have a reasonable suspicion that a 
crime is being committed and do not have time to obtain a 
warrant.  This requirement is obeyed in practice.  Customs 
officers do not require a warrant to search private property.

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

     a.  Freedom of Speech and Press

Freedom of speech and the press are protected under the 
Constitution and by local custom.  In practice, all viewpoints 
are publicly presented without government interference.  Five 
privately owned weekly newspapers, two of them fiercely 
partisan, engage in lively debate of the issues.  The opposition
press is a frequent critic of government officials and policies.
All newspapers are subject to the constraints of libel laws.

Belize's first privately owned commercial radio station began 
broadcasts in 1990.  Since then, broadcast media have become 
considerably more open.  The popular radio call-in programs are 
lively and feature open criticism of and comment on government 
and political matters.  Continuing indirect government influence

over the autonomous Broadcasting Corporation of Belize, a former
government monopoly which depends on government financial 
support, sometimes affects its editorial decisions regarding 
news and feature reporting.

Fifteen privately owned television broadcasting stations, 
including several cable networks, operate in Belize.  The 
Government's Belize Information Service and the independent 
Channel 5 television station produce local news and feature 
programs.  Broadcasting is regulated by the Belize Broadcasting 
Authority (BBA), which asserts its right to preview certain 
broadcasts, such as those with political content, and to delete 
any defamatory or personally libelous material from the 
political broadcasts of both parties before these are aired.  
As far as is known, the BBA did not exercise this authority 
during 1993.  

Academic freedom is provided for by law and respected in 
practice.

     b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association 

Freedom of assembly is constitutionally assured and honored in 
practice.  Political parties and other groups with political 
objectives freely hold rallies and mass meetings.  The 
organizers of public meetings must obtain a permit 36 hours in 
advance of the meetings; such permits are not denied for 
political reasons.  Under the Constitution, Belizeans are free 
to form and join associations of their choice, both political 
and nonpolitical.  

     c.  Freedom of Religion

There is no state religion.  All groups may worship as they 
choose, and all groups and churches may establish places of 
worship, train clergy, and maintain contact with coreligionists 
abroad.  There is an active missionary presence.  In church 
publications and from the pulpit, church leaders comment on 
government and political policies as these affect the social 
welfare of the country.  

     d.  Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign 
         Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

There are no restrictions on freedom of movement within the 
country.  Foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation are 
unrestricted.


As many as 40,000 Central Americans from neighboring countries 
have taken up residence in Belize since 1980, many of them 
entering illegally and living in Belize without documentation.  
The Government conferred refugee status on many of the new 
arrivals and provided them with assistance.  However, the sheer 
number of refugees and other immigrants strained government 
social services, while the highly visible presence of recent 
immigrants in the labor force and the marketplace has provoked 
widespread resentment among native-born Belizeans.

The Human Rights Commission of Belize (HRCB) and others 
complained that immigration and law enforcement authorities 
abused suspected illegal immigrants and on occasion deported 
persons who in fact were legal residents or bona fide refugees.
In response to complaints, the Government promised to 
investigate all charges of unfair treatment, discourtesy, or 
abuse.  The Government claims that no specific evidence of 
these allegations has been presented.

Section 3  Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens 
           to Change Their Government

Belize is a functioning democracy governed by a Legislative 
Assembly, with executive direction from a Cabinet of Ministers 
headed by Prime Minister George Price.  National elections must 
be held at least once every 5 years.  Municipal and town board 
officials are elected in local contests at 3-year intervals.

All elections are by secret ballot, and suffrage is universal 
for Belizean citizens 18 years and older.  National political 
parties include the People's United Party (PUP), the United 
Democratic Party (UDP), and the National Alliance for Belizean 
Rights (NABR).  The nation's ethnic diversity is reflected in 
each party's membership.  The Government changed hands (for the 
third time since independence in 1981) when a coalition of the 
UDP and NABR won 16 of 29 seats in the House of Representatives 
in the general elections of June 30.

Allegations that large numbers of Central American immigrants 
were illegally naturalized in order to pad voter rolls before 
the June general elections were investigated by an independent 
consortium of nongovernmental organizations (NGO's).  The 
consortium discovered a pattern of irregularities which lent 
credence to the charges, and the new Government promised to 
study and act on the group's recommendations to prevent such 
abuses from occurring in the future.


Women hold a number of appointive offices--the Governor General 
and three of nine Senators are women--but women in elective 
office are rare.  No laws or practices impede participation of 
women in politics.  One of four women who contested June's 
general election was elected to the House of Representatives. 

Section 4  Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
           Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations 
           of Human Rights

Local and international human rights groups operate freely, and 
the Government cooperates with independent investigations of 
human rights conditions in Belize.

The HRCB, a nongovernmental organization that is affiliated 
with regional human rights organizations, was active in 1993 on 
a range of issues, including refugee and agricultural workers' 
rights, cases of alleged police abuse, and cases of alleged 
illegal deportations of Central American nationals.  The HRCB 
publicizes and urges police and other government bodies to act 
upon complaints which the HRCB receives.  It lacks the 
resources to conduct independent investigations, but it does 
participate in joint projects such as the NGO consortium 
investigation discussed above.

Section 5  Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, 
           Disability, Language, or Social Status

Belize is a multiracial, multiethnic country, and the 
Government actively promotes tolerance and cross-cultural 
understanding.  Discrimination on ethnic or religious grounds 
is illegal and is not common, although ethnic tension, 
particularly resentment of Central American immigrants, 
continued to be a problem.

     Women

Despite constitutional provisions for equality, Belizean women 
face social and economic prejudices.  For example, women can 
find it more difficult than men to obtain business and 
agricultural financing and other resources.  Most employed 
women are concentrated in female-dominated occupations with 
traditionally low status and wages.  A Women's Bureau in the 
Ministry of Labor and Social Services is charged with 
developing programs to improve the status of women.  A number 
of officially registered women's groups work closely with 
various government ministries in promoting social awareness 
programs.  Women have access to education and are active in all 
spheres of national life, but relatively few are found in top 
managerial positions.  While the law mandates that women 
receive equal pay for equal work, women wage earners often earn 
less than men in similar jobs.  Women are not impeded from 
owning or managing land or other real property. 

Domestic violence against women is a chronic problem.  Women 
Against Violence (WAV), an NGO with branches throughout the 
country, runs a shelter for battered women and a hotline for 
rape victims.  WAV and other women's organizations successfully 
lobbied the Government to secure passage of a domestic violence 
law in November 1992.

     Children

In 1990 Belize became the fifth nation worldwide to ratify the 
U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.  With support from 
the United Nations Children's Fund, the Government and various 
NGO's are currently studying legislative changes which will be 
required to bring national law into conformity with the 
Convention.  Several NGO's are active in the field of child 
welfare and the prevention of child abuse.  The Government has 
sponsored a series of public service television announcements 
to sensitize the public to the issue of child abuse.

     People with Disabilities

Assistance to physically disabled persons is provided by the 
Government's Disability Services Unit as well as by a number of 
NGO's such as the Belize Association of and for Persons with 
Disabilities and the Belize Center for the Visually Impaired.  
Disabled children have access to government special education 
facilities.  Belizean law does not specifically prohibit job 
discrimination against disabled persons.  The provision of 
accessibility for disabled persons is not mandated legislatively
or otherwise.

Section 6  Worker Rights

     a.  The Right of Association

By statute and in practice, workers are free to establish and 
join trade unions.  Thirteen independent unions, with an 
estimated 9.8 percent of the labor force, represent a 
cross-section of white-collar, blue-collar, and professional 
workers, including most civil service employees.  Several of 
the unions, however, are moribund and inactive.  Unions are 
recognized by the Ministry of Labor after they file with the 
Office of Registry.  Members are empowered to draft the bylaws 
and constitutions of their unions, and they are free to elect 
officers from among the membership at large.  Unions which 
choose not to hold elections may act as representatives for 
their membership, but the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC) 
of Belize permits only unions which hold free and annual 
elections of officers to join its ranks.  By both law and 
precedent, unions are effectively protected against dissolution 
or suspension by administrative authority.

Although no unions are officially affiliated with political 
parties, several are sympathetic to one or the other of the two 
main parties.  Unions freely exercise the right to form 
federations and confederations and affiliate with international 
organizations.  Unions are legally permitted to strike, but 
unions representing essential services may strike only after 
giving 21 days' notice to the Ministry concerned.  A wildcat 
strike by nonunion women textile workers occurred in 1993 
following the failure of the employer to meet his payroll.  The 
Government suspended the offending company's development 
concession in October and the company's management promised to 
pay the workers' back wages as soon as possible.

     b.  The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Collective bargaining is protected in law and freely practiced 
throughout the country.  Wages are set in free negotiations 
between employers and unions or, more commonly, simply offered 
by employers.  In practice, the Labor Commissioner acts as a 
conciliator in deadlocked collective bargaining negotiations 
between labor and management, offering nonbinding counsel to 
both sides.  Historically, the Commissioner's guidance has been 
voluntarily accepted.  However, should either union or 
management choose not to accept the conciliator's decision, 
both are entitled to a legal hearing of the case, provided that 
it is linked to some valid provision of civil or criminal law.  

The Constitution prohibits antiunion discrimination both before 
and after the union is registered.  Theoretically, unions may 
freely organize.  In practice, however, employers are not 
legally required to recognize a union as a bargaining agent, 
and some employers have been known to block union organization 
by terminating the employment of key union sympathizers, 
usually on grounds purportedly unrelated to union activities.  
Effective redress is extremely difficult in such situations.  
Technically, a worker may file a complaint with the Labor 
Department, but it has been virtually impossible to prove that 
a termination was due to union activity.

Belize's two export processing zones (EPZ's) are not exempt 
from the Labor Code.  There are no unions in the EPZ's, 
however, reflecting the general weakness of organized labor in 
the country, as noted above.

     c.  Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced labor is forbidden by the Constitution and is not known 
to occur.

     d.  Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum age of employment is 14 years, or 17 years for 
employment near hazardous machinery.  Inspectors from the 
Ministries of Labor and Education enforce this regulation, 
although in recent years school truancy officers, who have 
historically borne the brunt of the enforcement burden, have 
been less active.  Children between the ages of 5 and 14 are 
required to attend school.  In practice, there are many truants 
and dropouts.  

     e.  Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage is $1.12 (B$2.25) per hour, except in export 
industries where it is $1.00 (B$2.00) per hour.  For domestic 
workers and shop assistants in stores where liquor is not 
consumed the rate is $0.87 (B$1.75) per hour.  Workers paid on 
a piecework basis are not covered by the minimum wage law.  The 
Ministry of Labor is charged with enforcing the legal minimum 
wage, which is generally respected in practice.  The minimum 
wage as a sole source of income is inadequate to provide a 
decent standard of living for a worker and family.  Most 
salaried workers receive more than the minimum wage.

No worker is obliged to work more than 6 days or 45 hours per 
week.  Payment for overtime work is obligatory, as is an annual 
paid vacation of 2 weeks.  A patchwork of health and safety 
regulations covers numerous industries, and these regulations 
are enforced in varying degrees by the Ministries of Labor and 
Public Health.  Enforcement is not universal countrywide, and 
in 1993 the limited inspection and investigative resources were 
committed principally to urban and more accessible rural areas 
where labor, health, and safety complaints had been registered.

The exploitation of undocumented foreign workers, particularly 
young service workers and workers in the banana industry, 
continues to be a major concern of the HRCB and other concerned 
citizens.  Undocumented immigrants working in the Stann Creek 
area banana industry have complained of poor working and living 
conditions and routine nonpayment of wages.  In 1992 a 
government labor inspector was assigned to the area to help 
resolve wage disputes and promote improved conditions, but 
after more than a year, little progress was made.  (###)



[end of document]

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