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TITLE:  BELIZE HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1994
AUTHOR:  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DATE:  FEBRUARY 1995




                             BELIZE


Belize is a parliamentary democracy with a Constitution enacted 
in 1981 upon independence from the United Kingdom.  The Prime 
Minister, a Cabinet of Ministers, and a Legislative Assembly 
govern the country.  The 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 Police Department is responsible for law enforcement and 
maintenance of order.  It is responsible to and controlled by 
civilian authorities, but there were occasional credible 
reports of police abuse and mistreatment.

The economy is primarily agricultural.  The Government favors 
free enterprise and generally encourages investment, both 
foreign and domestic.  Preliminary estimates put 1994 gross 
domestic product growth at 1.5 percent in real terms.

The Constitution provides for, and citizens enjoy in practice, 
a wide range of fundamental rights and freedoms.  Principal 
human rights abuses include occasional reports of police use of 
excessive force when making arrests, prolonged incarceration 
without trial, discrimination and domestic violence against 
women, and 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 such killings.

     b.  Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The Constitution expressly forbids torture or other cruel, 
inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.  Nonetheless, 
there were occasional credible reports of mistreatment and 
abuse by police.  For example, during the Government's 
well-publicized anticrime campaign against urban gangs, several 
of those arrested alleged police abuse.  The Police Department, 
the Police Complaints Board, and on occasion, special 
independent commissions appointed by the Prime Minister 
investigate any such allegations.  No police or prison officer 
was charged with or convicted of such an offense in 1994.

     d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest or detention, and 
the authorities respect these provisions in practice.  The law 
requires the police to inform a detainee of the cause of 
detention within 48 hours of arrest and to bring the person 
before a court within 72 hours.  In practice, the authorities 
normally inform detainees 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.

The Constitution forbids exile, and it 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, a 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.  In December the Privy Council agreed to hear 
three such appeals, thereby suspending the government-imposed 
death sentences.

The authorities respect these constitutional guarantees in 
practice, although observers question the judiciary's 
independence from the executive branch, noting that judges and 
the Chief Prosecutor must negotiate renewal of their employment 
contracts with the Government and thus may be vulnerable to 
political interference.  Some observers opined publicly that 
the Chief Prosecutor's decision in December to drop a case 
against two suspected major drug criminals might have been 
influenced by such considerations.  The Supreme Court and 
magistrate courts suffer backlogs aggravated by the inability 
to maintain a full complement of judges.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

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

The Constitution provides for the protection of personal 
property, privacy of home and person, and recognition of human 
dignity, and the Government generally honors these provisions.  
The law requires police 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.  The police observe this requirement in 
practice.  Customs officers do not need a warrant to search 
private property.

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

     a.  Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution and local custom protect freedom of speech and 
the press.  In practice, all viewpoints are publicly presented 
without government interference.  Six privately owned weekly 
newspapers, several of them fiercely partisan, engage in lively 
debate.  The opposition press is a frequent critic of 
government officials and policies.  All newspapers are subject 
to the constraints of libel laws.  In 1994 the Prime Minister 
won a libel suit against the opposition newspaper and was 
awarded $12,500 in damages.

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.

There are 18 privately owned television broadcasting stations, 
including several cable networks.  The Government's Belize 
Information Service and the independent television station 
channels 5 and 7 produce local news and feature programs.  The 
Belize Broadcasting Authority (BBA) regulates broadcasting and 
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.  As far as is known, the BBA did not exercise 
this authority during 1994.

The law provides for academic freedom and the Government 
respects it in practice.

     b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly and the 
authorities honor it 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.  The Constitution permits 
citizens 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.

     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 the country without 
documentation.  Successive governments conferred refugee status 
on nearly one-fourth 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.

Occasionally over the past few years, the Human Rights 
Commission of Belize (HRCB) and others have complained that 
immigration and law enforcement authorities abused suspected 
illegal immigrants and in a few cases 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.  To facilitate greater 
understanding between Belizean officials and the 
Spanish-speaking people with whom they increasingly must work, 
the Government instituted mandatory Spanish language training 
for field officers in the Customs Service and Immigration and 
Nationality Department.

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

Belize is a democracy governed by a Legislative Assembly, with 
executive direction from a Cabinet of Ministers headed by Prime 
Minister Manuel Esquivel.  The law requires national elections 
at least every 5 years.

All elections are by secret ballot, and suffrage is universal 
for citizens 18 years and older.  National political parties 
include the People's United Party, 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) in 1993 when a coalition of the UDP 
and NABR won 16 of 29 seats in the House of Representatives.

Women hold a number of appointive offices, including three of 
nine Senate seats.  One member of the House of Representatives 
is a woman, but women in elective office are the exception 
rather than the rule.  None hold senior positions in the 
political parties.  No laws impede participation of women in 
politics; their scarcity in Belizean electoral politics can be 
attributed to tradition and socioeconomic factors.

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

The HRCB, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) affiliated with 
regional human rights organizations, operates free of 
government restriction 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 it receives.  
Local and international human rights groups operate freely, and 
the Government cooperates with independent investigations of 
human rights conditions.

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 not common, although ethnic tension, 
particularly resentment of recently arrived Central American 
immigrants, continued to be a problem.

     Women

Despite constitutional provisions for equality, women face 
social and economic prejudices.  For example, women 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.  The 
Government took several steps to address domestic violence, 
including a public education campaign conducted by the Women's 
Services Office in the Ministry of Human Resources, as well as 
the introduction in Parliament of a sexual harassment bill.  
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 1992.  The law appears to have had an 
effect in at least one instance.  In a much publicized case in 
December, in which a court convicted Lorna James of murdering 
her husband, the charge was later reduced to manslaughter 
because Ms. James had been the victim of domestic violence 
inflicted by her husband.

     Children

The Government formed a Family Services Division in the 
Ministry of Human Resources devoted primarily to children's 
issues.  The division coordinates programs for children who are 
victims of domestic violence, advocates remedies in specific 
cases before the Family Court, conducts a public education 
campaign, and works with NGO's and the U.N. Children's Fund to 
promote children's welfare.  The Government also created a 
National Committee for Families and Children, chaired by the 
Minister of Human Resources.

     People with Disabilities

The law does not mandate specifically the provision of 
accessibility for disabled persons nor prohibit job 
discrimination against them.  The Government's Disability 
Services Unit, as well as a number of NGO's such as the Belize 
Association of and for Persons with Disabilities and the Belize 
Center for the Visually Impaired, provide assistance to 
physically disabled persons.  Disabled children have access to 
government special education facilities.

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.  The Ministry 
of Labor recognizes unions after they file with the Office of 
Registry.  The law empowers members 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 permits 
only unions which hold free and annual elections of officers to 
join its ranks.  Both law and precedent effectively protect 
unions 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.  The law permits unions to strike, but unions 
representing essential services may strike only after giving 
21 days' notice to the ministry concerned.  The Public Service 
Union, which is the bargaining unit for some 1,400 civil 
servants, staged a 3-day wildcat strike after talks with the 
Government broke down over increased wages, but the strike was 
not well-supported.

     b.  The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The law provides for collective bargaining and unions freely 
practice it throughout the country.  Employers and unions set 
wages in free negotiations, or, more commonly, employers simply 
establish them.  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 
provision of civil or criminal law.

The Constitution prohibits antiunion discrimination both before 
and after a union is registered.  Unions may freely organize, 
but the law does not require employers to recognize a union as 
a bargaining agent.  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.

The Labor Code applies in the country's two export processing 
zones (EPZ's).  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

The Constitution forbids forced labor, and it is not known to 
occur.

     d.  Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum age for 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.  The law requires children between the ages 
of 5 and 14 to attend school, but 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.  The minimum 
wage law does not cover workers paid on a piecework basis.  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.

The law sets the normal workweek at no more than 6 days or 
45 hours.  It requires payment for overtime work and an annual 
paid vacation of 2 weeks.  A patchwork of health and safety 
regulations covers numerous industries, and the Ministries of 
Labor and Public Health enforce these regulations in varying 
degrees.  Enforcement is not universal countrywide, and the 
ministries commit their limited inspection and investigative 
resources principally to urban and more accessible rural areas 
where labor, health, and safety complaints have been 
registered.  Workers have the legal right to remove themselves 
from a dangerous workplace situation without jeopardy to 
continued employment.

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 2 years, little progress has been made.


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[end of document]

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