Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Rights of passage

Rights of passage Paul Huber
27 Jun
2015
A landmark ruling finally gives hope to indigenous peoples around the world fighting to reclaim their homelands

In the south of Belize lies the Sarstoon Temash National Park, home to 42,000 acres of broadleaf, wetland and mangrove forest. It was established by the government in 1994, which was a surprise to the indigenous Maya Q’eqchi’ and Mopan populations, whose ancestors had occupied the land since the early 1800s. Furthermore, in 2001, concessions were granted to energy company US Capital Energy to start exploring the park for oil – all without any consultation with the local communities.

The ensuing legal wrangling between the Maya people, the government and US Capital Energy, as well as indigenous rights organisations such as Cultural Survival, finally came to a close last month when the Caribbean Court of Justice (the highest court in Belize) confirmed that the Maya people have the right to ownership of the land. This follows a similar 2010 ruling, in which the Supreme Court of Belize declared the government could not grant concessions on Maya land.

The Belize government is now required to demarcate and register Maya village lands, to not allow any future interference to the Maya people, and to compensate them for the environmental damage already done.

The landmark verdict could have significant implications for indigenous communities engaged in similar legal struggles around the world. James Anaya, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and co-chair of the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program at the University of Arizona, said that the judgement ‘reinforces the international standard that indigenous peoples have collective property rights based on their own customary land tenure systems, even when they do not have formal title or other official recognition of those rights, and that states are bound to recognise and protect those rights.’

This article was published in the July 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine

Related items

sub 2020 copy

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

geo line break v3

geo line break v3

University of Winchester

geo line break v3

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Derby

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in PEOPLE...

I’m a Geographer

Danny Dorling is an author and professor of geography at Oxford…

Development

A newly discovered microbe could uncover how soil absorbs carbon…

Explorers

A single entry in a 118-year-old Arctic whaling logbook diverted…

Refugees

As the world grapples with a new pandemic, humanitarian organisations…

Development

Virtualising nature – an affront to the glory of the…

People

Boredom may be creeping into the lockdown experience. For the…

Refugees

A landmark ruling by the United Nations Human Rights Committee…

People

In today’s interconnected global society, new diseases can travel through…

Development

The best GIS dashboards record in near real-time the number…

Cultures

Geographical’s monthly print magazine has always sought to help its…

Cultures

As Iran and the US slog it out to dominate…

Development

For Bhavani Shankar, a trip to an Indian vegetable market revealed…

Explorers

Laura Waters paddles from ocean to source on the Noosa…

I’m a Geographer

Martin Hewitt is the founder of the Adaptive Grand Slam…

Development

As we come to terms with our hermetically-sealed situation during…

Explorers

At Geographical, we want to amplify the voices of the…

Cultures

Sohei Nishino uses photography, collage and cartography to pioneer unique…

Development

A rapid change in eating habits is deemed necessary to…

I’m a Geographer

Evelyn Habasa is the founder of Ride 4 a Woman,…