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

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...

Cultures

Can 3D printing play a role in enabling museums to…

Development

Half the world’s population currently has access to the internet,…

Cultures

The four-day week is often held as being of benefit…

I’m a Geographer

Victorien Erussard is the co-leader and president of the Energy Observer…

Explorers

Joseph Frey, governor of The Royal Canadian Geographical Society, discusses…

I’m a Geographer

Louise Callaghan is the Middle East correspondent for the Sunday…

Development

The concept of renewable energy in the Middle East sounds…

Cultures

In an epic new book from traveller and curator Susan…

Development

Massive scientific investment has now identified the primary threats to…

Development

The Chinese government aims to put a ‘social credit system’…

Development

A new green cemetery in Paris indicates the growing desire…

I’m a Geographer

How the best-selling author is making complex matters of geography…

Cultures

From 26 October, tourists will no longer be able to…

I’m a Geographer

Ed Stafford is a former British army captain who became…

Development

As the world’s attention focuses on the protests in Santiago,…

Development

Vast quantities of sand are being deposited along a stretch…

Development

The world’s first hydrogen-powered boat to tour the world, Energy…

Cultures

An experiment that asked different sized groups to invent a…

Explorers

Commemorating a mining tragedy that shocked the nation a decade…