On May 13TH of this year the Government of Belize presented five pieces of legislation in the House of Representatives which they say will reduce the escalation in the crime rate which has characterized the UDPs time in office. Among other things the legislations, if passed by the House of Representatives, will allow for Preventative Detention and Trial without a Jury.

The raft of anti crime measures, which is how Government likes to call it, has caused mixed reactions among Belizeans while various organizations including the Human Rights Commission of Belize, Citizens for Liberation Through Action, the Belize Patriotic Movement and the Peoples United Party have spoken out against the proposed legislations.

In order to educate Belizeans on what the proposed changes to the constitution actually mean and what their constitutional rights are, the Human Rights Commission of Belize has embarked on a country wide campaign. On Friday attorney Audrey Matura Shepherd representing the commission along with COLAs President Moses Sulph and President of the Belize Patriotic Movement Patrick Menzies held the consultation here in Orange Walk. During the consultation Shepherd urged Orange Walkenos to share their concerns and at the same time suggest ways on how to solve the crime situation in Belize without having to rely on the constitutional amendments.

Screen_shot_2011-07-19_at_8.00.33_PMAudrey Matura Shepherd- Volunteer Human Rights Commission

“Four sections of the constitution section five, six, seven and eight. Section five has to do with your personal liberty, section six has to do with equal treatment under the law by having a fair trial, and section seven then has to do with your right not to be treated inhumanly and tortured and section eight has to do with not being forced to do slavery work or force labour and so we find that people don’t understand these changes. However the one that real grips people when they hear about it Preventive Detention it is not that the other ones are not serious and bad but the thing is that people cannot realize and comprehend that this is actually being proposed. Why because Preventative Detention is saying that the state meaning the police can pick you up and lock you up for 21 days on mere suspicion. When that happens according to the amendment you are being denied under the constitution, you are being denied your right to be told why you are being detained immediately, your rights to be read your constitutional rights, your right to even have an attorney or make contact with your family, your right to be brought before a court within 48 hours to be charged. All those rights are being denied and then to make it even more offensive after 21 days the same state could go before the Supreme Court and ask that they extended it for another month and after they extend it for another month asking for that application they do it in Chambers meaning in closed door court and they do it in the absence of the accused person or prisoner. So bottom line is that you are not even in front of the judge to ask why you should not be detained for another 31 days. So that is really something that people cannot grasp that this would even be talked about an implemented in our constitution.”

And what many Belizeans are probably not aware of is that once the law is amended even children will be affected.

Audrey Matura Shepherd- Volunteer Human Rights Commission

“There is paragraph L that is being proposed to being introduced in section five again. They are saying that they can take away the liberty of your children where they believe it is in their best interest because they want to make sure that they are not involved in criminal conduct or around anti social behaviour. Now that may seem on the surface good but how do you just take away children. It is just crazy to think that they will actually target our children. What is very interesting too is that where will they put them, what facilities they have, what money do they have and by taking them away how are you rehabilitating these children. This is something very serious and many people hear about Preventative Detention but don’t realise that even our kids are being targeted directly. Section eight ties in to both paragraphs K that deals with Preventative Detention and paragraph L that deals with children because they are saying that while you are caught in these two laws they are saying that when they put you to work you can’t claim that it is forced labour or slavery. It is also stating that you can’t sue the Government, you can’t sue for false imprisonment, and you can’t sue for malicious persecution because they don’t even have to prosecute you after they hold you for 52 days.”

As mentioned government is proposing the changes in the constitution with the ideology that it will reduce crime rate. But according to Sheppard the changes will do exactly the opposite.

Audrey Matura Shepherd- Volunteer Human Rights Commission

“We say no because this has been tried in other countries and it has not worked Jamaica is one of the best examples because it was tried there and it was only used from one political party to the next to victimize their supporters. It was also being used in South Africa where Preventative Detention was used against the black population. It was also used in Northern Ireland to get rid of the IRA. It has been used in Guantanamo Bay so it is quite interesting.”

With Government occupying the majority of seats in the House of Representatives the proposed constitutional amendments can be approved by August 13th.

Audrey Matura Shepherd- Volunteer Human Rights Commission

“We estimate that the 13th of August is 90 days, the constitution states that at least a 90 days lapse must exist between the first reading and the second reading, it does not mean that on August 13th the Government will actually pass it but they can and if they do they can and the law does not say that they have to consult the people and even if they do consult they have to pay attention to what they are saying. So we believe that the only solution to this is that the people, the citizens, the masses speak out against this. I know COLA is organizing a march on the 13th of July in Belize City by Pound Yard Bridge and people have to come out and walk against this. People should contact their area representative, call the radio stations, use facebook and even texts to get the message across so that we as a people we stand up against it. This is one time I am begging Belizeans don’t use this politically because this is not about red, white or blue party none of that. This is about our rights, our freedom and we need to stand up as a people.”

On Saturday July 23rd the Human Rights Commission will be carrying out another consultation at 3:00pm at the Yo Creek Community Centre and at 6:30pm at the community centre in Blue Creek. In Corozal Town the consultation will take place on July 26th at the Corozal Methodist Conference Room at 7:00pm. All concerned citizens are urged to attend.

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