The Supreme Court decision involved the Maya villages of Conejo and Santa Cruz and noted that their customary land tenure practices give rise to property rights that are protected under the Constitution of Belize. The Court found that that the failure of the government of Belize to recognize and protect those rights constitute a violation of the constitutional protections of property, equality, life and security of the person. The judgment, which took approximately two and a half hours to read, affirmed that Belize is obligated not only by the Constitution but also by international treaty and customary law - including the recent United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples - to respect and protect Maya customary land rights.
The decision is being hailed as a landmark in Belize as well as throughout the Caribbean region and beyond as it is the first judgment applied specifically to the United Nations' declaration, which was adopted Sept. 13 by the U.N. General Assembly.
The victory is expected to result in more protections and land rights for Indigenous People in Belize and potentially affects more than 40 Maya villages. Community leaders are calling it Mayan Independence Day.