Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Coalition,Belize:Against the Odds at the DR OAS General Assembly

 Posted June 17th, 2016

In 2016 fundamentalists clash with our LGBTTI Coalition in an anti-climatic way at the OAS General Assembly meeting in Santo Domingo. They appeared in droves on the street, but in response, as a member of the coalition, I decided to take pictures of them in the background in defiance of their overwhelming numbers with a simply message, "Zero Discrimination.' I cant say the OAS LGBTTI coalition was surprise to see the numbers, but I can say that the numbers reminded me of our experience in Belize, 2013 when the so called 'constitutional marches'  was organized across the country.

In 2013, we saw fundamentalists influenced by Belize Action, organized themselves in the South of Belize with close to 2,000 people walking on foot, with a hanging effigy leading that march. It was through Se la Vee, a virtual forum on social issues that  allies and community members learned of the effigy through an uploaded cellphone video. It was strongly condemned by then Minister Lisel Allamila and many others in the community as bordering on hate. The odds were not in our favor to be able to organized a march that large, but allies and community member remain defiant in their position that Belizean fundamentalists were wrong in having the effigy leading the march.


The Channel five story of July 11th, 2013 reported on the issue," The lynching of an effigy depicting one or, symbolically, all members of the United Belize Advocacy Movement (UNIBAM), during a pro-constitution march held in Toledo last Friday, has raised grave concerns." Realising, too late, that the effigy was bad public communication that promoted an imagery of violence, Belizean fundamentalist  distance themselves. The coverage done by Western Vision highlighed the point in it's report,  "..Three of the participants in the pro-Constitution March, BelizeCan, Belize Action and Rise and Shine, have issued a statement regarding photographs purporting to show the hanging in effigy of UNIBAM...' and goes on to say, “We strongly condemn and discourage the use of such placards or images which can be perceived as sending the wrong message. We encourage Belizeans to exercise their right to rally in a respectful, responsible, and God-fearing manner,” said the statement.   Louis Wade, the owner of Plus."

We were glad our opponents made fundamental public communication mistakes because it provided evidence of homophobia and that discrimination and hate was real. We fought back in the timely release of a report called Dangerous Liaisons and got our opponents to admit that they were working with right-wing American groups. The New Seven report made July, 29th 2013 states, 'He does admit that ADF and C-FAM has provided advice, legal assistance and strategy, and he says quote,“they are assisting in cases all over the world in the homosexual global attack on morality & family values.”' The argument of a foreign Agenda was reversed unto our opponents for the first time.

 The theme of social defiance in national advocacy, as we experienced in Belize,  reflected the current extended left and right push and pull in many international spaces. The OAS General Assembly, is no different, in fact, opposition and counter-engagement strategies in the norm at the OAS. When we found members of the Coalition being prevented from using the public bathroom during the General Secretary Dialogue, members naturally protested against the indignity. It helped to have the media there to cover their concern and it helped to learn the following day that there would be gender-neutral bathrooms at a coalition meeting.

When we found ourselves in a room where fundamentalists outnumbered our coalition members 2 to 1, we were not having it. As a result, members and allies alike came back swinging with signs.Yes, the fundamentalists were out in droves, what we did not have in numbers we made up in spirit with our Jamaican colleague signs leading the way, which said, ' End Religious Extremism!' and 'Religious Extremism Kills!" and 'Protect my Gay Family'. Our coalition added their two cent with trans flags and signs as well, while other coalition members had their own signs like 'LGBTTI are Humans Too!' and held up, 'diverse families.' Signs and sounds began to bloom in torrent of organized chaos at the Secretary General OAS dialogue, but at least it was respectful.


The fundamentalists came back at us through their speakers and signs like ' no gender ideology.' They used working groups to lay down their positions and they sought to shut out the coalition from participating in the General Assembly process. In fact, we learned from one of our colleagues from Guatemala that the bathroom incident form the basis for arguments of exclusion of the coalition from engaging with ambassadors during the Permanent Council process. A fact, we learn a day later after the coalition engaged representative of the Inter-American Court.


 When we arrived at Foreign Ministry building for Santo Domingo, we were herded into a small room and made to wait by officials. Members of the coalition were upset about the exclusion for in nine years of attending the OAS General  Assembly the Coalition has always had the freedom to listen and engage quietly with representative on the Permanent Council about their concern. Officials eventually met us and we expressed concerns about being held hostage in the room and they expressed concerns about the news reports painting them badly.


The agreement was not reached without, a transwoman from Santo Domingo contribution to local media from the room window, while we waited for final agreement. The result of that unwanted contribution led to to security calling for four more persons to block the window to prevent persons inside the room from shouting to the media who were directly outside. During the process, they had a security officer take our photos, so we took out our cameras and took pictures of them. We agreed that we would take off our cameras and they would remove their efforts at documenting who was in the room. Fascinatingly, we saw our internet slow down and the air-conditioning cut off while we waited for negotiations to happen. The point made by officials was that there was no space, but the point we made was that they knew exactly how many people would come and that they had the burden of responsibility to planned properly. In the end, it was agreed to let every person in the room plus one person from registered organizations.

Like all General Assembly, the work of the coalition would not be complete without picture taking from Belize and its Caribbean Colleagues who made every effort to reach out to representatives. It was interesting at this general assembly to hear how countries in the Caribbean extended their condolences to the people of the US  about the Orlando Shooting. Jamaica and Trinidad made mentioned of Orlando, but Belize's Foreign Minister Erlington said in his speech,"their pain is our pain, their grief is our grief!" a point as a Belizean citizen, I can appreciate. Other  Caribbean colleagues sought to reach out to their representatives and documented their efforts at engagement by taking a picture or two, or simply asking a question during the Secretary General Dialogue. We did our part in a meeting with the representative of the Inter-American Court, with the representative from Barbados speaking up.


For Belize visibility meant expanding our presence through Zahnia Canul and Tia with her network,  REDLACTRAN. It was a welcomed sight to see her expand her understanding of political communication to strengthen her capacity. Zahnia can be seen here, holding a sign, but documenting the speech and supporting the concerns of her network very strongly at the Secretary General dialogue. I added my concern about tolerance and ensured that I engaged Belize's Assistant Secretary General of the OAS Nestor Mendez whom can be seen side by side with the Secretary General below.


I look forward to see what 2017 brings, protests has happened in Paraguay and Guatemala, -prior to Santo Domingo, but never in numbers like Santo Domingo, I wonder while there, how many of the people protesting realized that they are protesting against their own health and right needs. I look forward to 2017 in Mexico.

Minister Alamilla appalled by hanging of UNIBAM effigy in P.G.

Group Distance themselves from UNIBAM Effigy

Report Dangerous Liaison

Stirm Strikes Bank at SPLC

Friday, May 13, 2016

TMM IDAHOT Report for 17 May, 2016

Reposted: May 13th, 2016
International Day Against Homophobia & Transphobia (IDAHOT) Press Release
Already 100 reported murders of trans people in 2016

On occasion of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (IDAHOT)[1] held on the 17 of May every year, Transgender Europe (TGEU) is publishing the Trans Murder Monitoring (TMM) project[2] update to join the voices raising awareness on this day about the multiple forms of discrimination and violence faced by LGBTI people worldwide.
This update (TMM IDAHOT 2016) reveals 100 reported murders of trans and gender diverse people in 2016, which is the highest number in the first 4 months of the year registered by the TMM project since 2008. In total, the numbers add up to 2115 reported killings of trans and gender diverse people in 65 countries worldwide between the 1st of January 2008 and the 30th of April 20161654 of which were reported in Central and South America.
Throughout all six world regions, the highest absolute numbers have been found in countries with strong trans movements and civil society organisations that carry out forms of professional monitoring: Brazil (845), Mexico (247), Colombia (108), Venezuela (104), and Honduras (80) in Central and South America; the United States (141) in North America; Turkey (43) and Italy (34) in Europe; and India (55), the Philippines (40) and Pakistan (35) in Asia.[3]
TGEU’s Senior Researcher, Carsten Balzer/Carla LaGata, affirms, The TMM figures show only the tip of the iceberg of homicides of trans and gender diverse people on a worldwide scale, as these cases are those found through Internet search and cooperation with trans organisations and activists. In most countries, data on murdered trans and gender diverse people are not systematically produced, and it is impossible to estimate the numbers of unreported cases.” S_he adds, “as TGEU started to move towards more cooperation with organisations and networks in several countries in Africa, Asia, and South America in 2016 and increased the number of staff working on the TMM project, it is very likely that the figures registered will be higher in the future.”
The situation in Brazil is especially worrying, with 40% of the cases since January 2008, and 42% of the cases in 2016 so far worldwide“One of the factors contributing to the increase in the already high number of trans and gender diverse people murdered in the country is the recently-established cooperation between TGEU and the Brazilian trans network Rede Trans Brasil. This allows for a joint effort in more thoroughly and professionally monitoring and reporting the violence against trans and gender diverse people,”explains TGEU’s Transrespect Officer, Lukas Berredo, who joined TGEU’s Transrespect versus Transphobia Worldwide project team in 2016.
The theme for IDAHOT 2016 is “Mental Health and Well Being”. In most countries, trans and gender diverse people must receive an official mental health diagnosis in order to access gender affirming services and legal gender recognition. This psychiatrisation of trans identities strongly contributes to the stigmatization and violence towards trans and gender diverse people.
For More Information: TGEU Senior Researcher, Carsten Balzer/Carla LaGata, and TGEU Transrespect Officer, Lukas Berredo, are available for interviews and questions, and can be reached at carla[at] or at lukas[at], respectively.
In 2012, Transgender Europe published “TRANSRESPECT VERSUS TRANSPHOBIA WORLDWIDE – A Comparative Review of the Human-rights Situation of Gender-variant/Trans People”, which contextualises the TMM data:
[1] The International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) is dedicated to raise awareness about the alarming situation of discrimination and violence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexuals, trans, and intersex people. It was specifically chosen to commemorate the World Health Organization’s decision in 1990 to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.
[2] The Trans Murder Monitoring (TMM) project started in April 2009, and since then it has been systematically monitoring, collecting, and analysing reports of homicides of trans and gender diverse people worldwide. Updates of the results, which have been presented in July 2009 for the first time, are published on the “Transrespect versus Transphobia Worldwide” project website from two to four times a year in form of tables, name lists, and maps.
[3] The TMM IDAHOT 2016 update reports killings of trans and gender diverse people between January 2008 and April 2016 in all world regions: 1654 killings in 23 countries in Central and South America, which account for 78,2% of the globally reported murders; 183 killings in 16 Asian countries; 146 killings in North America; 117 killings in 16 European countries; 10 killings have been reported in 4 African countries; and 5 killings in 4 countries in Oceania.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Pedestal: Supporting Belizean Women, Diversity for it matters

14th March, 2016


On March 11th, I had the chance to walk with the 20,000 strong women march from B.T.L Park onward. It seems I will be late for my own funeral, but never the less, it was a taxi that allowed me to get to the back of the line. Why did I walk you might ask,its simple, for sister and mom. My sister, who helped to subsidize my life, when I was not working, she found a job for me at Lionel Welch Law Firm( who died) as an office assistant. As a result, I saved enough money on my credit union book that allowed me to borrow and pay back for my University Education. This was back in 2000 when I learned that the state will help with tuition, but gave me the responsibility to cover books and administration fees. It was my sister legal knowledge that built the foundations for my interest in law, provided support to do errands and have reports completed over the years. It was my sister I turn to when I need my KIA fixed for she was kind enough to marry a mechanic.

     For the record, I know nothing about cars, I learned to drive at age 39 and only learned that there are three holes that require fluid. I am still confused as to what goes into what. She found the car that I currently drive and she is the one who text or calls me, to check if  put in enough fluids in the car or at all. I am the one who call her when my batteries die, over and over again, in the first years of learning to drive. I am the one that called her for engine and basic maintenance problems, she then turns to her husband for guidance on the technical aspects of the car. Yes, when it comes to cars, I am dense. I was so dense, I was driving with two legs, until I realize that I was suppose to use one leg for gas and brakes. I have no shame in saying so. When I needed my Red KIA dragged from a village in the Orange Walk district, she got her husband to drive from Belmopan to Orange Walk to drag it back to Belmopan the same day. I asked them to sell the car in parts and they have done so slowly. My sister along with her husband has driven my car several times, as much as 50 miles to ensure its servicing was correct. I can never pay for the goodwill of my sister.

This is the influence of a woman with knowledge and a strong work ethic who's contributions to her family, remains undervalued, who's contribution to the economy remain invisible in formal economic data gathering, who is not represented sufficiently in cabinet, our police force, as an entrepreneur, as a doctor,fire woman and as a mother.

Of note, unemployment rate in Belize averaged 11.92% from 1993 until 2014, reaching an all time high of 23.30 % in 2010 and a record low of 8.2 % in 2008. It decreased to 11.1% in 2014 from 11.7 % in 2013. The unemployment rate as of September, 2015 stood at 10.2%, but literacy rates was 79.7% (2010), life expectancy 73.7% (2014), poverty rates is 41.3%(2009).

When we look at literacy rates, I must point out that it is mostly women who start their children to count fingers, repeat letters aloud, give their children crayons to scratch so their children could have the motors skills to form complete letter before or during their children attendance to kindergarden. In Belize, we spend in excess of 25% of our national budget on education, having almost 100,000 students at all levels double that of 1990 with almost 5000 teachers with 541 schools nationally. The Education Sector Strategy for 2011-2016 points out,"The early promise of achieving the Millennium Development Goal of Universal Primary Education, though close, is no nearer now than it was in 2000, the Primary NER in 2010 is 94% compared to 95% in 2001. The much needed increase in enrollment in secondary education has not taken place, the NER in 2010 is 49% compared to 44% in 2004."

Furthermore, when we consider that 7541 robberies, 1553 murders and 672 rapes occurred  from 2000-2015, it forces us to reflect on the value of "The 20,00 Women, Strong March" and opens the questions on who are on the frontlines that are affected by poverty, education access, health challenges, violence, unemployment. It forces us to reflect on the contribution of women and it's multiplier effect on Belize's Development and on families.


In the March, I saw a few males from St. John's College. It is unfortunate, how politicians, business leaders and general male population forget, it was women who clean the dirt from their bottoms, provided, taught them to recognize letters of the alphabet, ensured they had a meal, it was women who took them to hospitals for their vaccines and it is women who gave birth to them. As such, it is our obligation to give back the years of care and support that we have been given. It is our obligation to give women the support they need to break out in the world under any capacity should there be an interest or opportunity.


Unfortunately, there are ill-informed men out there who will say," you no belong deh da di rally! You dah no woman!"  which had happened to me while I was waiting in the middle of the road to go to my office. To that I say, supporting women's rights and concerns, is everybody's concern. As men have benefited from the sacrifices women have made in our development as children and  in becoming business and political leaders, as officers of the court, as vendors on the street, as students  and in every conceivable role we may fall into in the development of this country. It is women who has laid the foundation of learning and sense of security, so, we are obligated to acknowledge those sacrifices  and believe in the endless productive possibility of women in our social, financial and political institutions. The sky is the limit in advancing gender equity that matters.


Thursday, April 7, 2016

The BLACK March: LGBT Prospective

7th March, 2016

The BLACK march or Be Loving And Cease Killing was organized at NAPA on March 17th, 2016 in Belize City. For the first time, we had, Tikkun Olam, a sex worker advocacy organization, along with three LGBT led community-base groups and organizations, Our Circle, EYBM, BYEC & UniBAM made is presence felt, as all recognize that crime is about citizenry that unites us  in our concern about personal security.  Security concerns that shows up data in crime from 2000-2015. For example, data for murder was 1553 persons,cumulatively over 5 years while there were 672 rapes and 7, 541 robberies as well.  Why is this important? The data reveal that violence is a loose social tool that forces people into a state of alert or psychological guard.




From a constitutional prospective section 3(a) offers protections for life, liberty, security of the person, and the protection of the law. 3(c)  offers us protection for his family life, his personal privacy, the privacy of his home and other property and recognition of his human dignity.

What we discovered in practice is a victim of rape will get state intervention and rights defense through a medical exam & making a police report etc in making a case, but carry the burden of responsibility to deal with the social stigma attached to being a victim of sexual violence. Such experience can be called horizontal violence that can be covert or overt in nature. It is perpetuated by whispers, gossiping, name-calling, back-stabbing by community, friends and family, rendering the person to question their ability to assert their concerns in section 3(a) of the constitution. Horizontal violence can be argued to be an effective social mechanism to protect male social entitlement to a woman's body, but more importantly act as a weapon to erode the  human dignity of that person. When we add the LGBT component to it, 7 cases of rape or sexual assault of received reports between 1997-2015, the issue becomes even more complicated.  Adding biblical teachings about homosexuality that perpetuate social prejudice, legal exclusion that does not acknowledge the existence of sexual identity in a positive way, the social & gender politics that men are not suppose to not be victims of rape or sexual assault, and the environment becomes layered with informal and formal processes that discourages men from reporting violence.

In an article written by the Guardian of London, in 2011 called "The Rape of Men: The darkest Secret of War, the journalist wrote,"His captors raped him, three times a day, every day for three years. And he wasn't the only one. He watched as man after man was taken and raped. The wounds of one were so grievous that he died in the cell in front of him."  Data collected by Lara Stemple, of the University of California's Health and Human Rights Law Project, study revealed that incidents of male sexual violence occurs as a weapon in wartime or political aggression in countries such as Chile, Greece, Croatia, Iran, Kuwait, the former Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia. 21% of Sri Lankan males who were seen at a London torture treatment centre reported sexual abuse while in detention. In El Salvador, 76% of male political prisoners surveyed in the 1980s described at least one incidence of sexual torture. A study of 6,000 concentration-camp inmates in Sarajevo found that 80% of men reported having been raped.

So what does this have to do with Belize, structurally, we have a domestic violence unit, but there is no Unit in the Police Department on sexual violence.  The Amandala coverage of the Chief Justice speech in 2015 revealed, "In 2013, the conviction rate was pegged at 39 percent in the system. This figure, Benjamin said, was “sullied with only an 8 percent conviction rate for murders,” adding discussions of LGBT murder in Belize from 1997-2015, 32 in all for various reasons, high lights an additional structural problem. The state does not acknowledge a crime can be bias-motivated, as such,state system are under no legal obligation to report murder in its police report with any additional characteristic. Furthermore, the Ombudsman office powers in practice are limited to public authorities. It does does not investigate discriminatory practices, but mal-administration. The result is that justice is accessible to if you have the money, time or support. For many LGBT persons, highlighting their sexuality as part of a case is troublesome in Oscar Selgado vs Attorney General, Minister of Defense & Security Service Commission. The justice pointed out in case action 418 of 2003,"...Captain Selgado might have put up a formidable sex discrimination case under S: 16 of the Constitution of Belize, even a constitutional motion case, had he owned up to homosexuality." 

The BLACK march, then, became a symbol of opportunity and a short term public relations investment, masking the substantive needs to strengthen our citizens concerns about inadequate accessible redress mechanisms. The lack of  state system response to legal marginalisation of its LGBT citizens has helped to amplify the social effects of state systems policing the bodies of  its citizens. The policing of female bodies, in particular helps to undermine their economic options in employment, where two-thirds remain outside of the labour force. When state system inadequate investments in promoting jobs for its citizens take place, it must be noted, that women who voluntarily seek sex work are arbitrarily penalized for their work ethic, use of resources earned from sex work by banks, custody rights of children and along with their children in school. The result, is that economic independence is de-legitimatised  or discouraged in a way that forces these women to carry the burden alone in giving life to their aspirations.The L.G.B.T socio-economic concerns are inter-related as well, as family, job security, access to education and custody issues are equally marginalized or excluded by current laws that do not acknowledge the current  dignity and economic safety-net concerns of couples and individuals alike.

In Be Loving And Cease Killing, we would hope that the slogan is about hearts and minds, about human capacity to find peace, understanding and stability in a exclusionary legal environment. We united in the basic premise of the BLACK March, we hope, that its core value of Love can be reciprocated. The proof, will be in the practice and social actions that are yet to come.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Trans Murder Monitoring Project 2015 Report

Reposted: March 31st, 2016

 30th March 2016: Trans Day of Visibility Press Release
Over 2,000 trans people killed in the last 8 years

 On occasion of the International Transgender Day of Visibility (TDoV) [1] held on the 31st of March every year, Transgender Europe (TGEU) is publishing the Trans Murder Monitoring (TMM) project [2] update to join the voices raising awareness on this day about the multiple forms of discrimination faced by trans and gender diverse people worldwide.

This update (TMM TDoV 2016) reveals 2,016 reported killings of trans and gender diverse people in 65 countries worldwide between the 1st of January 2008 and the 31st of December 2015, more than 1,500 of which were reported in Central and South America. Further analysis of this data shows that 65% of all murdered trans and gender diverse people whose profession was known were sex workers. [3]

Throughout all six world regions, the highest absolute numbers have been found in countries with strong trans movements and civil society organisations that carry out forms of professional monitoring: Brazil (802), Mexico (229), Colombia (105), Venezuela (98), and Honduras (79) in Central and South America; the United States (132) in North America; Turkey (41) and Italy (33) in Europe; and India (54), the Philippines (40) and Pakistan (34) in Asia. [4]
The close connection between the existence of strong trans movements and professional monitoring on the one hand, and the highest absolute numbers of reports, on the other hand, point to the worrisome question of unreported cases.
TGEU’s Senior Researcher, Carsten Balzer/Carla LaGata, explains, “Beside the need for mechanisms to protect trans and gender diverse people, this connection also shows the need for trans and gender diverse organisations capable of professional monitoring and reporting of violence against their communities. This connection results in the fact that the figures show only the tip of the iceberg of homicides of trans and gender diverse people on a worldwide scale.”
While Brazil, Mexico, and the United States have the highest absolute numbers, the relative numbers show even more alarming results for some countries with smaller population sizes. Honduras, for instance, has a rate of 9.56 reported trans and gender diverse people killings per million inhabitants. [5]
It is important to note that these cases are those that could be found through Internet search and cooperation with trans organisations and activists. In most countries, data on murdered trans and gender diverse people are not systematically produced, and it is impossible to estimate the numbers of unreported cases.


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Enemy of My Culture is Religion: A Lesson for Belize

Reposted: 29th March, 2016

 The Enemy of My Culture is Religion

by Julio Saqui
I am a Maya teacher in my village. One of the things I teach is about our culture and traditions. Having been in the cultural field and a cultural enthusiast for decades, I now firmly believe that RELIGION is the most destructive force on our Maya culture in my lifetime.
Understand that I come from a family that valued our traditions and was proud of our culture. My grandfather taught my father, he taught me and my siblings, and we have tried to teach our children. It is a much more difficult task today than it was when I was a boy.   But what does Maya culture mean? Our Tradition & Culture teaches our children Survival, Respect, Dignity, Appreciation, Love and Togetherness.
Maya culture is taught to us by our parents and elders, and it takes many years to fully understand our traditions. They include our attitude to our world, our village, the rain forest, our family, our community. It is our food, our marimba music and dance, our traditional dress and our celebrations. We have traditions for birth, marriage, raising children, looking after our elders and death. We have special ceremonies that ask our God for help and thank Him when he provides it. In those celebrations we pray and worship and learn to love and respect all of the gods that make up our GOD. All of our cultural practices are designed to ensure a peaceful life, free from hunger and fear. We have a system of restorative justice, known as alcalde, which keeps our villages in order and in peace. And historically that has been the life for Maya people, but not anymore….
How do we pass our culture from one generation to another? From a young age we are taken into the rainforest regularly to understand and learn about the birds, the trees, the plants – that are food or medicine and the ones that can hurt us. We are taught to hunt and to plant our crops in a sustainable way – we are taught when to harvest and how to show gratitude to the God who supplies everything we need. We are taught to respect everything in our world, from our families and neighbours to every living thing around us. We are taught respect – for our gods, our family, the nature that surrounds us and the community in which we live.
The Christians say their God is 3 in one. Ours is 10 in one and we share the same traditions of prayer and worship. So why have missionaries in Belize destroyed our culture? It began with European priests and pastors who came and taught our Maya people. Today most of the pastors are Maya, and they have learned the lessons of cultural imperialism well. They teach that our traditions are evil, our art and dance demonic.   They say if we practice our culture that we will not enter the Kingdom of God. They give gifts of food and clothing that create dependency and laziness. And now, with the arrival of 4 denominations in our small village, they teach that adherents of the other religions do not follow the correct Way. They dismiss the essential traditions that teach us how to have strong marriages and families, by assuring us that God will take care of everything.
The result of these teachings is competition, criticism and strife within our village and our families.   Without our cultural practices, we lose our pride and identity – we forget who we are. Our food, clothing, music and dance are what make us uniquely us and bind one generation to another. Our traditions of respect, are missing and so is the respect we used to have for all that is in our world. The idea that we only need trust in God has relieved many of their responsibilities and weakened or destroyed the family unit. Historically our marriage tradition forced us to consider and confess our weakness before we married, and to understand and accept the wise council that our families offered. Today that is missing and so are stable marriages in many cases.
Today we have single mothers who cannot support their children. Today we have men who do not provide for their families. Today we have people who worship no god and who neither pray, nor give thanks. Today we have people in our village who judge and criticize, rather than respect and honor. Today we have people who wait for church handouts rather than working for what they need. Furthermore, religion goes beyond the imaginable, by forcing their members not to talk to those that are not from the same religion, causing immediate family breakdown, creating a fertile opportunity to separate families, the heart of cultural survival.   That is not the Maya Way!
Religion is a challenge to Living Cultures in Belize, a massive one. The little bit of cultural heritage surviving today is by those who believe in who they are. The time to save our culture is now, before we lose it all! So, is the mission of Religion to save or to destroy?
  • Should we ensure cultural permanence in Belize by legal means?
  • Should we dictate the respect Religion must give to Belize’s Cultural Practices?
  • Should cultural practices be a part of their religious teachings and taught in schools too?
  • Can we make this Law, with help of our Authorities to ensure cultural practices and continuity?
  • Can we insist that Preachers be taught the difference between religion and culture? Can we insist that they understand how destructive Christianity has been to native cultures?
  • Can we try to help our fallen brothers and sisters by teaching them Maya pride again?
These are the questions I ask you today.

Julio A. Saqui is a Mayan advocate who lives in Maya Center. He directs the Maya Center Mayan Museum and produces Che’il Mayan Chocolate. He also provides tours and educational sessions of the Maya Center region and the Cockscomb Jaguar


Thursday, January 14, 2016

Opportunities&Challenges:Belize's Country Coordinating Mechanism

Posted 14th, January, 2015

May, 2016 will make it 10 years, that UniBAM has been investing in advancing its policy and advocacy priorities. It has built, its legal capacity through the University of the West Indies Rights Advocacy Project, in hiring Senior Counsel Moore to do its LGBT legal review in 2010 on the civil and socioeconomic concerns of LGBT population. It has partnered with Northwestern University, the Michigan Law Clinic to draft briefs for cabinet and in doing legal assessments of particular sections of the law.  Internationally, is has submitted two shadow rights for the Universal Periodic Review of 2009 and 2013 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights while submitting a request for thematic hearings at the Organization of American States in 2014.It has found resources to facilitate its international engagement e on its own terms and leverage that experience for national engagement.

 In 2009, the Belize National Report for the Universal Periodic Review, a reporting mechanism created at the UN to report on a country's progress on human rights, has heard two Belizean National Reports-one in 2009 and one in 2013. The National Report of 2009, spoke of The National AIDS Commission as an Interim Human Rights Commission,  surprising language when given context.  This is important when one looks at the Global Fund 2015 project and module 7 which attempts to deal with removing policy-barriers. In addition,in 2016, Belize got approved a Global Fund Grant with allocated funding for $3,359,024us.Year one has been confirmed with a disbursement of $1,887,349.00us.

The last CCM in December engaged the review of Module 7 as a draft module, which spoke to seven activities that is suppose to address the removal of policy barriers. What can be noted of the activities was its collective attempt to design non-judicary mechanisms to address discrimination while trying to address actual legislative efforts at finalizing the NAC legal Review. Interestingly enough, the PANCAP model Anti-Discrimination Legislation was used to inform partially the NAC Legal Review.

We know from experience that the the 2013 criminal code amendments took over 5 years while the NAC legal Review has been going on since 2008.When the litigation work of section 53 started, it started in 2008 and took another 2 years to reach the Supreme Court. The process, itself, is advancing to its eighth year. When framed in the context of the Belize Country project for Global fund timeline of three years-January 2016  and ends in 2018. The timeline alone points to the challenge of  actual legal reform for the Global Fund project will finish before parliament actually approves any law. It must be noted that the project timeline challenges the system to find the resources to complete the process in a comprehensive manner. The question remains will it? and How comprehensive is the new effort going to be?

The CCM structure that the Global Fund promotes, does offer key population representation at the table, to be informed of resources and activities,  and acts as a monitoring structure in the implementation process of both resources and activities. The challenge for key population, is that it must recognize the limitation of the structure. It should recognize while its civil, political and socioeconomic rights concerns can be expressed, it is the will of the majority members that will prevail. A will that is tainted by suspicion, misplace perception, limited analysis of engagement and concerns about what the political power brokers will accept in legislation. In essence the CCM becomes a gatekeeper against the concerns of rights-holders, especially, key populations. 

In practice, it is willing to ensure non-controversial things like access to medication-ARV's, prevention commodities, HIV prevention education and testing. This practice, extends itself as well to policy-action to the detriment of key population concerns about rights, discrimination and violence. As such the NAC/CCM tends to leave the burden of rights defense and protection to key population building its own leadership, legal and political capacity to engage political leaders.

The result, UniBAM launch its litigation challenge to section 53, submitted three shadow reports to IN international human rights systems, helped to facilitate or influence the development of Trans leadership as an a organization called TIABelize, supported the development of PETAL which as a Lesbian and Bi Sexual women focus, EYBM and BYEC which has a Youth focus, Our Circle, which has a family and community service focus and Tikkun Olam which has a general sex worker focus.  NAC/CCM multi-sectoral response has not, as a priority for developing key population leadership legal and political capacity to advocate in their specialized area to advance the principles of human rights. The NAC/CCM remains a great convener in facilitating institutional communication.

What we recognize is that while the NAC/CCM offers a structure to engage and dialogue on issues of socioeconomic, civil and economic rights that can be leveraged by key population to educate key persons in influential positions about rights concerns without cost. In addition, it offers an opportunity to map allies, opponents and persons in neutral positions or it can act as a monitoring structure to evaluate the policy environment. Representation at the table  has a value that, is only limited by the advocates vision of  action and substance from the NAC/CCM.
Whether it actually is a structure to stagnate rights enforcement and protection mechanisms for key population remains a question to be answered in time. We know that its a child of the state and acts as an institutional screener to minimize rights-holders from advancing the substance of their concerns. It remains a political mechanism that supports the will of the majority at the expense of rights protection concerns of the minority. Its response is generally telling of its conservative commitment to key populations. The use of generic language in strategic planing documents to help facilitate political endorsement and in taking strong public positions on rights base on sexual orientation and gender identity and sex work are two examples of a minimalist approach to rights-holders concerns. Furthermore, it tends to offer justifications that scuttles the advancement of rights beyond the unwritten rule of what the will of the majority is willing to offer. In essence, maintaining the status quo!
Currently, the NAC is in the midst of revamping its legislation to incorporate the CCM into law and calls for a LGBT/MSM/Sex worker/IDU representative in its first draft of the list of representation who can  be on the NAC/CCM. We will be asked to have a mechanism in place to have elect representatives to the CCM. It is not clear, however, if the NAC/CCM will cover the expense of carrying out such a process. A process, that forces key populations to find its own path in scaling-up its political capacity and engagement, as the NAC/CCM may not be the place that will encourage such a process in the multi-sectoral response. From experience, the response will build the administrative skills of key population to monitor and evaluate to support the national response, but will not be very clear, in its support to advance the internal capacity needs of organizations still developing as non-governmental organizations. The result, we systematically collect information differently.
We have seen in sex work how Tikkun Olam looks at contraceptives, abortion issues, sexual and physical violence, emergency care for sex workers families and human trafficking, but the multi-sectoral response, simply focus on testing and providing condoms. In addition, UniBAM, has looked at barriers to Sexual and Reproductive health services, policy barriers through its legal research specific to LGBT population as well as sustains research and documentation into discrimination and violence issues experienced by its population. Though they tried, we have seen our Ministry of Health failing, at its first attempt, to do research with men who have sex with men, even loosing the results after the 2005 study and eventually completing one study on MSM prevalence rates. No study within the system has looked deeply enough into how violence and discrimination in the community impact health seeking behaviours while seeking HIV tests. No study have looked at how socio-economic, civil and political rights help to isolate the populations, socially, and promote exclusion institutionally. No study, has looked at couples relationship and its vulnerability to the lack of protection. In simply term, no study has examined the link between lack of protection in the promotion of vulnerability and effects on self-determination.

Outside of this analysis, the system, recognizes that it has challenges and have people working behind the scenes to navigate the environment in dealing with the politics of rights along with the substance. They are open to conduct engagement meetings and provide information in a timely manner to help to facilitate institutional knowledge of the Global Fund project. They are open to consultation and helps to translate social experiences into language that the Global Fund understands in responding to the rights concerns of Key populations.  
Key populations opportunities, is in using information collected to build support, to conduct political prep work outside of the NAC/CCM system with the political directorate that includes the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which is charged with human rights response. It can do engagement work with diplomats, with international human rights institution and ultimately with the communities affected by discrimination and violence. Additional opportunities, requires key population to collect its own research that it considers important and to circulate that knowledge in reports to the system in small chunks, to blog it for its communities or to archive it to support institutional reviews and academic research.

Furthermore, when we understand the limitation of the NAC/CCM, the policy processes and who are the power brokers, that knowledge, has the ability to shape how reform is advanced in the system. Key populations representatives lack of power,  is not in numbers, but how its scales-up its understanding of  the political environment, conduct strategic engagement, community and political engagement approaches.  In the end, this article, offers the reader only one prospective into advocacy dynamics of the the reform process. The Belize NAC/CCM, while not a perfect system, offers key population the chance to speak in a space that can facilitate a shift in political tone. Sometimes, in any system, it becomes the foundation that helps to shift political tone to substance. Not an impossible task in the advocacy process.