After more than a decade of struggle with the Government of Belize, the customary land rights of the Maya people in southern Belize have been affirmed by the Supreme Court of Belize. The 67-page landmark judgment was delivered by Belize`s Chief Justice Abdulai Conteh on October 18, 2007.

Maya at Supreme Court, BelizeMaya community members attend the Supreme Court hearing

Antoinette Moore represented the Maya villages of Conejo and Santa Cruz in this historic case. The judgment, though issued in response to the Constitutional claim of these two villages, recognizes the right of all of the Maya villages (38 in the Toledo District of southern Belize) to their traditional lands and clearly states that the government has violated the rights of the Maya by its failure to protect their land.

News 7 Belize interviewed Antoinette after the ruling:

"These communities now have something to stand on that says that they own this land… if there is any oil found or … any logging concession, they have a right, a constitutional right, to benefit from those concessions."

Indigenous communities around the world are losing both their natural resources and their way of life as multinational companies collide with corrupt governments to sell off natural resources without a thought for the future.

"The court`s judgment is a huge victory for the Maya people of Belize and for indigenous peoples around the world. I am hopeful that courts and governments around the world will recognize the wisdom of this historic ruling."

The Government of Belize has now been ordered by the court to demarcate and title indigenous lands, and cease issuing permits for outsiders to use Maya lands, without their consent. This landmark ruling may thwart U.S. Capital Energy`s plans to prospect for oil in Sarstoon-Temash National Park, located on Maya lands in southern Belize.

Antoinette is part of the legal team working with the Sarstoon Temash Institute of Indigenous Management (SATIIM) to challenge oil exploration in Sarstoon-Temash. Antoinette successfully challenged plans by U.S. Capital Energy to conduct seismic testing in the Park without an environmental impact assessment.

ELAW Advocate, Winter, 2008