IPLP Outreach

Maya Communities of Southern Belize

On June 28, 2010 the Supreme Court of Belize rendered a judgment in favor of the Maya communities of southern Belize. IPLP Program staff attorneys Maia Campbell and Seanna Howard coordinated a team of lawyers and students to assist Maya communities file and litigate a class action lawsuit that resulted in the affirmation of their traditional land rights. The recent judgment follows a ruling handed down by the Supreme Court of Belize in 2007 in favor of the two Maya communities of Santa Cruz and Conejo. That decision, also achieved with the IPLP Progam's assistance, recognized the rights the rights of these two communities to occupation and use of their lands, and was the first judicial decision to rely on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which had been passed just weeks before. Maya leaders and the IPLP Program sought to have the decision apply to all 38 Maya villages in Southern Belize, and eventually filed a second lawsuit to do so. Case 366, as it became known, should set the way for the administrative mechanisms to legally secure the land rights of all Maya villages.

Under the guidance of IPLP faculty and staff, students have worked on groundbreaking cases representing Maya communities in Belize before international and domestic legal forums. The IPLP Program and clinics helped coordinate the work of a team of lawyers and researchers to assist the Maya communities of southern Belize to secure and effectively exercise their rights over their traditional lands and natural resources.

The advocacy efforts led by IPLP students and staff have resulted in precedent-setting decisions affirming Maya land rights. In April 2015, the Caribbean Court of Justice affirmed the existence of Maya customary land tenure, requiring the government to identify and protect Maya lands in accordance with customary tenure and to abstain from
interfering or allowing third party interference with Maya land rights. Later in October, the court ordered the government of Belize to establish a fund of $150,375 (USD) to implement the court's order.

In anticipation of the government's compliance with the order, IPLP staff attorneys worked with the Maya Leaders Alliance in Belize to provide technical assistance to strengthen the current governance structure and to develop culturally appropriate resource management and land registration protocols. The IPLP Program engaged the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to exert pressure on the government to comply with the court order.

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Documents (PDFs)

Belize Supreme Court Documents:

Judgments of the Supreme Court Brief to the Supreme Court and Appendices Claim forms Affidavits submitted by Maya villagers and leaders Expert and Other Affidavits Documents submitted by the Government of Belize Other

Inter-American Commission Documents:

UN Documents:

Special Rapporteur

Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination



Channel 5 Belize

Belize Channel 7 Daily News

Related Links:

Press Releases:

Media Coverage


  • S. James Anaya, Maya Aboriginal Land and Resource Rights and the Conflict Over Logging in Southern Belize, 1 Yale Hum. Rts. & Dev. L.J. 17 (1998) (article based on expert report submitted to Belize Supreme Court).
  • S. James Anaya, The Maya Petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights: Indigenous Land and Resource Rights, and the Conflict over Logging and Oil in Southern Belize, in GIVING MEANING TO ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS 180 (Isfahan Merali & Valerie Oosterveld eds., Univ. Penn. Press 2001).
  • S. James Anaya, Reparations for Neglect of Indigenous Land Rights at the Intersection of Domestic and International Law - The Maya Cases in the Supreme Court of Belize ( in Reparations to Indigenous Peoples, Oxford University Press, Forthcoming).