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Located on the mainland Caribbean coast of central America, Belize’s wildlife, Mayan ruins and tropical reefs have made the country a popular tourist destination. The country gained its independence from Britain in 1981, but remains part of the Commonwealth and retains close ties with the former colonial power. Many of the State’s notable human rights violations originate in the country’s colonial legislation, which still criminalises homosexuality and allows for the life imprisonment of children.
Belize is a Central American country bordering Mexico to the north and Guatemala to the south. The country's interior is mountainous and sparsely inhabited; its Caribbean coastline is flat and swampy. The capital city is Belmopan.
Population and Language
Belize is home to 318,000 people, 50 per cent of whom are ethnically mestizo. Other ethnic groups include Creoles (21 per cent), Maya (10 per cent), Garifuna (4.6 per cent) and Mennonite. The official language is English - arising from the colonial history of the country - but Spanish is the most commonly spoken language; Belizean Creole is also widely used.
History and Politics
Originally a pirate outpost created with tacit endorsement from the British Crown to harass Spanish shipping, the European settlers and African slaves who settled Belize displaced the previous Mayan inhabitants. After Britain established firm control in 1798, it became an official part of the Empire, eventually taking on the name British Honduras. Granted increasing autonomy after the Second World War, the country changed its name to Belize in 1973 and became fully independent in 1981. Tensions ran high with neighbouring Guatemala, however, with the latter pressing a territorial claim to Belizean territory, refusing to recognise the country until 1992 and with border tensions remaining to this day.
Belize today is a Parliamentary democracy and a member of the Commonwealth, with Queen Elizabeth II - represented by a governor general - as its head of state. Political power resides in elected representatives of the National Assembly and the Cabinet which is headed by the Prime Minister - a position currently held by Dean Barrow of the centre-right United Democratic Party.
Belize is a lower middle-income country. Tourism generates most of Belize’s foreign exchange and has surpassed agriculture and forestry as the mainstay of the economy. Exports include sugarcane, bananas, farmed shrimp, clothing and crude oil. The country's main trading partners are the US, the European Union, Japan, Mexico, China and other Caribbean Common Market (CARICOM) countries.
The economy, however, continues to face challenges, among which are its vulnerability to natural disasters including hurricanes and floods, susceptibility to external market shocks, a high level of foreign debt, and high unemployment.
Media and Civil Society
The Constitution protects freedom of expression, and journalistic reporting encompasses a wide spectrum of opinions. However, journalists can be imprisoned for up to three years or fined $2,500 for questioning government officials' financial disclosures, although this has not been applied in recent years. Tensions persist, however, between the government and the main television station after coverage of sensitive issues, such as illegal immigration, reportedly led to the government prohibiting officials from offering interviews and other information. The nationalisation of the main telecommunications company, Belize Telemedia, allegedly without compensation, has also been a source of contention, with the takeover ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2011.
Human Rights and Children's Rights
Belize has become the latest battleground for the drug-related violence sweeping Central America as drug cartels alter their routes to evade the authorities; the US added Belize to its "blacklist" of major drug producing transit nations in September 2011.
Other human rights concerns include the restrictive rules on sexual orientation; homosexuality is outlawed in Belize in section 53 of the Criminal Code - a legacy of British rule - which states that "Every person who has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any person or animal shall be liable to imprisonment for 10 years." This provision is currently being challenged by an international campaign to decriminalise same-sex relations, but is being met by strong opposition by church groups as well as the government.
Violations of children's rights in Belize raised by UN bodies include violence against children in all settings, the high prevalence of children affected by HIV and AIDS and the high number of teenage pregnancies. The Committee on the Rights of the Child has also highlighted unacceptable provisions of the Certified Institution (Children's Reformation) which allow parents to seek institutional care for children deemed to be "beyond parental control".
- ↑ UNDP, "Belize country profile"
- ↑ Statistical Institute of Belize, "Population and Housing Census 2010"
- ↑ Freedom House, "Map of Press Freedom"
- ↑ The Guardian, "Global campaign to decriminalise homosexuality to kick-off in Belize court" 21 November 2011
- ↑ Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child for Belize's Second Periodic Report January 2005
- BBC, "Belize country profile"
- UNDP, "Belize country profile"
- World Bank, "Data: Belize"
- Hauser GLobal Law School Programme, GlobaLex, Yemisi Dima, "Update: Guide to Caribbean Law Research"
- Freedom House, "Map of Press Freedom 2010"
- The Guardian, "Global campaign to decriminalise homosexuality to kick-off in Belize court" 21 November 2011