- Duty to comply with ratified international human rights conventions
- Duty to comply with the Constitution as the supreme law
A. WHAT IS THE LEGAL STANDARD SET FOR STATE ACTORS AND LAWMAKERS IN BELIZE IN RELATION TO GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE?
Duty to comply with ratified international human rights conventions
State actors and lawmakers in Belize have a legal duty to comply with the terms of the international human rights conventions that Belize has ratified. Belize ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) on May 16, 1990 and ratified the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women on November 25, 1996.
On December 22nd, 2000 an optional protocol to CEDAW came into force. This protocol established a communication procedure for individual women or groups of women to submit claims of violations of CEDAW after exhausting all domestic remedies and an enquiry procedure which allows the committee to investigate matters of “grave systematic violations of women’s rights”. Belize acceded to the optional protocol on December 9th, 2002 with a reservation that it would not recognize the competence of the committee.
Belize has a legal obligation to protect women and girls from domestic violence and sexual violence including sexual harassment. The State is required to put the necessary legal and administrative mechanisms in place to adequately protect women and girls from these forms of violence and to provide them with access to just and effective remedies. There must be sustained efforts by the State (such as continuous training of law enforcement personnel and judicial officers, sensitizing the media, educating the public) to challenge the stereotypical attitudes dominant in Belize which help to perpetuate violence against women and girls.
Duty to comply with the Constitution as the supreme law
The Constitution of Belize 1981 is the supreme law. It guards the human rights of all persons within the country and holds the State accountable for violation of human rights. Gender-based violence threatens women’s right to life and to security of the person. The obligation mandated by the Constitution to protect the human rights of persons within the country extends to a positive obligation on the State to protect women and girls from domestic violence and sexual violence.
B. WHAT LAWS ADDRESS GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE?
The laws which address gender-based violence in Belize are:
• Domestic Violence Act 2007
• Criminal Code “2000 Rev”
• Protection Against Sexual Harassment Act 1996 “2000 Rev”
• The common law.
The legal framework which protects women and girls from gender-based violence includes the Constitution, Acts of Parliament and rules from the common law. Some acts of violence which cause physical injury amount to a criminal offence (for example assault, wounding) and may be prosecuted under the Criminal Code and under the common law. The domestic violence legislation provides protection from physical and sexual violence, but it is not meant to exclude the criminal laws or replace criminal proceedings. Rather, it is to expand the range of options which are available to victims of domestic violence.
I. DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ACT 2007
The law governing domestic violence in Belize is the Domestic Violence Act 2007. This Act creates a wide range of speedy and effective remedies which are aimed at reducing the incidences of domestic violence. The Family Court can grant:
• a protection order that prohibits abuse and molestation, excludes the abusive person from the home or workplace etc.
• an occupation order which gives a right to the person who applies for the order to remain in the household residence
• a tenancy order which vests the tenancy in the person who applied for the order
• Other orders relating to counselling, the use of furniture and household effects, payment of rent, mortgage, utilities compensation for any monetary loss caused to the applicant because of any conduct that amounted to domestic violence etc.
The law governing sexual offences in Belize is the Criminal Code “2000 Rev”. The Criminal Code recognizes a wide range of offences and has provisions geared at offering greater protection to minors and persons with mental disorders. Not all offences under this Act involve what would be considered gender-based violence, for example prostitution. Some acts amount to offences even if they are consensual (example buggery).
Offences recognized under the Criminal Code include:
• Sex trafficking/procuration
• Sexual offences in relation to children
• Sexual offences in relation to persons with mental impairment
Rape is a criminal offence. The Criminal Code defines rape as “the carnal knowledge of a female of any age without her consent”. The maximum penalty for rape is imprisonment for life. The minimum sentence that a convicted person can receive for the offence of rape is imprisonment for eight years.
Marital rape is defined as where a man has sexual intercourse with his wife without her consent and knows that she does not consent or is reckless as to whether she consents. The law only recognizes marital rape where: the parties are separated or where proceedings to dissolve the marriage or to have it annulled has begun; where certain court orders have been made against the husband; where the man has given an undertaking with respect to the court order; or where the sexual intercourse is accompanied by what amounts to assault and battery, harm or injury to the wife. These provisions only apply to persons who are married and not persons in common law unions.
The maximum penalty for marital rape is imprisonment for life. The minimum term that a husband can serve for marital rape is imprisonment for eight years.
A person who procures another to have sexual intercourse, to become a prostitute or to become an inmate at a brothel for the purposes of prostitution may be imprisoned for five years.
Procuring defilement of a person
A person who procures a girl or woman to have sexual intercourse by threats, fraud or administration of drugs may be imprisoned for three years.
A person who commits buggery may be imprisoned for ten years.
Sexual offences in relation to children
Sexual intercourse with children under sixteen years of age
Children under sixteen years of age cannot legally consent to sexual intercourse. It is a criminal offence for anyone to have sexual intercourse with a child who is under sixteen years of age. This is commonly known as statutory rape. The penalty for having sexual intercourse with a girl who is under fourteen years of age is imprisonment for a term between twelve years and imprisonment for life. If a person has sexual intercourse with a girl who is not younger than fourteen years of age but is not yet sixteen years old, that person may be imprisoned for a maximum period of ten years.
Legal obligation on owner and occupiers of premises
The obligation to protect children under the age of sixteen years of age from defilement extends to all owners, occupiers, managers and persons in control of premises. It is a criminal offence for such persons to allow girls under sixteen years of age to be on their premises for the purpose of having sexual intercourse with a person. If the girl is under twelve years of age, owner, occupier, manager or person in control of the premises may be imprisoned for life. If the girl is above twelve years of age but under sixteen years old, the owner, occupier, manager or person in control of the premises may be imprisoned for two years.
Sexual offences in relation to persons with mental impairment
Having sexual intercourse with a woman who is considered to be an idiot or an imbecile carries a maximum penalty of imprisonment for ten years.
Special provisions regarding sex offenders
Treatment of repeat sex offenders
A person who is convicted of a sexual offence on more than one occasion may in addition to the prescribed penalty for the offence be ordered to undergo mandatory counselling and receive medical or psychiatric treatment as the court considers appropriate.
Notification Requirements for Sex Offenders
A repeat sex offender may also be ordered to notify the Commissioner of Police and the Director of Human Development in the Ministry responsible for Human Development, Women and Youth and is obligated to comply with other such requirements made by the Commissioner of Police for the Protection of the Public. A person who fails to comply with such order may be imprisoned or fined.
Mandatory life sentence for repeat sex offenders
If a person is found guilty on more than two occasions for the offence of rape or for having sexual intercourse with a girl who is under fourteen years of age or of committing these two offences together, he will be sentenced to a mandatory term of life imprisonment.
The Protection against Sexual Harassment Act protects against sexual harassment in employment (by prospective employer, actual employer or other employee), sexual harassment in institutions and sexual harassment in relation to accommodation.
Defining sexual harassment
The Act defines sexual harassment as where a person makes an unwelcome sexual advance, request or conduct towards a person and as a result that person suffers some disadvantage in connection with her job or there results in an unreasonable interference with her performance by creating an intimidating, offensive or hostile working environment..
Duty on employer
An employer should take immediate and appropriate action to correct any act of sexual harassment in the workplace. If he fails to do so, he can be held responsible for the sexual harassment. An employer can also be held liable for sexual harassment if he knew that benefits or opportunities were being granted or refused on the basis of one’s submission or refusal to submit to sexual harassment.
Duty on institutions, persons offering accommodation
Persons in charge of institutions have a legal duty to protect students or inmates or wards of institution from sexual harassment. The legislation states clearly that such persons should have a clearly expressed policy against sexual harassment. Persons offering accommodation (whether business or residential) to other persons commit an offence if they make it appear that a person is being offered the accommodation or will retain such accommodation on the condition that the person accepts certain sexual advances or tolerates sexual suggestions or innuendos from him.
A person against whom an offence under the sexual harassment legislation has been committed may make an application to the court. The court may then carry out its investigation into the matter and hold an inquiry to determine if the allegations are true. Based on its findings the court may dismiss the matter or if it finds that the allegations are true it may make certain orders.
The court may order that:
- the person should stop the conduct complained of;
- the person should “perform any reasonable act or course of conduct to redress any loss or damage suffered” by the person who was sexually harassed. This would appear to include compensation for monetary loss, reinstatement etc.
Making a false complaint
If a person however makes a false complaint to the court about being sexually harassed, that person may be fined $1,000.00 or imprisoned for six months or be subject to both such fine and imprisonment.
What you need to know about the court’s inquiry
- The Inquiry is to be held in-camera (in private) and there may be further restrictions on the publication of matters relating to the inquiry. A person who breaches these restrictions may be fined $1,000.00 or imprisoned for six months or receive both such fine and imprisonment.
Absence from inquiry
- If a person who is required to attend the inquiry, fails to attend, he commits a criminal offence. He may be fined $200.00 or imprisoned for one month or be subject to both such fine and imprisonment. Further, if a person attends the inquiry but refuses to answer the questions of the court he may be fined $200.00 or imprisoned for one month or be subject to both such fine and imprisonment.
Failure to submit required documents to the court
- If a person is required to give the court certain documents or certain information and fails do so without a reasonable excuse, the person may be fined $200.00 or imprisoned for one month or be subject to both such fine and imprisonment.
Threats for making a complaint or participating in the proceedings
- If you are threatened because you made a complaint to the court or you are giving the court information or you are attending an inquiry etc. The Act can help to protect you. These types of behaviour are recognized as victimization. Anyone who threatens you because of your complaint or participation in the inquiry may be imprisoned for three months or fined $500.00.
C. HELP FOR SURVIVORS
I. GETTING HELP UNDER THE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ACT 2007
Where do I apply for an order?
You should make an application for a protection order, occupation order or a tenancy order at the Family Court. You do not need an attorney to make the application for you.
Will the person who is abusing me be informed that I have made the application?
Yes. The abusive person against whom you are seeking the order must be formally made aware that you are seeking an order from the court. The abusive person must be served with a copy of the application for the order and also notice of the date at which, and the time and place at which the application is to be heard. This is called notice. In certain circumstances the court may grant a temporary or an interim order for your protection even though the abusive person has not been given notice.
How does the law define domestic violence?
Different types of abuse
is any act or omission which causes or which is intended to cause physical injury.
Sexual abuse is where sexual contact of any kind is coerced by force or threat of force.
Emotional or psychological abuse means a pattern of behaviour of any kind, the purpose of which is to undermine the emotional well-being of a person. Examples of this form of abuse are where a person uses abusive or threatening language to persistently intimidate you, persistently follows you from place to place or telephones you persistently at the place where you live or at the place where you work etc.
Financial Abuse is defined as a pattern of behaviour of a kind, the purpose of which is to exercise coercive control over, or exploit or limit a person’s access to financial resources so as to ensure financial dependence.
What types of orders and protection can I get?
Protection orders, occupation orders, tenancy orders and counselling orders are available under the domestic violence legislation.
The protection order is an order from the court. It prohibits the person who is abusing you from doing so. It further prohibits that person from engaging in certain activities such as molesting you, following you or communicating with you. The court may also give directions to person who is abusing you including to compensate you for any financial loss suffered by you as a result of acts which amounted to domestic violence
The Occupation Order
An occupation order gives you the right to live in the home. The court can also direct the abusive person to continue pay the mortgage in full or in part for the dwelling house which he has been ordered to leave. This order may last for three years.
A tenancy order vests you with the tenancy of the dwelling house which you and the abusive persons reside or hold together as tenants. The court can also direct the abusive person to continue pay rent in full or in part for the dwelling house which he has been ordered to leave. A tenancy order may last for three years.
• Order for use of furniture etc
If you are granted an occupation order or a tenancy order, the court may also grant you permission by means of a further order for the use of the furniture, household appliances and household effects.
- Counselling order
When the court makes a protection order, it may also direct that you, the abusive person and any child involved receive professional counselling or therapy. This counselling or therapy should be from a specified agency or from the Family Services Division on the Ministry responsible for Social Services.
What must I prove to get the order?
Firstly, you must first establish that you qualify to seek relief under the Domestic Violence Act 2007. In order to qualify you must fall into at least one of the following categories:
• you are or were married to the abusive person
• you are living with the abusive person who is of the opposite sex as husband and wife although not legally married to each other
• you were living with the abusive person who is of the opposite sex as husband and wife although not legally married to each other
• you and the abusive person have a child or children together
• you live in the household of the abusive person
• you are a child or dependant of the abusive person
Secondly, you must prove that the abusive person is engaging in, has engaged or threatens to engage in conduct which amounts to domestic violence towards you.
What factors will the court take into account in deciding whether to grant the order?
Once the court is satisfied that the person has engaged or is likely to engage in domestic violence towards you and having regard to all the circumstances that order is necessary for your protection or is in the best interests of a child, it may make an order.
In determining the terms of any order made, the court will consider:
• the nature, history or pattern of the violence that has occurred and whether a previous protection order or interim order has been issued;
• the need to protect the person making the application and any other person for whose benefit an order has been issued from further domestic violence;
• the best interests and welfare of any child;
• the accommodation needs of the person making the application and any other person;
• the hardship that may be caused to the person making the application or the abuser as a result of issuing the order;
• the income, assets and financial obligations of the abuser, person making the application and any other person affected by the order;
• the need to preserve and protect the institution of marriage and other matrimonial relationships whilst affording protection and assistance to the family as a unit; and
• any other matter, that in the circumstances of the case, the court considers relevant.
How long will the orders last?
The duration of any order made by the court depends on how long the court considers that the order is necessary for your protection but it cannot last for more than three years.
Do these orders affect anyone’s ownership of property?
No. These orders do not affect a person’s right to ownership of property.
Can I get any monetary order for my support of my children’s support or compensation for injuries?
Yes. The abusive person may be instructed by the court to continue providing money for maintaining a child, continue to pay rent, mortgage, utilities etc.
If you have suffered any monetary loss because of the person’s abusive conduct towards you, the protection order may direct the abusive person to compensate you for such loss. You may receive compensation for: (i) loss of earnings; (ii) medical and dental expenses; (iii) relocation and moving expenses; (iv) accommodation expenses; and (v) reasonable legal costs, including the cost of an application under the domestic violence legislation.
What are interim or ex parte orders?
When you make an application to the court for an order, the abusive person is to be given notice of your application. However, in certain circumstances the court may grant an order for your protection even though notice is not given to the abusive person. The court may do this where it is satisfied that the delay may cause risk to your personal safety or serious injury or undue hardship.
The order which the court makes in this circumstance is called an interim order. This is an order which is pending the hearing and determination of the proceedings. It is not a final order and may last for a maximum period of twenty one days.
What happens if the protection order is breached?
A person who breaches an order commits a criminal offence. On a first conviction for breaching an order, the penalty is imprisonment for twelve months or a fine of $9,000.00 or both such fine and imprisonment. If a person breaches an order a second time and is convicted for doing so, the person may be imprisoned for twenty-four months or fined $15,000.00 or be subject to both such fine and imprisonment. On any subsequent conviction, the abusive person may be imprisoned for five years.
What is a rehabilitation order and when will the court make this order?
Instead of sentencing a person (by imposing imprisonment or fine) who is convicted of committing an offence under the domestic violence legislation, the court may make a rehabilitation order. This order will require the abusive person to undergo probation in a re-education or rehabilitation program for persons in a similar situation, and to engage in community service work each week-end for one year. The court may further impose certain conditions on this order. Before making a rehabilitation order the court will consider your submissions as well as the abusive person’s.
This type of order can be made only in certain circumstances. These are:
- where the person is a first time offender under the Domestic Violence Act and has no previous convictions for such offences;
- where the convicted persons has not previously breached an order made pursuant to the Domestic Violence Act;
- where a suitable program of education and training is available for such persons.
Breach of rehabilitation order
If the abusive person fails to comply with the conditions of the rehabilitation order, the court after holding an enquiry may revoke the rehabilitation order and proceed to pass sentence (imprisonment, fine) on the abusive person.
What powers do the police have under the Act to protect me from domestic violence?
Powers of arrest where an order is in force
Where an order is in force and a police officer believes on reasonable grounds that a person has committed or is committing a breach of the order, he may detain and arrest that person without a warrant.
Power of entry upon premises
Entry upon premises with a warrant
If a person has suffered physical injury or is in imminent danger of physical injury and the police has been refused permission to enter the premises to render assistance, a Magistrate may issue a warrant to the police officer authorizing him to enter the premises and help the person in need.
Entry upon premises without warrant
If a police officer is invited to premises to help someone who has suffered or who is in imminent danger of suffering physical injury, the police officer may enter that premises without a warrant to render assistance. Upon entering the premises the police officer is authorized to take such action as is reasonable to prevent further violence. The police may also search the premises and arrest the person whom he has reasonable cause to believe is engaging or threatening to engage in domestic violence.
Where the police officer exercises this power of entry he must immediately submit a written report to the police officer in charge of the police station in the area where the incident occurred. The report must include:
- the reasons for entering the premises without a warrant
- the offence being committed or about to be committed
- the manner in which the investigation was conducted
- the measures taken to ensure the protection and safety of the person at risk
What are the duties of the police under the Act?
A police officer has a duty to respond to every complaint alleging domestic violence whether or not the person making the report is the victim. Upon responding to a domestic violence complaint, the police officer must complete a domestic violence report. This report will form part of the National Domestic Violence Register which is to be maintained by the Commissioner of Police. The domestic violence report must be in a prescribed form and should include:
• the name of the parties
• the relationship and sex of the parties
• information relating to the history of domestic violence between the parties
• the date and time the complaint was received
• the type of abuse and the weapon used, if any
How will my privacy be protected during the court proceedings?
Your application for an order is to be heard in camera (in private)unless the court directs otherwise.
Further, there are restrictions on publication of reports of these proceedings. Other than criminal proceedings, the details of your case should not be published except where the permission of the court is granted to do so. The penalty for publishing a report without the permission of the court is a fine of $5,000.00. Publication of reports for bona fide professional or technical nature or is intended for circulation among members of the legal or medical professions, officers of the public service, psychologists, marriage counsellors or social welfare workers are exempt from this restriction.
How does the law ensure that the rights of the abusive persons are protected?
The abusive person must be given notice of the application for an order and has a right to be heard by the court to answer the allegations made. Where the court makes an order against the abusive person, the abusive person has the right to apply for it to be discharged or its conditions varied. The abusive person as well as the person who applied for the order also has the right of appeal in respect of the court’s orders.