According to Section 3 of the 2000 Constitution, every person in Belize is entitled to the rights to life, liberty, and security of person, "subject to respect for the rights and freedoms of others and for the public interest". Section 4(2) provides that:
A person shall not be regarded as having been deprived of his life in contravention of this section if he dies as the result of the use, to such extent and in such circumstances as are permitted by law, of such force as is reasonably justifiable:
(a) for the defence of any person from violence or for the defence of property;
(b) in order to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained;
(c) for the purpose of suppressing a riot, insurrection or mutiny; or
(d) in order to prevent the commission by that person of a criminal offence,
or if he dies as the result of a lawful act of war.
This implies that the protection of property or preventing a non-violent crime may allow a law enforcement official to use a firearm. This does not comply with international law.
Section 7 of the Constitution stipulates that: "No person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading punishment or other treatment."
Every person in Belize is entitled to rights of freedom of assembly.S. 3, 2000 Constitution.
During a period of public emergency, however, the Governor-General of Belize mayS. 18(9), 2000 Constitution.
make such regulations as are necessary or expedient for securing public safety, the defence of Belize, the maintenance of public order and the suppression of mutiny, rebellion and riot....
|1966 Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)||State Party|
|ICCPR Optional Protocol 1||Not party|
|1984 Convention against Torture (CAT)||State Party|
|Competence of CAT Committee to receive individual complaints||No|
|CAT Optional Protocol 1||Not party|
|1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court||State Party|
|1948 Charter of the Organization of American States||State Party|
|1969 Inter-American Convention on Human Rights||Not party|
|Competence of Inter-American Court on Human Rights||N/A|
Police Use of Force
In Belize, legislation does not specifically regulate the police use of force. Instead, the actions of the police are governed by the 2011 Criminal Code as a statutory authority authorised to use force.
The Criminal Code provides that in order for force to be legitimate, it must be justifiable, and that this will occur when force is used in pursuance of a matter of statutory justification.S. 30(1) Criminal Code.Article 31 of the Code sets out the grounds on which force may be justified, which include authority to arrest and detain for a felony crime; authority to arrest, search or detain a person otherwise than for a felony; necessity for prevention of or defence against crime; and necessity for defence of property or possession, or for overcoming obstruction to the exercise of lawful rights.S. 31 (d), (e), (f), and (g). 2011 Criminal Code.Section 32 states that force cannot be justified as having been pursued in pursuance of a matter of justification which is in excess of the limits prescribed, or which extends beyond the amount and kind of force reasonably necessary for the purpose for which force is permitted to be used.S. 32, 2011 Criminal Code.
The Belize Police Department standing orders, that reportedly set out in more detail when and how a police officer may use force, are not publicly available. They are, though, reviewed in the 2008 Crooks Report, which was conducted by a retired Jamaican Police Superintendent. The report states:2008 Crooks Report, p. 84.
The BPD standing orders to members governing the use of force takes a most unhelpful approach to the often complex situations in which police officers sometimes find themselves, especially regarding the use of lethal force. Among its many flaws is the absence of emphasis on the principle of proportionality.
The Crooks Report, recommended that a new use of force policy be elaborated, including the basic principles in relation to the selection, testing, acquisition, and use of firearms and less-lethal weapons by the police.2008 Crooks Report, p. 165.It is not known if this was done. Under the 2000 Firearms Act: a police officer may discharge a firearm within 40 yards of any public road or public place if he or she has the permission of the Commissioner of Police or has "any other lawful excuse or justification".S. 40, 2000 Firearms Act.Belize stated in its 2017 report on implementation of the ICCPR that "Police Officers are continually reminded that engagement with firearms is a last resort". In addition, patrolling officers are all given a “white card” which clearly specifies the conditions for use of lethal force, and serves as a guide to the officer in his/her gradual increase of force. The contents of the card are not publicly known.
Section 20 of the 2000 Constitution provides for recourse to the Supreme Court of Belize for redress should the rights contained in the Constitution be violated. Thus, Section 20(2) confers on the Supreme Court
the jurisdiction to hear and determine any application, and make such declarations and orders, issue such writs and give such directions as it may consider appropriate for the purpose of enforcing or securing the enforcement of any of the provisions of sections 3 to 19 inclusive of this Constitution.
Therefore, according to the constitutional provisions, if a police officer were to use force in circumstances and in a manner which was not justifiable, the victim would be entitled to seek redress through the Supreme Court.
The 2000 Police Act governs the sanctioning of police officers for unlawful acts. According to Section 24(1), every assistant inspector of police and non-commissioned officer or constable of the Department who
(u) offers or uses unwarrantable personal violence to or ill-treats any person in his custody;
(bb) carries, keeps, uses, or discharges any firearm, ammunition or other weapon without the authority of the Commissioner or without just cause, or is negligent in the use of firearms or other weapons;
(gg) is guilty of any act, conduct, disorder or neglect which is declared by regulations made under this Act to be an offence against duty or discipline; or
(hh) is guilty of any act, conduct, disorder or neglect to the prejudice of good order and discipline, not specified in this subsection,
shall be deemed to have committed an offence against discipline and may on conviction thereof by the Commissioner, or, in his absence, by an officer of the Department deputed by him, be punished for such offence.
According to the 2011 Criminal Code, however, “For the purposes of this Code, force or harm is justifiable and shall constitute a defence to any criminal charge when such force or harm is used or caused in pursuance of such matter of justification, and within such limits as hereinafter in this Title mentioned.”S. 30(1), 2011 Criminal Code.
Use of Force in Custodial Settings
Use of force in custodial setting is governed, in general terms, by the 2000 Prisons Act, which provides that: “It shall be lawful for all prison officers to use such force as may be actually necessary for the carrying out of any method of identification authorised....”S. 33, 2000 Prisons Act.
According to Article 287 of the Criminal Code, which governs "Oppression by gaolers", every prison officer who inflicts torture on a prisoner, who is guilty of cruelty to a prisoner, or who intentionally and unlawfully causes any harm to a prison, shall be liable to imprisonment for 2 years.S. 287, 2011 Criminal Code.
There is no formal civilian police oversight body in Belize. An internal police investigative division exists as does a national ombudsman to whom complaints may be directed.
Views and Concluding Observation of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In 2018, the Human Rights Committee reiterated its concern about "continuing reports of excessive use of force and firearms by law enforcement personnel, particularly police officers, including against minors". It welcomes the information that the Independent Complaints Commission would be fully operational in early 2019. It called on the authorities to strengthen their efforts "to combat the excessive use of force by law enforcement personnel" and to ensure that "the regulations on the use of force and the application thereof are fully in line with international standards, including the Covenant and the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials"
In 2013, the Human Rights Committee had issued concluding observations in the absence of a report of Belize's implementation of the ICCPR. The Committee expressed its "at reports that excessive use of force by law enforcement officers is widespread" in Belize. It called on Belize to "take concrete steps to prevent the excessive use of force by law enforcement officers by ensuring that they comply with the 1990 United Nations’ Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials".Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations in the absence of a report, UN doc. CCPR/C/BLZ/CO/1, 26 April 2013, §19.
Belize is not a state party to the 1969 American Convention on Human Rights and has not accepted the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights has made recommendations to Belize on human rights issues on the basis of Belize's membership of the OAS.
The Edwin Ixpatac case, which concerns the alleged murder of a citizen by police officers, is due to be decided by the Supreme Court imminently. In 2016, it was alleged that government agents committed an arbitrary or unlawful killing. Three police officers in San Pedro Town were initially charged with murder after they were accused of beating 30-year-old Edwin Ixpatac to death in March. According to the police report, two police officers responded to reports that Ixpatac had been drinking at a bar and was acting in a disorderly manner, and they found him injured. Police did not seek medical attention for him and detained him until the following morning, when authorities realized he was unconscious in his cell.
Video footage showed he was abused by three officers, and the post-mortem revealed that he died from a blow to the head, which investigators claimed he received during his detention. The Belize Police Department (BPD) admitted administrative neglect on the part of the officer in command but stated police authorities would deal with it internally. In October 2016, the Director of Public Prosecution downgraded the charges against the three officers from murder to manslaughter, and the men were released on bail awaiting trial.
In the 2005 case of ACP (Assistant Commission of Police) Bernard Lino v. Ewart Itza,ACP (Assistant Commission of Police) Bernard Lino v Ewart Itza, Inferior Court Appeal No. 10 of 2004  BZSC 30 (25 November 2005) [Belize Supreme Court]. the judgment of the Court stated that the fact that the applicants
were detained in the police station does not, in my view, make their detention lawful, for otherwise, that would confer a charter on the police to detain unlawfully anyone. It is not the place of detention that makes it lawful or unlawful – it is the cause or reason or lack of reason, and the manner of the detention that makes it unlawful. By law, imprisonment or detention can amount to assault.
It is not in doubt that it is within the general scope of the duty of police officers to prevent crime and bring offenders to justice. But it should equally not be in doubt that it is most certainly outwith that duty of police officers to inflict wounds on persons already in their custody.