Residents from Southside Belize City have been rounded up by the police under a one-month proclamation of a State of Emergency (SOE), which Commissioner of Police Chester Williams described as a last resort option that became necessary to maintain peace in the city.
The operation, launched Thursday morning, went into effect for 10 particular areas, all which are well-known gang zones. The operation is a reaction to the recent rise in crime and violence, particularly, in the Belize City South Side.
In a press conference Williams explained, “We are going to employ our best endeavour not to use all the powers given to us in that state of emergency. We have been targeted in terms of the persons we pick up; it is based on intelligence and only those persons we have credible information (that they are involved in the ongoing street feud) are being picked up.”
Given that there have been multiple such SOEs in recent years, Williams was asked if this approach will be a go-to standard in fighting crime, to which he replied, “The issue of fighting crime is not the sole responsibility of the police. … Our society has changed; our society has developed a propensity for violence.” Williams went on to mention that this approach truly was a last resort tool, but an effective one nonetheless.
Williams further explained that he hopes that through the detention of these gang affiliated individuals, there may be rehabilitation and proper mediation to reduce the ongoing violent feuds. He added that while some may see this process as an infringement of human rights, he believes that it is an operation that can save the lives of these individuals and many other civilians.
Statutory Instrument No. 90 of 2021 speaks of “Detention Order” which explains that the Minister responsible for Home Affairs may direct that a person be detained to be placed in lawful custody.
Notwithstanding any rule of law to the contrary, Police are authorized to search property within the SOE areas. They are also authorized for searches, arrests and detention without a warrant if they find that a person’s behaviour is prejudicial to public safety for the commission of an offence under the Crime Control and Criminal Justice Act.
Residents within the SOE areas are prevented from loitering, public drinking or assembling in public in groups of more than two. Minors must be home between 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. unless they are accompanied by an adult.
Anyone who has fled the emergency area, may be declared a person of special national security interest and are subject to the same regulations. Any person detained under S.I. No. 90 cannot be granted bail. In addition, the S.I. prevents a writ of habeas corpus from being invoked, which means that a detainee or a prisoner cannot be taken before the court to determine if the person’s imprisonment or detention is lawful.
The detention can last as long as the 30 days that the SOE is in effect or can be ended before. A person detained under this regulation shall be deemed to be in lawful custody and may be detained in any prison, police station or any other facility authorized by the minister.
Under these regulations members of the Belize Defence Force and of the Belize Coast Guard may be called to act with the same authority as the police if their assistance is necessary.
Anyone in violation or who contravenes any of the regulations are liable to imprisonment for a year if found guilty.