June 20, 2003
Fortis Act Tramples Human Rights

Belize government passes unconstitutional bill to protect Fortis: Belizeans vow High Court Challenge for Human Rights Violations

This week, in lightening speed, Belize’s legislature steamrolled objections from independent and opposition party members to rubber stamp the  or the “Macal River Hydro-Electricity Act”, dubbed by opponents the “Fortis-is-above-the-law Act”, that legal experts called “audacious and unconstitutional”.  The law attempts to exempt the Chalillo dam from “all environmental laws”, and all laws regulating the electricity industry.  It goes on to say that the dam should go forward, despite any ruling from any court previous or future.

Belize’s Constitution guarantees the right to challenge laws in the courts, and to equal protection under the law.  This law puts Fortis and its subsidiaries above the law, and is bound to be struck down in the courts, creating a constitutional crisis if Fortis continues ahead with construction of the dam.

The bill was passed in the House of Representatives on Friday, the Senate on Tuesday and Signed into law by the Governor General, Sir Coleville Young, on Thursday.  This was likely to please Lynn Young, CEO of Belize Electricity Limited, the dam’s main backer in Belize, and Sir Coleville’s son.  The rush was apparently due to the scheduled hearing this week on an application by the Belizean environmental group BACONGO for an injunction on dam construction, pending a hearing in the Privy Council in England against the dam’s environmental approval.  The hearing, originally scheduled for Wednsday, will be heard on Friday.

Belize’s media, while maintaining neutral on the dam itself, called this “the worst law ever passed by Belize’s legislature”.  Belizeans are now organizing opposition to the new Act, including a complaint to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Canadian High Commissioner for Belize, and to international agencies, including the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, IFC and others to complain of the Act’s violation of their rights for the benefit of a private Canadian monopoly.

Belizeans are also organizing a complaint to the Public Utilities Commission objecting to Fortis-BEL’s monopoly.

Belizeans to Seek Constitutional Ruling, Injunction Before Privy Council

Belizeans have vowed to fight the new Act, bringing a constitutional challenge before the Supreme Court, and if necessary to the highest court of appeal, the Privy Council in England.  They also will ask the government of Canada to investigate Fortis’ influence on making this law in Belize.  They will seek information from Belize’s Natural Resources Minister, who recently spoke at Fortis’ shareholder meeting, what interactions he had with Fortis lawyers, and whether they were involved in drafting the Act for Belize’s legislature. Canadians are being asked to tell Fortis not proceed with construction of the dam under a law that tramples Belizeans fundamental rights.

Chinese Three-Gorges Company Battles Rains to build Coffer Dam

 In an effort to smash ahead with the project, CWHEC, the company contracted to build the Chalillo dam, began work on a coffer dam, to redirect water from the Macal River.  However, the rainy season started this month, and the rains have begun in earnest.  Work may not get much further, and strong floods this winter may wash away the structures built in haste by the company.  The company is responsible for most of the dams built in China, many of which have collapsed, killing hundreds, due to shoddy engineering and sub-standard materials.  Geological engineering experts say that the geology studies for the dam are wrong, and create a real risk of dam collapse, threatening the twelve thousand people living downstream of the proposed dam.


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