Last Updated 7 October 2021

Located in the Caribbean, Belize is a former colony, which became independent from Britain in 1981. It is a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy. It recognizes Queen Elizabeth II as head of state, who is represented in the country by the position of the Governor-General.1

According to a national census conducted by the Statistical Institute of Belize in 2010: “2 in 5 persons [in Belize] are Roman Catholics” and Protestants compose the second largest group, while “15.5% of the population doesn’t identify with any particular religion. This is an increase of 6.1 percentage points since 2000.”2

Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory

Constitution and government

A preamble to the Constitution states: “The nation of Belize shall be founded upon principles which acknowledge the supremacy of God”.

Despite its preamble, Article 11 of the Belize Constitution (Protection of Freedom of Conscience) draws on the language of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with regards to the right of freedom of religion or belief, stating:

“Except with his own consent, a person shall not be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of conscience, including freedom of thought and of religion, freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others, and both in public and in private, to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”3

Religious privilege in government

Article 61 of the Constitution gives the Belize Council of Churches and Evangelical Association of Churches the ability to appoint one of the 13 members of the Senate (the upper chamber of the country’s two-part National Assembly), with the Governor General’s concurrence. All members of the Senate are appointed, rather than elected, and their role includes discussing and confirming bills that are sent from the House of Representatives. It also has specific functions delegated to it, which include authorizing treaty ratification and changes to the Constitution.4

The position of the Church-appointed senator places the political interests of the Church of Belize de facto on par with the senators appointed to represent labour unions, the business community and the NGO community.

The Constitution further reserves the government’s right to intervene in religious matters “for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedoms of other persons,” which in theory reflects that the right to manifest religion is not absolute, however in practice the provision that the right to observe and practice any religion “without the unsolicited intervention of members of any other religion” might be used to limit free expression. Indeed, an unenforced law limits speech that is “blasphemous or indecent.”5

Education and children’s rights

Since the early colonial era, different Christian denominations have exercised a large influence on public education in Belize. The Catholic Church, and to a lesser extent the Methodists and Anglicans, operate the majority of Belize’s primary and secondary schools through agreements with the government.6

The curriculum of church-run schools includes religious education classes. While there is no official rule governing a student’s ability to opt out of these sessions, the Constitution prohibits any educational institution from forcing a child to attend any religious ceremonies or observances, and in practice parents may choose to remove their children from religious education courses.7

Sexual and reproductive health programs for adolescents operate within a conservative political and religious climate. There is no national policy on sex education, and the Church-State school system serves as a barrier to implementing comprehensive sex education programmes in schools.8 Adolescent pregnancy is common in Belize: 11% of Belize’s adolescent girls aged 15-19 years report having had a baby.9

Family, community and society

Discrimination on religious grounds is illegal. In practice, the interaction of churches and religious organizations with the government and political system is powerful. While human rights are in broad terms respected, there is growing concern about several issues.

Legal battle to secure LGBTI+ rights

In 2016, the Supreme Court of Belize ruled that Section 53 of the Criminal Code, which criminalised “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”, including consensual same-sex sexual activity, was void on the basis that it violated the constitutional rights of dignity, privacy, equality, non-discrimination and freedom of expression.10 The case was strongly opposed by churches within Belize, and hardline, anti-LGBTI+ organizations in the United States alike.

According to Human Dignity Trust, who intervened on behalf of the Claimant, Mr. Orozco, several churches – including the Roman Catholic Church of Belize, the Belize Church of England and the Belize Evangelical Association of Churches – joined the case as Interested Parties, seeking to maintain the law criminalizing same-sex activity.11 Well-known Christian and Catholic fundamentalist hate groups based in the United States – including Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM) – also joined the fight on the pro-criminalization side, and reportedly supplied lawyers and evidence in the case. Their desire to intervene in the case was linked to their larger strategy of defending “religious freedom” from “the pro-homosexual agenda” around the world; specifically, they feared that the overturning of Section 53 would lead to similar statutes in other Caribbean countries being overturned.12

The foreign influence of groups such as ADF and C-FAM in Belize has not been limited to the courtroom environment. A study by the Southern Poverty Law Centre in 2013 reported that:

“One of the more remarkable aspects of the battle in Belize is the degree to which the anti-gay rhetoric now employed there has been lifted directly from anti-gay propaganda developed by the Christian Right . . . .That was not always the case, Belizean LGBT rights activists told the SPLC in a series of interviews [that while] Belizean culture was certainly unfriendly to gay people. . . .the now-frequently brandished propaganda, such as the oft-repeated idea by Section 53 supporters that gay men are recruiting children and that they are pedophiles, has been imported from the American anti-gay movement.”13

This legacy of anti-LGBTI+ fear mongering in Belize still exists today, despite the change to the law. In April 2020, Belizean fashion designer Ulysease Roca Terry suffered homophobic verbal and physical abuse from a police officer while held in custody for breaching COVID-19 curfew laws. He died days later, with the official cause of his death being unknown.14

In September 2020, an Equal Opportunities Bill seeking to address address discrimination, stigma and violence against minority groups in Belize was withdrawn following pressure from Catholic leaders in the country15 who opposed the Bill because of its treatment of sexual orientation and gender identity. One bishop claimed that the Bill risked creating a “new ideological colonialism” and imposed the “gender ideology” of international experts.16

Sexual health and reproductive rights

Under Section 11 of the Criminal Code, abortion in Belize is illegal except where the life of the mother is at risk, or there is a substantial risk that the child will be severely disabled. Breach of this section carries a sentence of 14 years imprisonment.17

Belize has the highest rate of HIV prevalence in Central America, with both men and women being equally affected. HIV-positive individuals in Belize report experiencing stigma and discrimination.18

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Freedom of expression and assembly are generally respected, though cases of threats and intimidation against journalists are occasionally reported,19 and there have been reports of protests being dispersed with excessive force.20


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