PR Political Rights 34 40
CL Civil Liberties 53 60
Last Year's Score & Status
87 100 Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.

header1 Overview

Belize is a democracy that has experienced regular rotations of power through competitive elections. Civil liberties are mostly respected. Government corruption is a concern, as is the high rate of violent crime. Authorities have been slow to address persistent problems of police brutality and human trafficking within the country’s borders.

header2 Key Developments in 2022

  • In October, the parliament passed the Senior Courts Bill and the 12th Constitutional Amendment, which provided for fundamental reforms of the country’s judicial system. The Senior Courts Bill was enacted in November, and included provisions that replaced the Supreme Court with a new High Court and established a new Senior Court system.
  • Also in October, the parliament passed the People’s Constitution Commission Act, beginning the process of comprehensive constitutional reform. The act was signed into law in November, and the People’s Constitution Commission (PCC), tasked with reviewing the existing constitution and holding consultations on reforms, was officially launched that month.

PR Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 4.004 4.004

The prime minister, usually the leader of the largest party in the parliament, is head of government. Formally, the prime minister is appointed by the governor general, who represents the British monarch as head of state. The legitimacy of the prime minister is largely dependent on the conduct of legislative elections, which are typically credible and well administered. After 17 years in opposition, the People’s United Party (PUP), under the leadership of Johnny Briceño, won a convincing victory in the 2020 elections, defeating the United Democratic Party (UDP).

A2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 4.004 4.004

The 31 members of the House of Representatives are directly elected to five-year terms. The Senate has 12 seats. The ruling party, the opposition, and several civil associations select the senators, who are then appointed by the governor general.

In the 2020 legislative polls, the opposition PUP won a landslide victory. Turnout was over 81 percent, the highest since 1998.

A3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 4.004 4.004

Electoral laws are generally fair, although there is some politicization of the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC). There are large differences in constituency size, and boundaries have not changed since 1984. In February 2022, a redistricting task force was created to make recommendations on how the disparities could be reduced. The redistricting process faced several delays in 2022, leading members of the opposition to express concerns about potential political interference in the process.

In October 2022, the parliament passed the People’s Constitution Commission Act, beginning the process of comprehensive constitutional reform. The legislation was enacted in November, and the People’s Constitution Commission (PCC) was officially launched that month. The PCC, which is made up of representatives from Belize’s main political parties and 19 civil society organizations, is tasked with reviewing the existing constitution, holding consultations on constitutional reforms across Belize and among the Belizean diaspora, and issuing a final report on its findings.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 4.004 4.004

Political parties can organize freely. The effects of the country’s “first-past-the-post” electoral system and a degree of political clientelism have entrenched the country’s two largest parties.

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 4.004 4.004

The political system allows for opposition parties to increase their support or gain power through elections. Since 1984, there have been fairly regular transfers of power between the two main parties.

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means? 4.004 4.004

Recent elections, including those in 2020, have been viewed as generally free of undue interference from entities outside the democratic political sphere. However, the Organization of American States (OAS) has raised concerns about the potential impact of unregulated campaign financing on the political process.

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 2.002 4.004

Women are reasonably well represented in the political system, holding five seats in the current House of Representatives and six seats in the Senate. In municipal elections in 2021, 24 women were elected, and the capital city, Belmopan, elected its first woman mayor.

Indigenous people, particularly those of Mayan descent, who make up 11 percent of the population, are not well represented in politics. Mestizo Belizeans and Afro-Indigenous peoples are better integrated into the political system. LGBT+ people face discrimination, which affects their ability to engage fully in political and electoral processes. A collection of religious denominations nominates one member of the Senate, but non-Christian groups are not included in the process.

C Functioning of Government

C1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 4.004 4.004

The elected prime minister, cabinet, and national legislative representatives are duly seated following elections and are able to freely determine the policies of the government.

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 2.002 4.004

Belize continues to struggle with corruption, and there is little political will to address the problem. Anticorruption laws are poorly enforced.

In July 2022, Moises Cal, a leading member of the PUP—who in 2007 was accused of various acts of corruption, including bribery and money laundering—was appointed chairman of the Public Service Commission (PSC). Cal withdrew his name from consideration in August, before the appointment was confirmed, due to widespread opposition to his candidacy.

In November 2022, the US government accused high-ranking UDP member John Saldivar of “significant corruption,” including providing Belizean immigration documents in return for bribes and interfering in public processes for personal gain while he was a government official.

C3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 2.002 4.004

The government generally engages in policymaking with openness and transparency. However, a 2020 Supreme Court ruling found that the UDP government had improperly spent $645 million, and had unconstitutionally sidelined the legislature on budgetary and finance matters.

There are also persistent issues with procurement processes and officials’ financial disclosure statements. Members of Belize’s business community have alleged that favoritism influences the government’s awarding of licenses and public contracts. The Prevention of Corruption in Public Life Act, which requires elected officials to submit annual financial statements, is poorly enforced.

CL Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 4.004 4.004

The constitution guarantees freedom of the press, though it includes exceptions for interests such as national security, public order, and morality. While reporting generally covers a wide range of viewpoints in practice, journalists sometimes face threats, physical harassment, or assault in the course of their work.

In January 2022, the cabinet approved the replacement of the existing Libel and Defamation Act with a new Defamation Act. Among other things, the new Defamation Act, which became law in August, broadened the scope of what can be considered defamatory. Critics have raised concerns about restrictions the new law may place on the media.

D2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 4.004 4.004

Religious freedom is constitutionally protected and largely respected in practice.

D3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 4.004 4.004

Academic freedom is generally respected.

D4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 4.004 4.004

There are no significant constraints on individual expression.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 4.004 4.004

Freedom of assembly is constitutionally protected, and the government generally respects this right.

E2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 4.004 4.004

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are generally free from government interference.

E3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 3.003 4.004

Unions are free to form and operate, and employers have been penalized for violating union rights under the labor code. There are some restrictions on the right to strike, and while labor unions are active and politically influential, their ability to protect workers’ rights is limited in practice.

F Rule of Law

F1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 4.004 4.004

The judiciary is generally independent, despite inadequate resources and periodic attempts by political and business interests to interfere with its composition. After coming to power in 2020, the PUP government pledged to provide greater resources to the judiciary; however, as of October 2022, extra resources have not been forthcoming.

In April 2021, the parliament passed new legislation requiring Supreme Court and Court of Appeal judges to deliver written judgments within six months or face dismissal.

In October 2022, the parliament passed the Senior Courts Bill, which will reform the country’s judicial system, and the 12th Constitutional Amendment, which will allow the Senior Courts Bill to be enacted. According to the new legislation, the Supreme Court will be replaced with a new High Court, which, with the Court of Appeal, will comprise a new Senior Court system. The Senior Courts Bill was signed into law in November.

F2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 3.003 4.004

Detainees and defendants are guaranteed a range of legal rights, which are mostly respected in practice. However, police have reportedly detained suspects without charge for longer than is permitted by the law and have used the threat of extended detention to intimidate suspects. Judicial delays and a large backlog of cases contribute to lengthy trials and other procedures, with many defendants spending years in pretrial detention.

F3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 3.003 4.004

Belize is free from major threats to physical security, such as war and insurgencies, but the long-running border dispute with Guatemala remains unresolved. Tensions have lessened in recent years, but there are occasional incidents.

Belize remains among the countries with the highest per capita murder rates in the world. According to government statistics, in 2022, there were 113 homicides, compared to 125 in 2021. Much of the violence is localized around the south side of Belize City.

Cases of police brutality continue to be reported. In one case in December 2022, police used excessive force while arresting a man accused of smoking marijuana in public. The man, who had hemophilia, later died from injuries allegedly sustained from severe beatings during his arrest and while in police custody.

F4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 3.003 4.004

The constitution and laws protect against many forms of discrimination, but there are no specific provisions addressing sexual orientation or gender identity.

Discrimination against LGBT+ people persists. In 2016, the Supreme Court struck down a provision of the criminal code that outlawed same-sex sexual activity. In December 2019, the Court of Appeal upheld the unconstitutionality of the criminal code article and confirmed that constitutional freedom of expression and antidiscrimination protections include sexual orientation.

Women face employment discrimination and are less likely than men to hold managerial positions. However, the government has actively pursued programs aimed at encouraging gender equality and protecting women’s rights.

Migration into Belize has increased significantly in recent years, and government estimates suggest that up to 15 percent of the country’s population is without official documentation. Migrants face legal and social challenges to integration into Belizean society, and some immigrants have faced detention in Belize Central Prison for entering the country illegally. In August 2022, an amnesty program began to allow undocumented immigrants to gain permanent residency under certain conditions. The application process was originally set to run until November 2022, but that month, the government extended the program to February 2023.

No separate legal system or laws specifically protect Indigenous people.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 4.004 4.004

The government generally respects freedom of internal movement and foreign travel.

G2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 3.003 4.004

Individuals have the right to own property and establish private businesses. However, legal regulations are at times poorly enforced. Leaders of the Indigenous Maya community say their ancestral land rights are not protected, particularly with regard to oil exploration and logging activities. In 2016, the Belizean government responded to a 2015 Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) ruling requiring recognition of Mayan land rights by setting up a commission to facilitate implementation of the court’s decision, but progress has been slow. As of 2022, the government has continued to make decisions on pertinent issues without obtaining the consent of Indigenous leaders or representatives.

G3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 3.003 4.004

Personal social freedoms are generally respected, though domestic violence remains a serious problem despite government measures to combat it. Rape is illegal, but reporting and conviction rates are low, and sentences are sometimes light.

G4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 3.003 4.004

Some legal protections against exploitative working conditions are respected and enforced. However, Belizean and foreign women and girls are vulnerable to sex trafficking, and migrant workers are sometimes subjected to forced labor in agriculture, fisheries, and retail businesses. The US State Department’s 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report recognized the government’s “significant efforts” to combat trafficking, but also noted that the government has failed to “adequately address official complicity in trafficking crimes.”

On Belize

See all data, scores & information on this country or territory.

See More
  • Global Freedom Score

    87 100 free