Belize and Guatemala sign amendment to ICJ Referendum
Friday, May 29th, 2015
Belize and Guatemala have officially signed the amendments to the Special Agreement in reference to the referendum on whether the Guatemala-Belize territorial dispute should be settled at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The signing took place on Monday, May 26th at a special ceremony in Guatemala City, Guatemala. The amendment will allow Belize and Guatemala to hold the referendum at their convenience without the need to be simultaneous. The document was signed by Belize’s Minister of Foreign Affairs the Honorable Wilfred Elrington and Guatemalan Foreign Minister Carlos Raul Morales, along with the outgoing Secretary General of the Organization of American State (OAS) José Miguel Insulza.
The amendment was made due Guatemala’s desire to hold their referendum jointly with their General Elections scheduled for September of this year. The Government of Belize, who still does not have a set date to have the referendum, believes that this amendment will not jeopardize the integrity of the referendum. “It is worthy of note that the amended protocol does not extinguish the possibility of holding the referendum simultaneously. That original option remains intact. The Protocol does no more than add an element of flexibility with respect to the time for the holding of each national referendum. The Special Agreement remains the same in all other respects,” said Elrington.
While controversy surrounded the amendment in that Belize is making accommodations for Guatemala, Elrington emphasized that this does not give any sort of advantage to either party. “For my country, the claim has been a blighted colonial legacy. It has stymied for far too long the growth and development of Belize. It has affected the national psyche of our people and the evolution of good fulsome and neighborly relations which should rightly exist between two countries which fate, history and geography have caused to be juxtaposed in perpetuity. The Government of Belize is resolved to put this Guatemalan claim behind us as early as possible. It is irrevocably committed to being bound by the decision of the Belizean electorate on this claim as manifested in a referendum. The Special Agreement allows for the claim to be submitted to the ICJ for determination ONLY if consent to do is granted to our governments by our respective electorates given in simultaneous referenda. Unfortunately, the Special Agreement did not contemplate the possibility that the holding of simultaneous referenda would prove to be problematic for either or both of our governments. The Protocol to amend the Special Agreement we have signed today seeks to cure that oversight. The amendment provides the option for any of our two governments to proceed to hold its referendum separately on a date and at a time that each government, in its own deliberate judgment deems most convenient for so doing,” said Elrington.
In his remarks OAS Secretary General Insulza said that the Belize/Guatemala process is “one of the most important tasks of the Organization and one to which we have assigned the highest priority in the General Secretariat. Not only does this signing address the main mandate of the Organization – the peaceful solution of disputes – but because it is the only territorial dispute in the region that the OAS has accompanied continuously for more than fifteen years.”
Minister Elrington was accompanied at the signing ceremony by Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs H.E. Lawrence Sylvester, Ambassador Stuart Leslie, Ambassador Alexis Rosado and other members of the staff at the Embassy of Belize.
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