Belize-Guatemala Territorial dispute official before the ICJ
Friday, June 14th, 2019
On Friday, June 7th, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands officially received Guatemala’s territorial, insular and maritime claim on Belize for review and a final verdict. The decision to take the dispute to the ICJ was made following a People’s Referendum held in both countries where the “Yes to the ICJ” vote won.
The Government of Belize (GOB) notified the Belizean populace on the official submission of the claim to the ICJ via press release stating “Article 8 of the Special Agreement as amended provides that the Registrar of the Court shall be notified of the Special Agreement jointly or by either of the Parties within a month after the referendum in each country has approved submission of the dispute to the ICJ. Guatemala notified the ICJ of the Special Agreement after it successfully held its referendum on April 15, 2018. Belize’s notification, therefore, perfects the consent of both parties to the jurisdiction of the Court to determine Guatemala’s legal claims in accordance with Article 2 of the Special Agreement.” According to the GOB, the letter of notification was signed by Minister of Foreign Affairs Honorable Wilfred Elrington and delivered by hand by H.E. Dylan Vernon, Ambassador of Belize in Belgium, to the Registrar of the ICJ.
The ICJ responded to the letter of notification on Wednesday, June 12 acknowledging the receipt stating, “the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, was seised of a dispute between Guatemala and Belize by way of a special agreement.”
The act of taking the dispute to the ICJ begun back on December 8, 2008, with the signing of the Special Agreement. In the agreement representatives from both countries agreed that, “The Parties request the Court to determine in accordance with applicable rules of international law as specified in Article 38 (1) of the Statute of the Court any and all legal claims of Guatemala against Belize to land and insular territories and to any maritime areas pertaining to these territories, to declare the rights therein of both Parties, and to determine the boundaries between their respective territories and areas.”
The proceeding leading to the final decision by the ICJ will consist of two stages, a presentation of written pleadings and another for oral hearings. Through these presentations, both countries will submit why the disputed territory rightfully belongs to them. Once the decision is made, the Special Agreement mandates that “The Parties shall accept the decision of the Court as final and binding and undertake to comply with and implement it in full and in good faith. In particular, the Parties agree that, within three months of the date of the Judgment of the Court, they will agree on the composition and terms of reference of an bi-national commission to carry out the demarcation of their boundaries in accordance with the decision of the Court. If such agreement is not reached within three months, either Party may request the Secretary-General of the Organization of American States to appoint the members of the Bi-national Commission and to prescribe its Terms of Reference, after due consultation with the Parties.”
During both referendums the people were asked the following question “Do you agree that any legal claim of Guatemala against Belize relating to land and insular territories and to any maritime areas pertaining to these territories should be submitted to the International Court of Justice for final settlement and that it determine finally the boundaries of the respective territories and areas of the Parties?” Guatemala was the first to hold its referendum on April 15, 2018. On 26.33% of the Guatemalan population participated in the referendum, even so, the results showed a 96% Yes vote. Belize held its referendum on May 8, 2019, and once more the “Yes” vote one with 55% of the population voted ‘YES,’ while 44% voted against settling the Guatemalan claim to Belize at the ICJ.
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