Tuesday, July 23, 2024

ICJ to elect new judges: Oral hearings for the Belize-Guatemala territorial dispute expected in 2024

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Elections for five new judges at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) are expected to occur in November 2023. The ICJ consists of 15 judges, with five members elected in intervals of three years. While this transition is ongoing, oral hearings before the ICJ are slated to resume until February 2024, when the newly elected judges officially take up tenure. The Belize-Guatemala territorial, insular, and maritime dispute case is awaiting its first oral hearing, expected in late spring or the summer of 2024.
Belize’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Honourable Eamon Courtenay, confirmed these details to the media in Belize City. He said that as per the lawyers representing Belize at the ICJ, they will get a hearing in the summer if a date is not secured in late spring. Courtenay said that Belize participates in the election to select the ICJ judges. “I received some advice on which judges we should support and which we should not,” said Courtenay. “I have passed that information onto our permanent representative in New York City so we can do an assessment.”
After the written submissions from Belize and Guatemala to the ICJ on June 7, 2023, Belize delivered its last written response, called ‘Rejoinder,’ in the legal proceedings to settle Guatemala’s territorial, insular, and maritime claim. The next step is the oral hearings. The stage of written submissions lasted four years since the case was formally submitted to the ICJ in 2019. After a round of oral presentations by both legal teams from Belize and Guatemala, the ICJ will deliver a verdict on whether Guatemala has any rights over Belize. The verdict is final and binding, but the court cannot enforce it.
The long-standing territorial claim by Guatemala over Belize is primarily based on the Boundary Treaty signed in 1859 between Great Britain and Guatemala. Guatemala understands that it was a treaty of cession. According to the Guatemalan government, a crucial obligation had to be fulfilled via the agreement in exchange for the Belizean territory. According to them, the treaty included the construction of a cart road by the British connecting Guatemala City to the Caribbean coast. They maintained that the road was never built. They claim the British offered 50,000 Sterling Pounds to Guatemala to construct the road, but the funds were never available. As a result, in 1946, the Guatemalan Government declared the treaty null and void and demanded the return of the Belizean territory.
Courtenay also commented on the proceedings before the ICJ against Honduras regarding the dispute concerning the sovereignty of the Sapodilla Cayes, which are in their first stages. Belize has already filed its Memorial (legal argument) detailing its rights over the islands. “We are waiting for Honduras’ counter-memorial,” Courtenay said. According to him, the Honduran counterparts are cooperating with the process.
The election process is scheduled for November 9, 2023, at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, USA. The five judges being replaced are court president Joan Donoghue from the USA, court vice-president Kirill Gevorgian of Russia, Mohamed Bennouna of Morocco, Patrick Robinson of Jamaica, and Hilary Charlesworth of Australia.

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