Guatemala submits its memorial on the Belize territorial claim to the ICJ
Tuesday, December 8th, 2020
The Guatemalan government has met the deadline to submit its memorial (legal arguments) on the territorial dispute with Belize to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The claim is territorial, insular, and maritime. The filing should include the facts supporting the claim, with historical and legal submissions. Belize has until June 8, 2022, to submit its Counter-Memorial.
In a press release on Tuesday, December 8th, the Guatemalan Foreign Ministry officially announced their submissions and assured Guatemalan citizens their Memorial demands all rights inherited from Spain at the moment of their independence in 1821.
According to reports, the filing is 500 pages, 462 Annexes, eight Maps, and 24 Figures. The submissions were presented to the ICJ at its headquarters in The Hague in the Netherlands by Guatemala’s Ambassador to that country.
Guatemala’s Legal Team
The legal team that will present the case before this international court includes Alain Pellet, described as a prestigious French Jurist, who has reportedly been following the case for 20 years. The next member is Rodman Bundy, former president of the International Law Commission of the United National. Bundy came with over 35 years of litigation experience in public international law and was recognized as the best arbitration lawyer in France in 2013. Alina Miron, a French-Romanian professor of international law and expert in maritime law. British Sir Michael Wood, who is deemed one of the most distinguished international attorneys. He has represented many countries before the ICJ and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. The next team member is Argentine Marcelo Kohen, an international law professor at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland.
According to Guatemala, its team also consists of Guatemalan professionals, including attorneys, historians, archivists, translators, diplomats, and paleographists.
Memorial submission previously delayed; what’s next?
Guatemala was to file its Memorial by June of this year. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ICJ granted a 6-month extension until December 8, 2020.
After Guatemala’s Memorial has been filed, the Counter-Memorial of Belize will be required to be submitted between June 8, 2021, and June 8, 2022. The information in the Memorials is basically each country trying to justify the nature of their case. Guatemala will attempt to justify any rights over the country of Belize. Belize will dispute those submissions and convince the ICJ that Guatemala has no rights over Belize.
When Belize submits its arguments disputing the Guatemalan claim, Guatemala will have six months to reply, followed by another six months for Belize to submit what is known as its ‘rejoinder,’ leading to oral proceedings. The process would take up to five years before it reaches the stage of a decision by the ICJ judges.
Belize also received Guatemala’s Memorial.
In a press release, Belize’s Foreign Ministry stated that they could not reveal to the public what are the details in Guatemala’s claim. According to the ICJ’s Article 53(2), it does not allow Belize to disclose such information and, thus, it is obliged to abide by these rules. The only information revealed was that Guatemala’s Memorial presents no surprises, no new claims that are different from those made at different times in the past. Belize’s Foreign Ministry remains confident of its sovereignty over the territory Belizeans succeeded to from the United Kingdom at Independence Day on September 21, 1981. This also includes the maritime area to which the law of the sea entitles Belizeans.
Belize’s legal team
The legal team representing Belize at the ICJ includes Agent Dr. Assad Shoman and Co-agent Ambassador Alexis Rosado. Honourable Eamon Courtenay and Leslie Mendez will represent the current government. At the same time, the Leader of the Opposition, Honourable Patrick Faber, has named Michael Peyrefitte and Godwin Hulse as representatives of the Opposition who will be fully engaged and informed of the process.
The international team comprises of Senior Counsel Sam Wordsworth QC, Dr. Ben Juratowith QC, and Mathias Forteau, Junior Counsel Amy Sander, Philippa Webb, and Kate Parlett, Support Counsel Catherine Drummond, Jamie Trinidad, and Hydrographer/Geographer Robin Cleverly.
The Belize-Guatemala territorial dispute is now at the ICJ following national referendums held in both countries. Belizeans and Guatemalans were asked to approve a proposition to settle the long-standing dispute at the ICJ. Guatemala held its referendum in 2018 and Belize in 2019. Despite some hurdles along the process, the ‘YES’ vote won.
One of the key components of the territorial claim by Guatemala is the Boundary Treaty signed in 1859 between Great Britain and Guatemala. According to the Guatemalan government, the treaty indicated a cart road was to be constructed by the British connecting Guatemala City to the Caribbean coast. According to them, that road was never built. They claim that the British offered 50,000 Sterling Pounds for 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 Belizean territory’s return.
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