ICJ: The People Shall Decide
There has been several opinions whether the special agreement between Belize and Guatemala to submit Guatemala’s Territorial, insular and maritime claim should be taken to the International Court of Justice.
It has been almost two weeks since both countries singed the agreement at the Headquarters of the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington, DC, but the reaction from the different sectors in society does not look strong.
First, while Chief Negotiator Ambassador Fred Martinez assured that Belize has a strong case, the citizen’s general option is why even submitting to take the matter to the ICJ to determine the fate of Belize’s boarder line.
What is certain is that even if the plans set out in the 9 articles included in the text of the special agreement work out the way negotiators of both countries wish it to work, the entire process, would take over six years before the ICJ makes a ruling.
The next step, since the agreement was signed on December 8th, is to put it to the people, by means of referenda in both countries on the same date, whether to take the matter to the ICJ.
But, what are the questions the citizen will have to respond? In Article 7 section 3 states clearly the question consisting of 54 words. “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?” Belize like Guatemala will need to answer YES or NO.
Before both countries agree on a date of a referenda, the Belize legal team has implemented vigorous none biased campaigns that seeks to educate the Belizean people on the procedures Belize has been taking. The only group to declare a public front on the issue is the Mayas of Toledo who are against taking the matter to the ICJ. Notably is that the issue has been the center of discussion in several morning shows in Belize, where Belizeans express their feelings, some against and some for the matter to be settle once and for all. One very prominent figure in Belize who called the signing of the agreement “act of blatant betrayal against Belize,” was Sharon Pitts-Robateau, a law partner of the Minister of Foreign Affairs Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington.
But not only are Belizeans being vocal on taking the claim to the ICJ, so are the Guatemalans. In the Editorial of Guatemala’s La Hora Newspaper dated Tuesday, December 9th, 2008, the editor states that “our country (Guatemala) needs to start by the beginning of the next month, an intense campaign explaining the history of the controversy and the different possibilities which may come about as a result of submitting the case of said organization.” The editorial goes on to explain that Guatemala claiming Belize is not heard too often amongst their people like it once was. “There does not appear to be the flame once heard of ‘Belize is ours’ amongst the new generation of Guatemalans,” the editorial states.
While at first the Guatemalan have been claiming the entire Belize with the exception of St George’s Caye, the editorial points out that that stance has changed. “The current Guatemalan claim is no longer for the entirety of the territory as previously asserted by former governments,” states La Hora, adding that, “the objective should now be to claim part of the territory and ensure access to the sea as we rightfully deserve.”
But, what is striking is the end comment of the editorial that states, “not having much to win, whatever agreement which does not affect our current territory could be considered a positive/convenient one.” But in another editorial from Guatemala’s Prensa Libre dated Tuesday, December 9th, it states the Guatemalan’s new claim as being, “12,700 square kilometers of Belize, a little more that 50% of its territory and cayes.” The editorial went on to write that from all appearance, even if the matter is put to the people, its general sentiment is that they are against taking the issue to the ICJ. “The current conditions of the country appear to be against the referendum,” stated the editorial adding that, “very few people would participate,” stated Prensa Libre. The editorial claims that Guatemala has lost momentum over their ownership over Belize. According to the editorial the possibility of winning the claim are slim. “The possibilities of winning the case are nil and very scant, with the added aggravation that in reality there are very few Guatemalans that are interested in the case,” added the editorial.
So then, both governments are face with engaging in a comprehensive educational campaign, only that Guatemala might not only educate the people about the ICJ, but about giving the history behind their claims over Belize. At the end of the day, “the people shall decide” whether the matter will go to the ICJ or not. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade in the Government of Belize are responsible for providing the public with adequate information regarding the Belize-Guatemala territorial debate. Endorsed by the Advisory Council on the Guatemalan Claim (ACGC), booklets (above) have been printed with the text of the Special Agreement, and is being widely distributed throughout the country. http://www.sanpedrosun.net/08-494.html