BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Apr. 18, 2019– As the Easter holiday approached and Belizeans were focused on preparations for their Easter vacation, the Government of Belize announced, via a brief press release today, that the referendum regarding whether Guatemala’s claim to Belizean territory should be taken to the ICJ (International Court of Justice), will be held on Wednesday, May 8.
The government announcement comes roughly three days after the Belize Territorial Dispute Referendum Act was passed through the Senate on Monday and was sent to the Governor General for his signature.
The referendum was scheduled to have been held on April 10, but five Opposition, People’s United Party (PUP) parliamentarians and a PUP standard bearer, filed a claim at the Supreme Court, challenging the constitutionality of the Special Agreement (compromis) which had set the stage for the referendum, and on April 3, the Chief Justice, Hon. Kenneth Benjamin, granted an interim injunction halting the referendum.
In desperation, the government attempted to get the Chief Justice’s injunction lifted with an appeal at the Court of Appeal.
The Court of Appeal, however, told the government that it did not have the jurisdiction to hear the appeal, because it was filed before the court’s statutory required period of 21 days.
At a hastily called press conference minutes after the Court of Appeal decision on Monday, April 8, Prime Minister Dean Barrow outlined his options for remedying the situation so that the government could proceed with the ICJ referendum.
Barrow decided on what he had mentioned would be a “legislative fix” when the government introduced and passed, in one sitting of the House of Representatives, the Belize Territorial Dispute Referendum Act, which will now trigger the May 8 referendum, in accordance with the protocol of the Special Agreement.
It remains to be seen if the PUP, whose constitutional case is still before the court, will attempt to get another interim injunction to halt the May 8 referendum.