BELIZE CITY, Wed. May 15, 2019– On Wednesday, May 8, the majority of Belizeans voted yes in a referendum regarding whether Guatemala’s claim to Belize’s territory should be taken to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for a final, binding settlement as part of a process that was triggered by a Special Agreement signed by the leaders of Belize and Guatemala. Last Thursday, following the referendum result, Prime Minister Dean Barrow announced that the government will begin to take the necessary steps for lodging Belize’s case at the ICJ.
Amending the Maritime Areas Act, which was employed as a negotiating strategy between Belize and Guatemala in 1992, was among the steps government had planned to implement before Belize files its papers at the ICJ. Yesterday, the Belize cabinet gave its stamp of approval for amending the Maritime Areas Act, which should take place at a special sitting of the House of Representatives on Monday, May 20.
After the amendment is passed by the House of Representatives, it will then go to the Senate on the following day. After passing through the Senate, the amended law goes to the Governor General for his signature and then it becomes an Act of parliament, in other words, a new law.
As a negotiating strategy, the Maritime Areas Act involved the relinquishing of 9 miles of Belize’s territorial sea to the Republic of Guatemala. That concession from Belize, however, did not result in a resolution of the Guatemalan claim to Belize’s territory.
In December 2008, both countries signed the Special Agreement to take the matter to the ICJ, providing this was met with the approval of the peoples of both countries in referenda. On April 15, 2018, Guatemala held their ICJ referendum and the majority of the small portion of Guatemalans who participated in that referendum, voted to take their country’s claim to Belize’s territory to the ICJ.
Under the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Belize is entitled to claim 12 miles of territorial sea, instead of the 3 miles it claimed under the provisions of the Maritime Areas Act.
At his press conference last Thursday, Prime Minister Barrow had this to say about amending the Maritime Areas Act: “As soon as cabinet can give its approval we can send the copy of the draft bill to the Opposition and for there to be enough time for them to be able to digest the draft. Now that it is clear that we are going to court, there is no need for the MAA to continue in existence and I imagine that there will be a complete unanimous support in the National Assembly for the amendment…. Once that is done, we then notify the ICJ formally of the results of our referendum and the fact that it is on that we are now in a position to submit to the court’s jurisdiction. We have a month to do that and thereafter as I understand the clock starts running.”
Barrow said that an amendment to the MAA has been drafted by a team of international lawyers.
In addition, Cabinet also gave its approval for the appointment of Dr. Assad Shoman to serve as Belize’s Agent at the ICJ.
Dr. Shoman, who became the face of the government’s “yes to the ICJ” education campaign, will be assisted by Ambassador Alexis Rosado, who was formerly Belize’s ambassador to Guatemala. Ambassador Rosado will be Belize’s Co-Agent at the ICJ.
“Cabinet further approved the appointments of Ambassador Assad Shoman as Agent of the Belize Government and of Ambassador H.E Alexis Rosado as Co-Agent. The role of the Agent is to represent Belize officially at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and to monitor and coordinate the work ahead that Belize’s team of lawyers and other experts will undertake as Belize takes its case to the ICJ,” the government press release said.