While most Belizeans may be under the impression that we really understand the role of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), most fail to fully grasp that the ICJ in itself does not operate in a total vacuum. While the court is bound by law like any other court in any jurisdiction, what the court critically lacks is any type of meaningful enforcement. Below is an article written by Robert Valencia for World Policy dated January 24, 2013 entitled “The Curious Case of the World’s Court Territorial Rulings”:
“There was a moment of glee in Colombia when the International Court of Justice began to announce their verdict over control of the San Andres Archipelago two months ago. After decades of disagreement with Nicaragua, the ICJ ratified Colombia’s sovereignty over the islands and islets. Then, the ICJ President Peter Tomka read the verdict’s final portion, and it was Nicaragua’s turn to celebrate. The Hague-based Court granted Managua nearly 60 percent of the disputed seas, some 75,000 square meters of maritime territory, threatening the livelihoods of the archipelago’s Colombian residents, who rely on fishing. In response, President Juan Manuel Santos vowed to ignore the ICJ and instead seek a diplomatic solution with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. This is not the first time a UN member country has disobeyed an ICJ verdict, putting the authority and efficacy of the body into question.
“A sense of loss pervades among Colombians, and this is not the first time Colombia has felt deprived.
Between 1810 and 1952, Colombia lost vast territories to Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, and Panama. It also unveiled Colombia’s disastrous diplomatic management of the San Andrés case since it focused solely on the land’s sovereignty rather than including the maritime areas that keep the archipelago’s local economy afloat. Furthermore, former Colombian presidents Alvaro Uribe and Juan Manuel Santos continue to bicker for what seems like perpetuity. Santos blames Uribe for not having negotiated amicably with Daniel Ortega, whom Uribe called a “terrorist” for his ideological support of Colombia’s FARC rebels. The ICJ’s decision led to the deployment of both Colombia and Nicaragua’s navy fleets, in attempts to wield sovereignty over their respective maritime confines. In light of this, Santos withdrew Colombia from the Organization of American States’ Bogotá Pact in order to end ICJ’s jurisdiction over future territorial disputes.
“ In the wake of this case, it is the question of constitutionality that lingers. Should ICJ rules be the law of the land or are they an affront to the sovereignty of disputing nations? Chapter XIV of the United Nations
Charter contains provisions of the ICJ. The Charter’s Article 93 stipulates that all UN members are automatically members of the Court. Likewise, Article 94 states that all members must abide by the Court’s decisions, and it bestows power upon the UN Security Council to enforce those decisions. But in reality, states don’t always comply with ICJ’s rulings. Even some Security Council members have disavowed various ICJ rulings. Take, for example, the case of France and New Zealand in 1973. The latter requested of the ICJ that France be barred from holding nuclear tests in the South Pacific, but France did not recognize ICJ’s competence and declined to participate in the Court’s hearings. In 1972, during the so-called “Cod Wars,” Iceland expanded its exclusive fishing zone from 12 to 50 miles, which sparked outrage in the United Kingdom and Germany. Iceland, for its part, did not attend any of the ICJ’s hearings, and the British sent fishing fleets to the area Iceland claimed as part of its economic zone. The ICJ ruled that Iceland’s new delimitations were invalid and granted the UK permission to fish beyond its 12-mile radius. Iceland, however, ignored the ICJ ruling, treating the sea far beyond its shores as its own, and threatened to close a major NATO base after the deployment of British naval ships within the disputed 200-mile-long seas. The strife ended in 1976, when both Iceland and the United Kingdom agreed that British nationals could not fish in that zone.
“A similar case occurred in Latin America, when in 1977 the ICJ ruled that the Beagle Channel’s islands of Picton, Lennox, and Nueva belonged to Chile, not Argentina. Argentina, under a military rule, rejected the ICJ’s verdict, which almost led to crossfire against Chile. In 1984, it was Pope John Paul II, and not the ICJ, that resolved the issue in an amicable way. Under the Treaty of Peace and Friendship, the islands were granted to Chile, with no retaliation coming from Argentina. Perhaps both Nicaragua and Colombia should learn from the Chile-Argentina and the Iceland-UK incidents. Rather than dragging themselves to the brink of war, both countries must reach a peaceful agreement. By international law standards, the ruling is clear: Nicaragua has the right to 200 more nautical miles, and Colombia now has sovereignty over the archipelago.
Nevertheless, the ICJ verdict put the inhabitants of the San Andrés’ islands at risk, preventing them fishing and feeding their families. This will ultimately serve as grounds to disobey yet another ICJ ruling”.
Unlike Iceland which had a major NATO base on its soil, Belize has nothing with which to bargain with any of the great powers of the United Nations Security Council (China, Russia, France, United Kingdom, USA).
In other words, we have nothing that they want, nor are we strategically, politically, financially or internationally important that they would consider taking our side over Guatemala. Coincidentally these countries would also not carry out any type of enforcement should Belize win at the ICJ and Guatemala fails to comply. Another thing to note is that Guatemala has also served as an elected member of the UN Security Council in 2012-2013, while Belize has not even come close. For a nation that has been governed by two top attorneys, even the lay person can see that any decision to go to the ICJ is but a roll of the dice and in this case, Guatemala carries the house. For those that believe that justice is fair ask any person who has stood in a court of law without an attorney to represent them because of the lack of funds. This case will require tons upon tons of attorneys and countless law firms. This does not come free, and the country with more money will likely attract the bigger and better firms. Make no mistake, compared to Guatemala, Belize is a welfare case and dollar for dollar we cannot remotely match their buying capacity.
Guatemala’s trump card has always been the United States and its international relationships. No US administration will move against Guatemala should it continue to aggress Belize on its southern borders should they lose at the ICJ. Therefore, if Guatemala loses, expect the situation to basically remain the same.
But the most important question is, what if they win? This would be a huge change in the nation of Belize as we know it and not to mention a large swath of the territory all the way from lower Cayo District going to Guatemala. Overnight a healthy portion of the population and not to mention the breadbasket of the agricultural industry would become Guatemalan. These are extremely serious matters and one of the most critical times in Belize’s brief history. Any partition of the country as we know it has the potential to destroy what remains of the country, since economically it is difficult to see the nation surviving financially with a reduced landmass that includes part of Cayo, Belize District, Orange Walk and Corozal.
What the administration has purposely failed to show the Belizean people is what are the alternatives if we lose, and all indications are that we will. Guatemala has virtually taken over the Sarstoon and possession is almost a 90% guarantee. So foolishly confident are our leadership that they are blind to see how dangerously they are taking this nation to self-destruction. The ICJ is no laughing matter, it’s a big man’s game and we are far from being able to play it.
However, Belizeans may ask, if Belize has such a huge chance of losing, then why are we going? The simple answer is, greed, egos and political mileage. This administration and some of its politicians are desperately seeking to cement both their name and their party in Belize’s history. They want to be able to say that they were the ones who resolved the Guatemala crisis. They are taking the chance that if on the one hand they win, this will give them tremendous political mileage and if they lose, most probably have enough monies to move away and live a happy life abroad. The ICJ will never be a resolution for the Guatemalan dispute.
It’s all about the people!!!!
Neri O. Briceño