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It’s risky to go to the ICJ, says Lindsay Belisle, former Boundary Commissioner

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. June 9, 2016–Lindsay Belisle, a former Boundary Commissioner who is also an international surveyor, has added his voice to the national discussion involving the Belize/Guatemala territorial dispute, and the question of whether or not Belize should go to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for a final resolution of the territorial claim. Belisle has made several media appearances; the last one was on Thursday, June 2, when he was a guest on KREM Radio and TV’s Wake Up Belize Morning Vibes show (WUB).

Belisle served as Boundary and Water Commissioner with Mexico and was advisor to the Belize Government on the Belize/Guatemala boundary team from 1990 to 2008, which covers the period of time when the Organization of American States (OAS) came up with the Confidence-Building Measures and the Adjacency Zone, based on the existing boundary markers. At that time, Efrain Orellano was Guatemalan Advisor.

Amandala asked Belisle what he would advise the Belize Government in the wake of Guatemala’s apparent annexation of the Sarstoon River.

Belisle said that the government has to exercise sovereignty over the area through some means. “According to the 1859 Treaty, half of the Sarstoon River, including Sarstoon Island, is Belize territory. The diplomats would be in a better position on how to do that,” Belisle replied.

Belisle explained that the British had a border point at Gracias Adios, but that has been abandoned for over 30 or 40 years.

“So maybe the Guatemalans think that we have abandoned the river and want to now take it over technically,” Belisle explained.

“To my mind, if we are going to the ICJ as neighbors, they should not be doing what they are doing in the Sarstoon now. That could derail going to the ICJ,” Belisle said.

Belisle went on to explain that we do not need to go to the ICJ to determine where our borders are. We know where our borders are. The Guatemalans know that. They have demarcated and worked on the survey of the borders. Going to the ICJ would thus be a bad move, he reasoned.

“The only thing we should probably go to the ICJ with is the maritime area, but no land or insular waters”, he said.

But why should we go to the ICJ to determine maritime areas, when the Law of the Sea gives countries like Belize a 12-mile sea limit and we passed the Maritime Areas Act, limiting ourselves to a 3-mile sea limit?, Amandala asked Belisle.

Belisle explained that we should go to the ICJ to determine the boundaries in the maritime area between Belize and Guatemala. Due to the concave nature of the Gulf, Honduras will also be affected by the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea, he said. “We have not yet agreed or signed on to that. That is the only matter that should be discussed at the ICJ, if we go there — nothing about the land or insular waters,” stated Belisle.

When asked about his position, as former Boundary Commissioner, on remarks by Belize’s Minister of Foreign Affairs that no one knows where the border is between Belize and Guatemala, Belisle commented, “Well, he said that. That is the reason why I have come out. Because as a land surveyor and hearing those statements and knowing them not to be true, I have decided that I should go out and inform and educate the Belizean people about the truth about the boundary and the border.”

On the WUB show, Belisle showed pictures of some border markers. He explained that those markers were a result of the 1859 Treaty and were laid out so that the border could be marked and surveyed, and that was done in conjunction with the Guatemalan boundary commissioner. “So Guatemala is fully aware of where the markers are on the border and about the survey. So to say now that we don’t have a border between Belize and Guatemala is a misinformation.,” he remarked.

Belisle said that we have made some gains via the OAS Confidence-Building Measures in terms of moving some of the Guatemalan villages from Belize back into Guatemala, but, he stated, “Belize should not allow the OAS to pressure us to go to the ICJ to get a ruling on our borders. I cannot agree with that.”

“Going to the ICJ is not a bad thing, but it is the question that you take to the ICJ”, Belisle explained. “Guatemala can make any and all claims to Belize. That question should never go to the ICJ, because we know where our land boundaries are; we know where our insular waters are,” he said.

Amandala asked Belisle whether Belize is legitimizing the unfounded Guatemalan Claim by allowing them to frame the question to take to the ICJ.

“Yes, you could say that. We should never go to the ICJ with Guatemala claiming any part of our territory. To my mind, the only thing we need to go to the ICJ for is a ruling on the 1859 Treaty. We have allowed Guatemala to jump the 1859 Treaty and the 1931 Exchange of Notes and for some reason we have not seen the diplomatic move they have made on us,” Belisle said.

“We have some people high-up, who believe that we could win any claim Guatemala takes to the ICJ. To me that is too risky,” Belisle explained. “We don’t need to take this to the ICJ, because we have it, we own it. We are giving life to something that is dead”, Belisle said. “When Guatemala agreed to the 1859 Treaty, its claim died. In the Exchange of Notes in 1931, they killed their own claim when they agreed to the boundaries and monuments,” Belisle said.

In terms of the Sarstoon River problem with Guatemala, isn’t there a role for the United Nations Security Council to play in that?, Amandala asked Belisle.

Belisle said that is something that the government would have to decide.

Former Belize Ambassador David Gibson told Amandala tonight, “We are at a crossroad, as far as diplomatic moves are concerned. We need to consider reviewing the best of the other options and take it to the logical next level.”

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