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Now is not the right moment to amend the Maritime Areas Act, says PM Barrow

Dr. Assad Shoman told the BNTU as far back as 2016 that the Maritime Areas act must be amended

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. May 17, 2018– At his press conference yesterday at the Belize Biltmore Plaza Hotel, Prime Minister Dean Barrow was asked if his government would amend the Maritime Areas Act before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) referendum vote takes place in April 10 of next year.

PM Barrow answered, “We haven’t amended it so far despite the push from people to do so. And, speaking for myself, I wouldn’t think this would be the right moment at which to do that. But you see, that is because, again, contrary to what I’ve heard people say, I don’t know how on earth anybody can suggest that the forbearance, which was represented by the Maritime Areas Act, passed by a People’s United Party government, I might remind you, how that can constitute any waiver of our rights, how that can give rise to somewhat of an ICJ decision that would say.

‘oh, you have already conceded certain portions of your waters,’ because that act makes it very clear that there is no ownership concession. So, as I said, speaking for myself, I don’t see why we should complicate matters at this point by, in fact, repealing the Maritime Areas Act.”

Last December, Senator Eamon Courtenay of the opposition People’s United Party introduced a motion in the Senate to do just that — amend the Maritime Areas Act.

Senator Courtenay’s motion failed in the Senate because government senators, using their majority, along with the senator representing the churches, Ashley Rock, who usually votes with the government side, voted against amending the Maritime Areas Act.

In April 2016, Dr. Assad Shoman, one of the foremost authorities on the Guatemalan claim, speaking at a Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU) rally in Benque Viejo del Carmen, Cayo District, explained that it was time for Belize to amend the Maritime Areas Act and claim its 12 miles of territorial sea.

The 1992 Maritime Areas Act, which limited Belize’s claim to 3 miles of territorial sea, had received bipartisan support from Belize’s two main political parties when it was passed in Belize’s National Assembly as a framework for a negotiated settlement of the Guatemalan claim.

Dr. Shoman had told the BNTU, “The Maritime Areas Act, Section 3 (1) says that the territorial sea of Belize comprises those areas of the sea having as their inner limits at the baseline of the territorial sea and, as their outer limits, a line measured seaward from that baseline, every point of which is 12 nautical miles from the nearest point of that baseline.”

Shoman further stated, “subsection 2 says that from the Sarstoon to the Ranguana; instead of 12 miles, we limit that to 3 miles, when under international law, we have a right to 12 miles.”

“The purpose of that limitation is to provide a framework for the negotiation of a definitive agreement on territorial differences with the Republic of Guatemala,” Shoman had explained to the BNTU.

He added: “Good. We left that open and the law also said that whatever agreement they come to, we must carry it to referendum.

“But once we signed the Special Agreement in 2008, what it says is we don’t want to negotiate anymore — this is going to court. We will not negotiate and say that we will give this little piece or that little piece — no piece at all. We will not negotiate the claim anymore. We are going to take it to court.”

Shoman then remarked, “So, why is that Maritime Areas Act still there, that part of it? If we limit ourselves — people from the south especially — if we limit ourselves to 3 miles so that we could negotiate the rest, we are now saying that we will not negotiate, no. Everything is going to court. Well then, we have to proclaim the full 12 miles for the whole of Belize, because that section of the Maritime Areas Act is obsolete — it’s out of date. It’s irrelevant and what is worse, it is used by Guatemala to confuse people out there and let them think that we have already agreed to stay at 3 miles.

“You see what I am saying? So we have to change that Act. That’s my second recommendation to you, that the Maritime Areas Act be amended.”

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