International — 18 March 2009 — by Adele Ramos
The citizens of Belize and Guatemala have yet to decide whether they want to go to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for a final and binding decision on a long-standing claim by Guatemala over Belizean territory; however, the United Kingdom (UK), the colonial power that ruled Belize when the dispute began, has signed an agreement with the Organization of American States (OAS) establishing a fund to defray legal costs in the case.
A press release (written in Spanish) from the OAS, the mediating agency between Belize and Guatemala, informed that Dominick Chilcota, Deputy Head of the UK’s Mission in Washington, D.C., USA, signed the agreement on the UK’s behalf for £200,000 (roughly US$280,000) in legal aid.
The UK had pledged the donation as an initial contribution back in December when the compromis was signed in Washington.
Chilcota said that both Belize and Guatemala are examples to the rest of the world for how diplomatic channels can be used to peacefully resolve conflicts.
The Foreign Affairs Ministers of Belize and Guatemala signed a compromis or special agreement back in December at the OAS headquarters in Washington, signaling their intention to have Guatemala’s claim resolved at the ICJ.
The OAS release points to public statements by the parties saying that they are concerned that they cannot meet the legal bills that would be incurred to pay international lawyers to argue the case at ICJ.
The OAS, says the release, has therefore been soliciting financial assistance for the parties. However, the UK donation is merely a drop in the bucket, even though, according to the OAS, the UK has been the principal donor to the Fund for Peace, of which the ICJ sub-fund now forms a part.
In an interview with Amandala back in mid-2008, Belize’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington, said that it would cost Belize almost £5 million (roughly US$7 million) in legal fees and other expenses to go to the ICJ, and it could take 3 to 4 years before the case draws to a close.
The referendum was initially projected for the first quarter of 2009; however, Guatemala’s Congress, official sources say, is currently reviewing the compromis.
In related news, the leaders of CARICOM, in last week’s meeting in Belize, received a report on the Belize and Guatemala issue.
A statement from the CARICOM Secretariat informed that the leaders “…expressed their satisfaction on the successful negotiation and signing of the special agreement by both governments [of Belize and Guatemala] to refer the territorial dispute to the International Court of Justice for final settlement, subject to the approval of their citizens in national referenda.”
They also called on the international community, particularly the “Group of Friends,” to support and assist the process both politically and financially.
It was on the heels of that appeal that the UK and the OAS signed the funding agreement in Washington this week.
The CARICOM leaders also expressed solidarity with Guyana, in a similar conflict with Venezuela “…and in particular the efforts between the two sides to identify a new special representative of the United Nations Secretary-General, to advance the Good Offices Process. They underscored the need for that post to be filled at the earliest possible time.”
They also reiterated the region’s unequivocal support for “…Guyana’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and its right to develop its resources in the entirety of its territory.”
Similarly, they reaffirmed their unequivocal support for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Belize.