According to the 2008 Special Agreement between Belize and Guatemala, Article 38(1) of the statute of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) set out the applicable rules by which the ICJ will decide any and all legal claims of Guatemala against Belize. Since the Special Agreement set the terms of reference for the ICJ judges, close scrutiny of the agreement is vital.
In article 2 of the agreement it states. “… and to determine the boundaries between their respective territories and area.” This statement is congruent with Foreign Minister Sedi Erlington’s comments that Belize has to go to the ICJ in order for our borders to be defined because the country doesn’t have any that are internationally recognized.
Define and determine are synonyms. Our Prime Minister seems to support that statement because he chastised Ms. Lisa Shoman for disagreeing with the assertion. He said “There is now a complaint against her in consequence of what she said in respect to the Foreign Minister and the whole issue of borders…”
According to members of our government, our borders are not defined. Maybe it is because the 2005 Confidence Building Measures created an adjacency zone and the 2008 Compromis declares that our borders are not defined, that is, the ICJ will determine them — not verify them or examine them.
Another concern I have with the special agreement is that it assumes Guatemala has a legal claim because it is stated as fact. It did not leave room for the possibility that Guatemala’s claim is unfounded by stating “if any”. This is the document the ICJ will use to determine the scope of their Jurisdiction. This document already states that Guatemala has legal claims.
In 1997, Guatemala’s constitutional court ruled that the 1859 treaty is null and void because it was not properly ratified by their Congress. This gives Guatemala legal cover until a higher court such as the ICJ rules otherwise, since it is their highest court for civil law.
I read the 8 articles of the 1859 treaty and it was to give a final solution to the Guatemala claim to Belize, but it never did.
In 2016, Guatemala had agreed to respect the decision of the commission set up by the OAS to investigate the death of the 13-year-old Guatemalan boy, but later rejected the decision. There is no guarantee that if the decision is not in favor of Guatemala, that she will abide by the decision.
Are any of the friends of Belize giving an enforcement guarantee? Many nations such as China, Russia, United States, Britain, Columbia and France have ignored an ICJ ruling. The ICJ has no enforcement mechanism. The Security Council enforcement is discretionary. Some countries have been defiant, while others have been only partially compliant.
The United States, a very close ally of Guatemala, can veto any appeal to the United Nations Security Council. It was a US congressman Bethuel Webster, who proposed that Belize be under the jurisdiction of Guatemala in the infamous Webster Proposals in 1968.
The process of ending Guatemala’s claims does not seem well thought out to benefit Belize. It depends too much on trust, and many assumptions are not put in writing. If Belize is to risk the entire country, what is the benefit? There is no guarantee Guatemala will drop its claim.
We must have an enforcement mechanism that recognizes we are not a powerful country in the international arena. This is no trivial matter; every possibility must be considered and addressed.
The Special Agreement is a bad deal for Belize, and no deal is better than a bad deal. All I am doing is constructive criticism in order to improve the process. I want to end the claim, but I know there are finite and infinite struggles — it is documented in the mathematics of game theory.
Brian Ellis Plummer