Headline — 22 May 2019 — by Rowland A. Parks
House amends Maritime Areas Act

As part of preparation for the ICJ case, the move restores Belize’s territorial seas from 3 miles to its previous 12-mile limit

BELIZE CITY, Mon. May 20, 2019– In 1992, the Belize Government was holding negotiations with the Republic of Guatemala to find a settlement for the Guatemalan claim to Belize territory, and as a negotiating device, Belize passed into the law, the Maritime Areas Act, limiting its territorial sea to 3 miles, instead of the 12 miles guaranteed under the United Nations Law of the Sea Conference (UNCLOS).

Now twenty-seven years after the Maritime Areas Act was legislated and passed into law, members of the House of Representatives met today in a newly fashioned spirit of bipartisanship, to amend the Maritime Areas Act. The bill went through three readings in record time, in what may have been the shortest meeting of the lower chamber of parliament.

The Senate is scheduled to meet tomorrow and it is expected that the amendment to the Maritime Areas Act will similarly get a nod of approval from the upper chamber.

The amendment will allow for Belize to claim its entire 12 miles of territorial sea, as the country prepares to go to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to defend its territory against “any and all legal claims” from Guatemala in accordance with the Special Agreement which both countries signed in December 2008 to address the Guatemalan claim to Belize territory.

After introducing the bill for the second reading, Prime Minister Dean Barrow told the House that “This has become necessary to do.”

Barrow went on to tell the House that Belize’s team of international lawyers had advised the government to pass the amendment.

Because the bill had the support of the cabinet and the support of the Opposition, People’s United Party (PUP), there was no debate on the bill, which is geared at bringing Belize’s maritime areas in conformity with international law..

The Leader of the Opposition, Hon. John Briceño, area representative of Orange Walk Central, however, addressed the House on the matter of the bill.

He said that on Wednesday, May 8, the Belizean people spoke and that they want to put an end to Guatemala’s unfounded claim and they indicated via the referendum that we should go to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Briceño also made reference to his party’s “People’s Declaration”, point 4-B of which calls for amending the Maritime Areas Act, so that Belize could claim its full entitlement under International Law.

Briceño added, “We are satisfied that this amendment is similar in our region with Jamaica and St. Lucia.”

He said that when it comes to our sovereignty, we would not be divided. “We urge the government to move with equal haste to address the matter in the Sarstoon,” Briceño declared.

Following the House meeting, Prime Minister Barrow explained that government had written a letter to the Leader of the Opposition suggesting the setting up of a four-person bi-partisan committee. The bipartisan committee would consist of two members from the government’s side and two from the Opposition side. The bipartisan committee will be chaired by the Foreign Minister, Hon. Wilfred Elrington, and will include Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte. The PUP team will be led by Senator Eamon Courtenay and will include the attorney Leslie Mendez.

Barrow was asked how the amendment to the Maritime Areas Act will assist Belize in the filing of its case at the ICJ.

Barrow said that once the bill is signed by the Governor General, “We are off to the races,” because the legal team is now looking at the draft for the application for the interim measure at the Sarstoon.

Barrow went on to explain that it would be good for the Guatemalans to commit to some written, binding protocol that would have been encouraged by the OAS and the continuing scrutiny of the US South-Com (Southern Command), but he noted, “I don’t know that it will happen, so we are making our plans for the application for the provisional measures. I hope without expecting, that’s the best way to put it,” Barrow told the media.

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Deshawn Swasey

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