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International law experts speak on Belize-Guatemala dispute
November 29, 2018
Expert on international dispute settlements weighs in on Belize’s referendum
November 29, 2018

International law experts share details on dispute settlements

Posted: Thursday, November 29, 2018. 4:04 pm CST.

BBN Staff: Belizean journalists today visited Leiden University, Grotius Centre for International Legal Studies at The Hague, Netherlands and spoke to two international law experts.

Professor Eric de Brabandere and Professor Giulia Pinzauti are both experts in International law, international criminal law and international dispute settlements.

Belizeans will make their decision on April 10, 2019 if they want to take Guatemala’s claim on Belize’s territory to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Leading up to Belize’s national referendum, Belizeans will be engaged in public awareness and education campaigns on the ICJ to learn all the facts and make an informed decision.

Journalists asked the experts to explain more on how the courts see treaties presented at them. Dr. Pinzauti replied, “ These are all factual considerations that the court will have to take into account and decide on the validity of the treaty and whether that has established a boundary and who has title over what land belongs to which country.”Dr. Brabandere expounded that the court will take into account, the timing of the claim (before and after any treaty), the years of succession of the claim and which country has a legitimate title for the land, “ Acquiescence, there is a long period between the treaty and the claim but there is also a long period the claim was made and that is what makes the case very specific and original and new.”

There are several arguments, pro and against ICJ in Belize, one of them including that if Belize gained its Independence from Great Britain in 1981 and it was Britain and Guatemala that signed the treaty and agreed on the building of a cart road, then Belize should not have to settle with Guatemala but instead Britain would be responsible.

Dr. Brabandere clarified today, “ Technically the dispute is between Belize and Guatemala because Belize is an Independent state so you have a dispute with Guatemala. The dispute is, and the boundaries is between you as a sovereign state and then Guatemala as a sovereign state. The only question that will come into play is whether the treaty signed between the former colonizing powers was valid.”

According to Dr. Pinzauti, in cases of decolonization and succession, the principle that applies is Uti possidetis. That is the lawful possession of a colony. The colony passes on to a new state and that is the rule that would apply and in this case, that would be the sovereign territory of Belize.

The rule applies to protect the stability of borders, so the states inherit the boundaries of the former colony.

The experts also expressed their confidence in the ICJ and said that the court is a technical and judicial court that will apply International laws in every case.

“ The court settles disputes in accordance with international law. They are bound by International law. If the court says that the country’s title takes precendence over efectivites ( country is present and exercise access as a sovereign state over the territory) the court will look at the title of the land and if that is not clear, then they will look at efectivites. Those are the rules that they apply whether the result is perceived as fair or not by the parties that are involved,” Dr. Pinzauti.

Note: In 1859, Britain and Guatemala signed a treaty that defined the boundaries of British Honduras.

Article 7 of this convention says that both parties agree to use their best efforts to build a means of communication between Guatemala City and the Atlantic Coast.

In 1931 Britain and Guatemala had an exchange of notes that confirmed the border monuments that marked the 1859 Convention.

 

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