Posted: Thursday, December 6, 2018. 8:00 p.m. CST.
By BBN Staff: The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has two main functions:
1.) to settle legal disputes submitted by nations in accordance with international law and
2.) to give advisory opinions on legal questions submitted by authorized UN agencies.
On April 10, 2019, Belizeans will be asked to vote ‘Yes’or ‘No’ on a referendum on taking Guatemala’s long-standing claim on Belize’s land, insular and maritime territory to the ICJ for a final settlement.
While there are many who believe that a ‘Yes’ vote would convey a message of peace and a final settlement to the claim would mean firm stability in Belize and the region, many Belizeans continue to voice their ‘No’ position.
Many Belizeans that are on the “No” side argue that Belize and Guatemala can seek an Advisory Opinion at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) rather than taking the dispute for a final settlement.
However, an Advisory Opinion solely gives an answer to a legal question brought before the ICJ.
Since the ICJ is the judicial organ of the United Nations, it gives opinions and judgments based on international law. It crucial to note that an Advisory Opinion is not legally binding.
An international law expert explained to BBN that states are not obliged to conform to an Advisory Opinion but they normally do because of the distinction of the World Court.
Customarily, if a state seeks an Advisory Opinion and the court determines that something is illegal under international law, then it makes it harder for governments to continue doing something that the court deemed illegal.
On the other hand, judgments from the ICJ are legally binding and all United Nations member states must respect the judgments.
All countries that have given consent to the court must also respect the judgments as in the case of Belize and Guatemala where a Special Agreement was signed in 2008. Both countries agree to respect the jurisdiction of the court in relation to the long-standing claim.
With relation to the enforcement of a judgment at the ICJ, the country that believes that the other party has failed to comply with the judgment can take the issue to the United Nations Security Council.
The UN Security Council is empowered to recommend and decide the measures to be taken to give effect to the judgment.
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