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PUP attorneys say Special Agreement needs parliamentary approval

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Posted: Thursday, February 21, 2019. 9:18 am CST.

By BBN Staff: Signed ten years ago, the Special Agreement between Belize and Guatemala was reached in Washington through the auspices of the Organization of American States (OAS) after repeated attempts at negotiation of the Belize-Guatemala dispute went for naught.

But a trio of attorneys and former and current parliamentarians have renewed an old argument – that as an international treaty, it needed to be ratified in both chambers of the National Assembly to pave the way for April’s referendum on settling the dispute at the International Court of Justice.

Kareem Musa; Anthony Sylvestre; and Richard “Dickie” Bradley have put their heads together to review the Agreement and say Belize’s borders are at risk if the Government allows the referendum without formally approving the Special Agreement in parliament. An amendment
allowing Guatemala its own separate referendum, instead of the agreed-upon simultaneous referenda, was approved in 2015.

In their 38-page document, the three attorneys reason that Belize’s borders are defined in the Constitution, and in order to change them, the Government would have to make a constitutional amendment by way of support from the entire legislature, meaning the House and the Senate.

From the 3 attorneys’ perspective, the Government did not follow the proper procedure, and so, it cannot legally transfer authority to the ICJ to change Belize’s borders.

But according to former Senator and Foreign Minister Lisa Shoman, the Special Agreement was ratified in November and December 2016 following debate. At the time, the P.U.P.’s contingent in the Upper House voted no on the basis that the Government could then
show no plausible reason for calling for ratification of the Agreement.

As Musa puts it, “…schedule 1 of the constitution sets out the borders of our country Belize. Section 68 of that very say constitution says that only the national assembly has the power to alter the constitution and to make laws and so what the current government was doing in 2008 up to present is actually assigning the power of the legislator onto the ICJ. When in fact it should first come to the house for us to be able to vote on that to review that, to ventilate it properly and ensure that the compromise has all of the terms that we can all agree on as a country, before we take it to the ICJ. Each entity: the legislator, executive and the judiciary have a role to play and we cannot bypass the role that the legislator plays in such an important
decision as this one; the biggest decision that us as Belizeans will have to make.”

Sylvestre argues that, “domestically, in our national law the treaty does not have any binding force, until and unless it is incorporated it is made law. You cannot have an agreement which has the effect of changing or altering rights or laws. You cannot have such an agreement being implemented or enforced until and unless the National Assembly steps in and gives its approval by way of having its say in the House of Representative and Senate and passing by a required majority of that law. Now in the case of the proposed boundary redefinition or re- determination because as you know our boundaries are already defined in the constitution. So in order for the country’s to be redefined, the National Assembly has to give that authority to the I.C.J. but as is the case presently that has not been done. All that has occurred is that the government has on the international plain, agreed that that will be done.”

He says a two-third majority vote would be needed to pass the Agreement in the House. The next House meeting will likely be in March for the Budget Debate.

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