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Fact Check #3: The 1859 Treaty


Posted: Monday, March 25, 2019. 2:57 pm CST.

The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.

By Concerned Belizean:


The closer we’ve gotten to April 10th, the more misconceptions and lies have been flying around like crazy. While there are many misconceptions, many of them revolve around the 1859 Treaty. So, in an attempt to promote some objectivity, in this article we’ll talk about a few of them. But before we get into the misconceptions, we’ll go over what exactly the 1859 Treaty is.

What is the 1859 Treaty?

The 1859 Treaty is a boundary treaty that was signed by Britain and Guatemala in, well, 1859. It was signed and ratified by both countries. It defines our borders to the South and West of Belize.

What does it say?

Article 1

Article 1 defines the boundary as it existed previous to 1850. The boundary that it defines is the same one we’ve grown up knowing. It starts in the mouth of the river Sarstoon, through the mid channel (putting Sarstoon Island in our territory), up the Gracias a Dios, where it proceeds to Garbutt’s Falls by Benque and continues, more or less straight, up to our border with Mexico.

Articles 2 – 5                                                                         

These articles deal with technical matters about the demarcation of the boundary.

Article 6

Article 6 says that both countries are free to navigate the Sarstoon freely.

Article 7

Article says the two countries “mutually agree conjointly to use their best efforts” to build a means of communication (river, cart road, etc.) between Guatemala City and the Atlantic Coast so both their trade and wealth can be increased.

Article 8

Article 8 deals with the ratification process.


Was the 1859 Treaty a treaty of cession?

Short Answer: no.

Long answer: Nooooooooooooooo.

Some people say the 1859 Treaty is a treaty of cession. Those people are wrong. The 1859 Treaty clearly says in the title, preamble, and Article 1 that it’s only dealing with boundaries. There’s no mention of cession anywhere.

International law says that the words of a treaty should be read in the context of their ordinary meaning (Article 31, Vienna Convention on Treaties). The Court has reaffirmed this in many cases, such as in Libya/Chad when the Court remarked that “Interpretation must be based above all upon the text of the treaty.” Further on, in the same judgement, the Court said that any other approach would be “contrary to one of the fundamental principles of interpretation of treaties” (paras 41 & 51). So, no, the 1859 Treaty wasn’t a treaty of cession.

Did Britain violate Article 7?

Short answer: no.

Long answer: no, but let’s look at it.

Article 7 says that both countries “mutually agree conjointly to use their best efforts”. What exactly does it mean by best efforts? Does it mean they’ll try? If so, then how do we determine whether or not a party tried hard enough? How do you measure a country’s “best efforts”?

Emphasis should also be put on “mutually agree conjointly”. This means that both Britain and Guatemala had a duty to try.

When talking about this, some people like to mention an 1863 Treaty. This 1863 Treaty said that Britain would give Guatemala 50,000 pounds to build a road that would roughly, in total, cost 200,000 dollars. They point out the fact that Britain never ratified the treaty and never gave Guatemala the money in an attempt to prove their point.

What they often fail to mention is that Guatemala also didn’t ratify the treaty. How can you only blame Britain when not even Guatemala ratified the treaty?

While the historical record may be interesting and, to a certain extent, up for debate, this question is useless when talking about the case at hand.

Does it even matter if Britain violated the 1859 Treaty?

Short answer: no.

Long answer: Nooooooooooooooo.

Once you sign a treaty, the boundary remains. You could tear up the treaty, but the boundary remains. You could spit on the treaty and declare it null and void, but the boundary remains. The Court has been saying this since 1925 and continues to say it to this day. This idea is called the stability of boundaries. One of the earliest displays of it was in 1925, but it the Court has used it many times over the years such as in 1962, 1978, 1994 and 2007. The Court has even described it as a “fundamental principle” (Libya/Chad 1994, para 72)

But, the stability of boundaries aside, we don’t need to worry about whether or not we inherited Britain’s problem. As Mr. Shoman and the team at CDS point out in one of their articles, a case could be made that we didn’t inherit the treaty. We only inherited the borders.

International law has made it clear many times that when a country becomes independent, its boundaries stay the same. Writing in 1968, Wadlock wrote “the weight of both opinion and practice seems clearly to be in favour of the view that boundaries established by treaties remain untouched by the mere fact of a succession.”  That is, boundaries don’t change at independence. We had 8,867 on September 20th, 1981. We had 8,867 on September 21st, 1981. We have 8,867 today and we’ll continue to have it, even more so, if we go to Court.


There’s a lot of confusion around this whole issue. While many Belizeans have already made up their minds about how they’ll vote on April 10th, there are still many who are unsure and genuinely want to know more.

Still, there are many Belizeans who are out there intentionally spreading lies in order to confuse people. To those Belizeans, stop. You’re not doing anyone a favor.

If you have lie to prove your point, you just might not have a point at all.

– A Concerned Belizean




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