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The Journey to the International Court of Justice – What Belizeans Need To Know

Posted: Wednesday, May 15, 2019. 2:14 pm CST.

By BBN Staff: On May 8, 2019, Belizeans went to the polls and voted in favor of taking Guatemala’s longstanding claim on Belize’s land, insular and maritime territory to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for final settlement.

Belizeans were asked:

“Do you agree that any legal claim of Guatemala against Belize relating to land and insular territories and to any maritime areas pertaining to these territories should be submitted to the International Court of Justice for final settlement and that it determine finally the boundaries of the respective territories and areas of the Parties?”

The resounding ‘Yes’ vote was obtained with 65% of Belizean electorate participating and 55% voting ‘Yes’ while 45% voted No.

This means, that the Government of Belize has been given the mandate to submit an application to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for the dispute to be settled.

Since, Guatemalans voted ‘Yes’ in a national referendum held on April 15, 2018, the Guatemalan government has also been given the green light to submit their application to the ICJ to settle the dispute.

The Cabinet of Belize met yesterday and determined that there will be an amendment to the Maritime areas act that will be tabled on May 20, 2019 at the next sitting of the House of Representatives.

Additionally, Cabinet approved the appointment of Ambassador Assad Shoman as Agent at the ICJ and Ambassador Alexis Rosado as Co Agent of Belize at the ICJ.

Both countries will have the representation from an agent at the court.

The function of the agent is to submit documents on behalf of the country. It is advisable that countries select nationals of their country to act as the agent for that country in the court.

The agent must have high diplomatic skills, good knowledge of foreign policy, and extended knowledge of international law.

The ICJ is comprised of 15 elected judges. However, 2 ad-hoc judges will be nominated to the court. The ad-hoc judges would be nominated by Belize and Guatemala. Whenever the ad-hoc judge is nominated in Belize, the court will seek the opinion of Guatemala and vice-versa.

It is important to note that ad-hoc judges do not have any communication with the government of the country while they have been accepted by the court. When the court accepts an ad-hoc judge, the judge must be independent and not be receiving instructions from the government. The main function of the ad-hoc judge is for the country to have a voice at the court. The ad-hoc judge will participate in discussions at the court and explain more about the dispute. If in any case, an ad-hoc judge does not abide by the regulations, he/she will be recused from the case.

In preparation for adjudication, the Ministry of Foreign affairs (of Belize) will organize a multidisciplinary team including legal counsel, international law experts, and the team that will conduct all the research, compile documents and evidence for the court.

Cases before the ICJ are observed by several international organizations with prior knowledge of the dispute, for example, the Organization of American States (OAS).

Observers also include academia, political parties and third states that may be interested in the outcome of the case.

After the relevant protocol has been established at the court, the ICJ meets with both Agents ( Belize and Guatemala in this case) to discuss a schedule for the case.

Since Guatemala is the claimant country, they would submit a memorial ( a petition or representation made to a legislative body) to the ICJ. A memorial is a presentation of up to 150 pages of volume, substance, and annexes on the dispute. Belize would receive the memorial and respond with a counter-memorial ( admit, deny or comment on a memorial on international law). This process customarily is conducted within 2 years.

Various countries opt to also form an advisory body in their country to keep their nation informed. That advisory commission can be comprised of members of the armed forces, students, teachers, former foreign affairs ministers and former prime ministers ( bi-partisan) to share information on the progression of the cases.

During the case, governments establish diplomatic channels of communications with each other to avoid incidents.

The ICJ’s decision in cases of disputes between countries is not predictable and after the final judgment, there is a legal responsibility by both countries to implement and enforce the ruling.


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