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PEACE Movement warns of “settlement” of Guatemalan claim at ICJ

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Posted: Monday, December 9, 2019. 5:57 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: While there is nothing to substantiate it, the Belize PEACE Movement has raised fears of a “behind-the-back,” out of court settlement of the unfounded Guatemalan claim to Belize.

In May, Belizeans voted by 55 to 45 percent to send the claim for adjudication to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands, over the objections of the PEACE Movement and the People’s United Party (PUP).

The four-person bipartisan committee headed by Minister of Foreign Affairs Wilfred Elrington has identified individual lawyers to represent Belize alongside the top-ranked European law firm Fresh Fields, according to Leader of the Opposition John Briceño, who spoke to reporters in November, though he could provide no further details.

Earlier, Prime Minister Dean Barrow said a “tender” had been put out for legal representation, with Fresh Fields and other firms competing.

After Belize lodged its papers with the court in June, the countdown began on the clock for Guatemala to submit its first statement of claim, due next year. Belize would then have a year to respond.

However, the PEACE Movement condemns the “secrecy” surrounding the bipartisan plans and to what they may lead.

Said chair Robert “Bobby” Lopez during a demonstration in the Battlefield Park today as part of International Anti-Corruption Day: “There is a section in the ICJ [Rules] that says that both countries can actually settle out of court, and we feel that may be in the making, because the Prime Minister has already said that this is a huge undertaking, our lawyers aren’t cheap.”

“And so we know that our Constitution says that any settlement with Guatemala must have the approval of the Belizean people. So if they decide to cut some deal and try to pass this thing and Mr. Barrow comes out as champion, having settled the Guatemalan claim, we want to know if there [are] things happening behind the background, and you all are negotiating an out-of-court settlement.”

If this is true, Lopez says, they will take the matter to court to ensure the Government must come to Belizeans, as the Guatemalans must under their Constitution, if the countries make any such agreement, which would threaten not only land but also mineral and maritime rights. Parliament passed amendments to the Maritime Areas Act shortly after the referendum to restore Belize’s rights in the south and remove those provisions initially leading to negotiation with Guatemala to resolve that aspect of the claim.

 

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