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Guatemala to present territorial, insular and maritime claim to Belize to ICJ today 

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Posted: Tuesday, December 8, 2020. 11:24 am CST.

By Aaron Humes: Guatemala’s second-leading newspaper, El Periódico, reports that today, Netherlands time, the Republic’s ambassador to the Netherlands, Jorge Skinner-Klée Arenales will present Guatemala’s first memorial on the territorial, insular and maritime litigation with Belize on behalf of its national legal team which is restricted by COVID-19 from traveling to The Hague. 

By ICJ statute, the contents of the document, including more than 2,000 annexes, remains under seal until the court decides. Its Ministry of Foreign Affairs would only say that “Guatemala will claim all the continental, insular and maritime territories that it inherited from Spain at the time of Independence in 1821 and over which the country has proven right.” 

Two separate sets of attorneys – five international lawyers and an internal team from the Ministry, worked on the documents, but the Ministry refuses to say how much they are being paid. Overall responsibility for the case is being handled by the Ministry’s Sovereignty and Dominion Unit, formerly known as the Belize Commission. 

But local attorney Adolfo Molina Sierra made interesting comments to El Periodico about the success of Guatemala’s case. He suggested that it was unlikely that the court would resolve the case in favor of returning even a part of Belize to Guatemala. 

He put it in these terms: “We all see with little probability that a country that already has more than 40 years of existence in the United Nations and if we forget it, Guatemala also recognized it in the year [19]91, it is unlikely that the Court will judge to the detriment of subtracting territory to a Belizean people. On a personal basis as interested in the issue of Belize, my best expectation would be that they give us a reasonable and stable outlet to the sea so that we can make plans and count on it.” 

Guatemala had asked for a year’s extension on the basis of the COVID-19 pandemic; Belize objected, asking for no more than two months, with the Court granting six. Belize will have until June 8, 2022 to present its counterclaim in the case. 

Belize was still confirming its team of attorneys at last report, but with a change of Government, new Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Courtenay may plot a different course. He had lengthy and public disputes with predecessor Wilfred Elrington, especially about provisions in the Maritime Areas Act which put Belize at a disadvantage now that the case is before the courts. Those provisions were repealed shortly after the May 2019 referendum in which a majority of Belizeans voted to send the case to the ICJ, after Guatemalans did so the previous April.

 

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