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Guatemala’s claim to Belize awaits oral hearings at the ICJ in 2024

Posted: Sunday, September 10, 2023. 3:26 pm CST.

By Breaking Belize News Staff: The territorial, insular, and maritime claim by Guatemala against Belize, which is currently before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), is slated to be in the limelight once again by spring or summer 2024. According to the Amandala newspaper, this period marks the expected timeline for the oral hearings which often span up to two weeks.

Eamon Courtenay, Belize’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, shared insights on this topic, confirming the closure of pleadings and the impending ICJ judges’ election scheduled for November this year. He further clarified that due to this upcoming election, the existing bench of judges will not oversee the oral hearings. A reshuffle in the ICJ’s panel is anticipated with the new bench commencing their term on February 6, 2024. Subsequent to this, a secret ballot will be held to elect the president and vice-president, both set to serve a three-year tenure.

As outlined by the ICJ’s official website and as quoted by Amandala, the ICJ panel consists of 15 judges, serving for nine years each, subject to re-election. These judges are chosen based on stringent criteria, including high moral character and substantial qualifications in international law. The bench’s composition is also meticulous in ensuring diversity, both in terms of nationality and legal systems.

In response to Amandala‘s inquiry about Belize’s preferences in the upcoming judicial election, Minister Courtenay remarked, “I just received an e-mail this morning with advice on which judges we should support. I have passed that on to our Permanent Representative in New York for evaluation. We are diligently assessing all candidates to decide our vote.”

Presently, the bench showcases a diverse representation with judges from the U.S.A., Russian Federation, Slovakia, Brazil, France, and ten other nations. Notably, these judges neither represent their home country nor any other state and can only be removed if all other members unanimously concur on the non-fulfillment of required conditions.

The sitting ICJ president, Judge Joan E. Donoghue from the U.S.A., and Vice-President, Judge Kirill Gevorgian from the Russian Federation, are both set to conclude their terms in February 2024.

Tracing back to the origins, the dispute between Belize and Guatemala was presented to the ICJ on June 7, 2019, post the referendums in both nations. This followed their Special Agreement in 2008, which highlighted their joint appeal to the Court to define and declare the rights and boundaries of each nation concerning the territories under dispute.

Interestingly, the Court permits public viewing of its sessions via live streaming, except for select closed hearings. The sessions include presentations, and arguments, and can extend from a few minutes to several hours.

On a side note, Minister Courtenay clarified that the Belize application submitted on November 16, 2022, concerning Honduras’ Sapodillas claim, wouldn’t impact the Belize-Guatemala case timeline. He also confirmed the active participation of Honduran officials in setting timelines at the Court.


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