BELMOPAN, Belize, Friday May 10, 2019 – Following Wednesday’s historic referendum in which Belizeans voted to take the country’s territorial dispute with Guatemala to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), Prime Minister Dean Barrow has been outlining the steps to be taken to get a final resolution in the matter.
He told the media yesterday that his government will, in the next few weeks, go to Parliament to amend the Maritime Areas Act (MMA) to restore Belize’s claim to all its maritime territory.
Speaking at a press conference hours after the official results of the referendum were released – a majority of 55.4 per cent in favour of going to the ICJ, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations – Barrow said he expected to get opposition support on the amendments.
“As soon as Cabinet can give its approval, we can send the copy of the draft bill to the opposition for there to be enough time for them to be able to digest the draft. I don’t think there should be any problem.
“I believe that there should be agreement that in fact this is the way to go since the passage of the Maritime Areas Act was done for a specific purpose to aid in the negotiating process that at the time was ongoing with Guatemala. Now that it is clear that we are going to court…I imagine that there will be a complete, unanimous support in the National Assembly for the amendment,” the Prime Minister said.
He said once the amendment is passed, the ICJ process begins.
“We then notify the ICJ formally of the results of our referendum and the fact that it is on. That we are now in a position to submit to the court’s jurisdiction and thereafter we have a month to do that and thereafter the clock starts running. Guatemala is going to have a year to memorialize their position, we will have a year and thereafter to respond and even at that point there would still be a chance for Guatemala to reply to our response and for us to respond to their reply. So it’s a long drawn-out process,” he explained.
After the results of the referendum were announced, Opposition Leader John Briceño, who had been campaigning for a ‘no’ vote, said his People’s United Party (PUP) respected the will of the people and wanted to see the dispute settled as well.
Guatemala has been claiming the territory of Belize, in whole or in part, since 1821.
“The collective wisdom of the people is that the time has come for us to settle this unfounded claim,” Briceño said in a video statement. “As we work towards the next step in this process, let us continue to live side by side peacefully and in the spirit of cooperation and friendship with the people of Guatemala. Let us continue our efforts through the confidence building measures to deepen our relations with our neighbour. We reiterate our commitment to a truly bipartisan national team, working together in mutual respect to bring an end to the dispute with Guatemala.”
Prime Minister Barrow has indicated that his government will seek to re-engage the Opposition and ensure they are consulted and kept informed of the process going forward.