ICJ Referendum Off For Now, But Belize Gov’t Says It Will Happen Within Weeks

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

BELMOPAN, Belize, Wednesday April 10, 2019 – The referendum on whether Belize should take its territorial dispute with Guatemala to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) won’t happen today as originally planned, but the government is adamant it will happen by June.

After the Court of Appeal refused to overturn an injunction, granted to the opposition People’s United Party (PUP) by Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin last week, Prime Minister Dean Barrow Monday evening indicated that he is “in no doubt that we will be having a referendum on going to the ICJ no later than six to eight weeks from the originally scheduled date”.

And yesterday, after meeting with his Cabinet, Barrow said his government will go to Parliament on Friday and the Senate next Monday to pass legislation “that in our view will be fail-safe that in our view will be fail-safe”.

“We know that there is absolutely no uncertainty about the fact that we will be having the referendum.  It is just a matter of time…,” the Prime Minister told local television station News Five.

“By Monday when the Senate meets and by Tuesday when the Governor General signs his assent, we are absolutely certain that we are going to be able to provide for the holding of the referendum sooner rather than later and much sooner rather than later.”

The PUP had sought the injunction to stall the vote until the hearing of a substantive case on the constitutionality of the Special Agreement signed in 2008 that ended negotiations and opened the way for the territorial dispute between Belize and Guatemala to be taken to the ICJ.

Guatemala, which has claimed the territory of Belize, in whole or in part since 1821, had its own referendum in April last year and 95.88 per cent of voters supported sending the claim to the ICJ.

After the PUP secured the injunction, the Barrow-led administration appealed to the Court of Appeal to lift it. But on Monday the court said it did not have jurisdiction to hear the government’s application. It therefore also dismissed the government’s application to expedite the appeal.

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