Home Belize-Guatemala The ICJ Legal Opinion on Sarstoon Island and Sarstoon River

The ICJ Legal Opinion on Sarstoon Island and Sarstoon River

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Tonight we continue with our series on the recent legal opinion commissioned by the Bar Association of Belize. Former University of West Indies Law Professor and diplomat, Steven Vasciannie delivered his finding to the Bar last week. One of the last and salient tasks conferred to him was to consider the Sarstoon River and Sarstoon Island, in relation to the aggression that was ramped up by Guatemala over the past few years.  Love News examined Vasciannie’s text on the Sarstoon while receiving commentary from a parliamentarian, a diplomat posted in Guatemala and a former foreign minister.

Jose Sanchez: “Professor Stephen Vasciannie was charged to look at the Guatemalan aggression in the south. He noted that “the extent of the Guatemalan Armed Forces are not recognizing the boundaries set out in Article one of the 1859 Treaty meaning they are violating the international law. Their motive presumably is to set and train the idea that they have effective control of these areas as the basis for the title territory”. Vasciannie goes on to say “ As long as Belize protests and repeats its protest frequently and widely there will be no change in the legal status in the areas in question in favor of Guatemala”. This appears to favor Belizeans who visit the Sarstoon and face aggression by the G.A.F. These trips triggered diplomatic notes. Former Foreign Minister Lisa Shoman had made one of these trips on the Sarstoon River.”

Lisa Shoman Attorney: “What he says is this “The fact that Belize has made protests both through diplomatic notes because those are important as well as the actions by citizen groups such as the Territorial Volunteers but also the acts that are carried out regularly by our own Coast Guard, by our own BDF, by going up and down the river regardless of the Guatemalan stance. All of that taken together amongst to sufficient protest to be comforted that Guatemala’s aggressive stance on the Sarstoon will not be to our prejudice. He says something that is equally important. The amount of time that you are acting out and the period in time in which you are acting out is important. What do I mean by that? I mean that you can’t already have a conflict and have agreed that you will go to the court if people say yes and it only occurs since 2015 and Vasciannie accepts that 2015 is when they started ramping up and I said that all along. That is really when they started being aggressive and the four years since then doesn’t give them sufficient basis to go and claim anything at the ICJ.”

Jose Sanchez: “Belize’s Ambassador to Guatemala Alexis Rosado says that we followed protocol whenever there was aggression.”

H.E. Alexis Rosado Belize Ambassador to Guatemala: “It is a standard policy and practice of the Government of Belize that whenever Guatemala falls foul of any of our territorial integrity, when it acts badly across the border we protest it. Guatemala has been trying to push their weight in the Sarstoon. We are very aware of that which is why we are acting the way we have acted and continue to act so. The Professors findings, conclusions and opinions really support the position that we have been taking for such a long time.”

Attorney Lisa Shoman: “Really and truly if they want to act up in this way and get the benefit of it at the ICJ it would have to have begun shortly after 1859 or at the very least when they decided to reject the 1859 Treaty in the 40’s and moving forward, that is not the case. They have left it until 2015 so that is important and then therefore he says that even if that were not so the fact that Belize has protested vigorously through the entire time being we have never laid back and acquiesced with that even when the government was saying to us don’t go, even when the government was telling me that I was giving trouble and telling Will that they were putting the government in trouble. What Vasciannie says is what you cannot do is to assert your right by force so that is a slap in Guatemala’s face. “

Jose Sanchez: “Julius Espat is convinced that we should not risk the south.”

Area Representative Julius Espat: “The Sarstoon became a problem because we didn’t have any presence .The Chiquibul is a concern because we don’t have enough presence and if Guatemala wins or loses at the ICJ that will not stop poverty from coming across. That is our responsibility as a sovereign nation to look after our own. It is like you have your yard and you don’t bother deal with your yard and the man is coming in inch by inch because you feel lazy or you don’t want to go and talk to them or have a discussion or a conversation with your neighbor. Gradually your neighbor will come and overpower you and what will you do? There is a risk, there is a risk and I will tell you the third time there is a risk. Are you willing to take that risk? Are you willing to lose a part of your country or your ability to drill in the waters where oil that will be there will not be yours or not. Are you willing to give that up? Are you willing to give up the Sarstoon or the Ranguana Cayes or any of our national territory. I am not.”

Lisa Shoman Attorney: “In Vascianni’s opinion, the opinion that counts says that the government has done sufficient in this regard to give us comfort that Guatemala will not gain by their rouge behavior. That is my word not his by their rouge behavior of the Sarstoon.”

H.E. Alexis Rosado Belize Ambassador to Guatemala: “He takes into account developments on the ground like the Sarstoon but also developments in national law. Especially the ICJ jurisprudence so he considers those as well for the developments that have taken place. All in all the conclusions are the same that Belize has a solid title for the integrity of our territory.”

Jose Sanchez: “At the entrance of the Sarstoon the BDF base had fallen into disarray and has since been repaired after a soldier has lost his eye. Barranco Village is going to have a joint Police and Coast Guard base however the forces wont do anything to offset the incursions and Guatemalan aggression at the mouth of the Sarstoon River. Jose Sanchez for Love News.”

The deadline for registering is Tuesday, March 12. The referendum takes place on April 10.

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