On April 10, 2019, Belizean’s will go to the polls to vote in a national referendum on whether to take Guatemala’s unfounded claim to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). While many voters are undecided on how they will vote, the International Referendum Unit in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is conducting their education campaign countrywide. This morning two-hundred principals and teachers took part in the education process. Love News stopped by and spoke with Darlene Lozano, Education Officer at the Belize District Education Centre who says that today’s session is the result of a collective decision of the school principals in the Belize District.
Darlene Lozano Education Officetingr: “We are expec them to take the information and share the information with the staff of their school as well as to inform our students the Belize Guatemala dispute, that’s history, that’s part of our education system and for us to effectively teach these issues to our students we need to know, we need to understand the concepts, we need to have a deep understanding so when that when we relate it they can also understand the issues and have systems set up. We as teachers teach our students and the students take the information out so we don’t want the teachers to give a biased view of just saying no or just saying yes but for them to understand the critical perspective and for them to understand the evidence, the critical perspective of the presentation will have them thinking and have them asking questions, the evidence based perspective will allow them to look at the evidence that is presented, the treaties and all the implications to better make an informed decision.”
The two presenters were Ambassador of Belize to Guatemala, His Excellency Alexis Rosado whose presentation was evidence-based while the presentation by Retired Major Lloyd Jones was dubbed the critical perspective. Ambassador Rosado spoke about the history of Guatemala’s unfounded claim and the merits of taking it to the ICJ. He noted that any position by Guatemala would have to be tested against the law and the evidence.
H.E. Alexis Rosado Ambassador Belize to Guatemala: “What we have agreed with Guatemala under the special agreement, of course it is all subject to the will of the people but what the special agreement provides is that the Court will be asked to look at the International law and the evidence and on the basis of that declare and determine where our borders are. Now some people will say well we already know where our borders are but the problem is that our neighbors do not agree so the question is seeking for the court to look at treaties, look at customer international law and look at their own past decisions when it comes to boundary and territorial disputes and then match that with the evidence on that basis and tell who is right and who is wrong, some people seem to think we only have the 1859 Treaty to support our case, we have the 1931 exchange of notes by which the Government of the day accepted clearly that the boundary monuments that were put in place at Crassa a Diyos and Garbutts Falls are what mark the boundary line between the two countries, we also have the boundary monument of Patadas Taos which wasn’t laced there by us, it was placed there by Mexico and Guatemala.”
Retired Major Lloyd Jones, in his presentation, looked at alternatives which he classifies as the contentious route and the advisory route, which would seek an opinion and/or advice from external agencies on the 1859 treaty.
RET’D Major Lloyd Jones Presenter: “I started my presentation discussing a little bit about what sovereignty mean, the concept of sovereignty and why that is important in the general discussion about the ICJ and then I looked a little on the state of Belize’s defence, how competent and capable are we of defending ourselves and then I look at an alternative to the current ICJ contentious route to look at a possibility of an advisory opinion that can yield the same outcome but will be less risky. The contentious case is reserved for states and the advisory opinion is reserved for organs and agencies of the UN so we could ask one of those organs, in this case the General Assembly to ask the ICJ for advisory opinion and the advisory opinion will very simple, is the 1859 Treaty valid and if the ICJ says yes then all of this goes away and there is no risk for the territory of Belize as is currently the case of this contentious case.”
While the advisory route is a possibility, Ambassador Rosado noted that it would not settle the dispute since it is non-binding.
H.E. Alexis Rosado Ambassador Belize to Guatemala: “The difference between the two is simply that one is binding and one is non binding. One has to be respected an recognized and abided by and the other one doesn’t. Now because the advisory opinion does not settle it, it might give us a good moral boost, it might confirm our legal position but it is not binding on Guatemala, it would not be binding on anybody else so we might feel better about ourselves, that we have the court on our sides should it consider it for an advisory opinion but it doesn’t settle disputes. The binding option ,what we are asked to consider now is to bring finality to it.
There is no exact figure as to how much the referendum campaign and process are going to cost Belize. Donations have come in from external agencies including the US Embassy, the UNDP, the OAS and the British High Commission but no report has been officially distributed on the expenditure thus far.