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Dylan Vernon, Belize’s Ambassador to Belgium

The ICJ Legal Opinion and Support from the E.U.

LOVE News continues a series of in depth reports on the International Court of Justice from its headquarters at The Hague in the Netherlands. Love News’ Renee Trujillo reports on the education of the Belize media contingent which will help to inform the public when making their decision at next year’s referendum.

Rene Trujillo: “Guatemala wants Belize. They have been making a claim on the country for decades now. What they don’t seem to be certain of is how much of Belize they want. The areas they have expressed interests in have varied over the years and has now expanded to about 50 percent of the country. The clear definition of the area they are claiming would not be ascertained if and until the Special Agreement is submitted to the International Court of Justice, ICJ. Article 2 of this Special Agreement signed between Belize and Guatemala states specifically that the ICJ should settle any and all claims brought by Guatemala. Ambassador Dylan Vernon explained the rationale behind the question posed in the document.

Dylan Vernon Belize Ambassador to Belgium: “The question on the Special Agreement has been asked by many. As far as the question is concerned the question was very very carefully defined especially by the Belize side to include all claims that Guatemala might have. As you know over the years Guatemala has made very many different parts of Belize as its claim; from a piece of Toledo, to a slice, to a caye. Most recently in 1999 it was half of Belize and that is most likely what will be taken there but Belize does not know so we have to say any and all claims so that once the Court rules in the final ruling, the international community and Guatemala will know that the borders we define as ours in our constitution are the ones that are going to be what the Court will rule as. They are the ones who are claiming so they are the ones who have to define what they are claiming and they have not been very clear about that historically. This is going to be the opportunity perhaps we hope, if we go to the ICJ, the final opportunity for them to say this is exactly what we are claiming and as you would suspect all of the arguments that they have for any claim that they might have for Belize the Belize side has arguments that will from the point of view from our legal experts, our Government easily refute those so we are going there. If we go to the ICJ with the understanding that when we leave there will be no more opportunity for Guatemala to say well we missed out this piece and we missed out that piece and we come again, there is no coming again after the ruling from the ICJ.

Rene Trujillo: “The fear of losing has been one of the driving factors for those who are leaning on the no vote in the upcoming Referendum. Being on the ground in Belize thousands of miles away from the Great Room of Justice at the ICJ does tend to leave one questioning the process and uncertain of how things work. From in front of the parliament building at the Binnenhof at the Hague Ambassador Vernon shared with the media delegation what some of the arguments are that would be presented to the court and just how solid those are.

Dylan Vernon Belize’s Ambassador to Belgium: “Guatemala is the one that is claiming us so they will have some positions that they will take to the Court if we get there and they will have to prove several things that we on the Belize side believe that they can never prove but the three major areas that Belize has in terms of our arguments are that the British and then Belize have occupied this country from the Rio Hondo to the Sarstoon since the 1820’s and we can prove that most importantly, and this where perhaps the Court will focus on more than anything else, perhaps only the 1859 Treaty defines the borders of the Treaty very clearly. It is the Treaty that recognized, that stands and that cannot be disregarded and we will also use the argument I believe once we get to the Court of that of becoming an independent nation in 1981 with the support of 139 countries of the world, with territorial integrity, with sovereignty and that when we became independent at that time it was done so with the assumption that the territory we inherited from the UK is the one that we have now. Clearly the United Nations resolution is not a legally binding document and the board of Belize will not be demarcated by that resolution but we can use that argument as one of the key arguments as to why the country that we now call Belize is ours but it will hinge on the 1859 Treaty more than anything else.

Rene Trujillo: When it comes to the importance of voting of the upcoming Referendum Ambassador Vernon parallels it to the decision for Belize’s Independence made back in 1981.

Dylan Vernon Belize Ambassador to Belgium: “Belizeans know, we all know where our borders are. The 1859 Treaty, our constitution says so. We  have no doubt but our neighbor does not agree and so when we get to the point of deciding what to do after all the negotiations have failed we get to a point where the ICJ option becomes one of the ways we can do so and to get there between now and the 10th of April is going to be a very important time and for me it is one of the most critical decisions that Belizeans will have to make since Independence and its one that we can’t take lightly. It is one that we must inform ourselves in the best way that we can to get there and make the best decision that we can about using this moment in history in the best way that we can.

Rene Trujillo: About 8 years ago in an interview with a former Foreign Minister for Guatemala Girth Rosantal noted to a local media house,  “ I am not a lawyer but I think most lawyers would tell you no that Guatemala would not win the case”. That interview took place in December 2008. Reporting from the Hague in the Netherlands I am Rene Trujillo.

The Referendum takes place on April 10th, 2019. In the next segment, Love News Editor Renee Trujillo examines the issues surrounding legal opinions by the ICJ panel of judges.

Rene Trujillo: In yesterday’s segment we looked at general facts of how the International Court of Justice, ICJ, functions and how Belize and Guatemala would go about entering their case to the Court should there be a majority of ‘ye’s voters on April 10th 2019. Discussions surrounding this issue has taken on a life of its own. In one instance a group of persons in recent months had asked that a legal opinion be obtained from the court as opposed to Belize going to the ICJ. The thing with the legal opinion is that it is just that, an opinion. It has no binding powers and it is merely an opinion rendered by the panel of ICJ Judges on where a state legally stands on a dispute with another state on a particular issue. To gain a legal opinion the UN would have to go through a lengthy process before it could reach the ICJ. Ambassador Dylan Vernon is stationed at the Embassy of Belize to the Kingdom of Belgium and hence the mission to the European Union. He plays an intimate role when it comes to business with the ICJ as all correspondents from the Court to Belize is sent via his to his office. Ambassador Vernon explained why seeking a legal opinion would not be a pragmatic move.

Dylan Vernon Belize Ambassador to Belgium: “The Advisory Opinion of course has been discussed and debated and there are few countries in the world who have sought advisories and opinions. The latest being Maritus that has a case on the Chagos before the ICJ, the problem with the advisory opinion is that it is not legally binding, it is an opinion that the court will put out that will have some mortal value perhaps but that will not assist the process of in the case of Belize saying specifically that they agree with what our constitution says and where are borders are. In other words we will be kicking the can a bit down the road on an issue that we can perhaps settle now if the people of Belize decide to go to the ICJ. Another problem perhaps with the advisory opinion is that we will eventually get to a point where we are again advised by lawyers, by the international community, by the UN to go to the ICJ. We have that moment now, it is a very rare moment, things are lined up in terms of the Guatemalans having voted and it’s a moment that if the Belizean people decide will be very difficult to recreate again at the future moment. In a discussion held yesterday in the Red Room of the ICJ the media was informed that legal opinions are not frequently sought. To date there have only been five legal opinions rendered to different countries, to date the court has addressed 179 cases and currently has 17 in their docket. The majority of cases heard by the ICJ surrounds Territorial Maritime areas. A case can take anywhere from 3-5 years to be finalized. Reporting for Love News I am Rene Trujillo.

One of the most supportive friend to Belize is the European Union.  They have been known to render financial aid and trade opportunities for the country in various areas.  A few weeks ago the union committed seven million Euros in grant funding.  Ambassador Dylan Vernon explained how the monies are to be utilized.

Dylan Vernon Belize Ambassador to Belgium: “The European Union decided to extend its support to Belize and Guatemala in their process to resolve the dispute and $3.5 million Euros was set aside for the use of the OAS office in the Adjacency Zone.. This would be for administrative purposes and confidence building measures but for the first time in all that $3.5 million Euros is also being set aside by the European Union to support civil society organizations that would be working along and beside the Adjacency Zone on economic development projects. Again this will be accessible equally to NGOs from both sides of the border. This kind of support form the European Union is based upon the European Union’s hope that Belize will be moving towards Judicial Assessment of this dispute and certainly as you know the OAS office provides an excellent and useful role in the verification processes and confidence building processes in Belize.

Reporter: So in small change the $7 million is to pay for a yes?

Dylan Vernon Belize Ambassador to Belgium:  “Well I won’t put it that way specifically Jules.How I would put it is this: the international community, and this comes from our friends in CARICOM to the ACP to the European Union, that when countries get to the point when they cannot resolve a dispute like this by negotiations or mediation they would say well we urge you to do it at the ICJ and so they would like to see that. They are not saying you have to do that or are forcing us to do it. They know that we have to get permission from the people of Belize to do that but that is one route they would indeed like to see us go down.

In addition to the support from the European Union, Belize also enjoys the friendship of the African, Caribbean, Pacific States comprising of 79 member countries from three continents, equivalent to forty percent of the United Nations.  The ACP States are scheduled to meet in the coming weeks to pass a resolution surrounding the Belize/Guatemala issue.

Dylan Vernon Belize Ambassador to Belgium: “ A very important group, it supported Belize’s Independence movement and on a regular basis over the past few years the ACP has put out very strong resolutions and declarations supporting Belize’s territorial integrity and sovereignty calling for the protocol for the Sarstoon to be completed, urging the European Union to support the OAS process and also urging a peaceful approach to the resolution through the ICJ. The ACP resolutions and declarations give us basically a high moral standing in the world. We have the solidarity of all these nations and we use this again when we talk to our friends in terms of urging for example the European Union to provide support to the OAS office in the Adjacency Zone so these are very important things for Belize to be doing in the context of our foreign missions.

Tomorrow we’ll tell you more on the support from the Friends of Belize as well as the continued absence of a Sarstoon Protocol.