Thursday, December 11, 2008

Belize and Guatemala signed Historic Agreement

Wilfred P. Elrington, Attorney General & Minister of Foreign Affairs

For more than 50 years Belize has been negotiating with Guatemala for them to drop their claim on Belize’s territorial integrity. Belize became self-governing in 1964, and from 1975 successive UN resolutions endorsed Belize’s right to self-determination, independence and territorial integrity. In 1981 Belize became an independent state recognized by all the UN member states except Guatemala. Over many years all efforts have failed and so the only choice is to settle the matter in the International Court of Justice.

An agreement was signed on December 08, 2008 between Belize and Guatemala at the Organization of American States (OAS) Headquarters in Washington, D.C. The OAS has played a major role in facilitating this agreement and will create and administer a fund to contribute to the legal costs both countries will incur to prepare for this case.
Bringing this matter to the ICJ will cost the Government of Belize BZ$20 million. The government is depending on various sources including the OAS. The UK Foreign Minister, Gillian Merron announced that the United Kingdom will contribute 200,000 pounds towards this fund.

This agreement is the necessary first step for both countries to agree to take the Guatemalan claims on Belize’s territory to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands if the people in both countries agree by the way of a referendum. The referendum will be held in Belize and Guatemala simultaneously and will ask the people if they agree that any legal claim to Guatemala against Belize relating to land and territories should be submitted to the International Court of Justice for final settlement. The ICJ (World Court) is the primary judicial organ of the United Nations. The main function of the ICJ is to settle legal disputes submitted to it by member states.

Present at the signing were the Foreign Ministers from both countries and addresses were delivered in the presence of the president of the OAS, Jose Miguel Insulza and other delegates.
The Honorable Wilfred Elrington, Belize’s Foreign Minister signed the agreement on behalf of Belize.

Elrington said after the signing, “The signing of this special agreement is a manifestation of the deep commitment on the part of the Government of Belize to put this claim behind us. While we in Government have agreed that the matter should go to the ICJ, our Governments, the Government of Belize and Guatemala have determined and agreed that it is the right of our people to make the final decision on this matter. Therefore it is our responsibility to put the question to them by way of referendum, to set the date for that to be held and for us to provide them with as much information as possible, so that they can make an intelligent decision when the time comes for them to do the signing. This is the process which we are now contemplating and embarking upon immediately after the signing of these two historic documents”.

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