Thursday, January 24, 2013

Public Education Campaign On Guatemala's Territorial Claim to Belize


Public Education Campaign – Launch
January 23rd, 2013
Belize City

We meet this morning to launch the Public Education Campaign leading up to a Referendum at which the Belizean people will be asked to vote Yes or No on the following question:

“Do you agree that any legal claim of Guatemala against Belize relating to land and insular territories and to any maritime areas pertaining to these territories should be submitted to the International Court of Justice for final settlement and that it determines finally the boundaries of the respective territories and areas of the Parties?”

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the question that will undoubtedly dominate our national conversation and consciousness for many months to come.

Our People’s United Party is obligated and committed to being a part of that National Conversation. Our Party’s National Executive meeting at Independence Hall on October 20th, 2012, made the following decisions:

1. The People’s United Party will participate in the Public Education Campaign. That participation has already began

2. Our Party will engage in an internal education campaign for its members and supporters at the end of which the Party will convene at Party Council to adopt its official position on this question.

3. The Public Education Campaign must be free from bias and must present to the Belizean people a comprehensive, objective analysis Not only of the proposed question, but also of the benefits and risks inherent in submitting ourselves to the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice.

The proposed question itself leads to important further questions.

1. What is in fact Guatemala’s “legal claim” against Belize?

2. What specific land, insular territories and maritime areas form a part of the claim?

3. What exactly is the role and function of the International Court of Justice; and how is “final settlement” defined by the Court.

These are questions to which the Belizean people must be given clear, comprehensive answers.
Similarly the arguments for a Yes or No vote must be exhaustively advanced and discussed. Those who support going to the I.C.J. argue that it represents a final and definitive settlement of the long – standing Anglo – Guatemalan dispute and Guatemala’s claim to Belize, and can lead to new opportunities for funding National Development Programs and Border Security.
They find comfort in the legal opinions of leading international lawyers who view Belize’s Case as Iron – Clad.

Those in support of a “NO” vote anchor their arguments in Belize’s Independence and Sovereignty, our history of development and international recognition, and our right to self- determination. Why risk all this, they ask, before a supranational institution which may not have our interests at heart, and whose history is skewed toward compromise.
And they ask, “Is Guatemala serious this time?”

Indeed Belizeans have every justification for being filled with skepticism and cynicism as it relates to Guatemala’s good faith commitment to the process we are currently engaged in.
Our very own Ambassador Jim Murphy writing in the Belizean Studies Volume 26 No. 2 of December 2004 asked: “Does anyone in Guatemala really want to bring this thing to an end?”
His conclusion:

“Guatemala declares valid and binding treaties VOID; in effect denies the course of 350 years of historical development in Belize; disputes the validity of United Nations resolutions; calls the right of all peoples to self-determination, a principle of international law, irrelevant; fails to implement agreements reached; stages military threats even in the midst of negotiating, sanctions illegal squatter settlements near the border in Belize; and undermines Charter Commitments to the peaceful settlement of disputes. Not exactly a reassuring track record for resolving outstanding differences via the I.C.J. or otherwise.” (End of quote)

The Guatemala claim is an issue of deepest concern to Belizeans who are justly proud of our nation and guard our national territory jealously. The right of Belize to its territory is confirmed by the principle of self-determination, a well-established norm of modern international law. This means that Belizeans were entitled to determine our future and did so upon attaining Independence in 1981. Our right to self-determination was recognized virtually unanimously by the members of the United Nations and Belize was admitted as a member in the full knowledge, by the members, of Guatemala’s claim.

This did not mean that Guatemala’s claim, although unfounded, went away. Belizeans have grappled with this unjust claim, for decade upon decade, and have, as a people resisted, with every national fibre, any formulation of “Belice es nuestro”, in every political and international forum possible, loudly, vigorously and consistently.

There must be no doubt that it is the PEOPLE of Belize who will decide how this most serious matter will be decided. That is what our Constitution mandates – that is your guarantee under our Constitution – that the people of Belize must approve any solution to the Guatemala Claim. You are being asked to decide. You are the ones who MUST be consulted, and whose OPINIONS, VIEWS, and VOTES ultimately decide if we go – or not – to the I.C.J.

Citizens are therefore challenged – to learn as much as you can about the claim, and the history of the claim, and familiarize yourself with Belize’s position, learn the pros, the cons, the risks and the advantages of taking this matter to the I.C.J. – not only do you owe this to yourself, you owe this to your children and their children in turn

I ask you today – study, reflect, discuss, debate, argue, challenge, absorb – but take this issue seriously so that in the years to come, you know that you made a difference in your nation, in your home – that in her hour of need, you responded to the call and defended the Jewel. History expects no less of any of us.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Education Campaign we embark upon today will further test our already fragile sense and spirit of national unity. There are good people who wish to vote NO and there are good people who intend to vote YES. We must all understand and respect that.

- This issue must not and will not further divide us. After all, above all else, we are proud Belizeans.


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