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November 30
15:11 2018
THE REPORTER:  News Staff, -  

While it is commonplace for neighbouring countries to have border conflicts; if the Belize/Guatemala land dispute were to wind up before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) it would be a claim for the ICJ’s history books; that’s because there has been only one other case brought before this Court where one country is claiming almost half of another. That is the Venezuela vs. Guyana dispute, which is over Guyana’s Essequibo region, which encompasses two thirds of the former British colony, since US oil giant Exxon Mobil discovered oil in disputed waters off its coast in 2015.

Guatemala’s claim is from the Sibun to the Sarstoon Rivers – about 43 percent of Belize. And in all the years that the ICJ has existed, since 1946, it has never settled a dispute that could literally cut a country’s size by half, if the claimant were to win its case.

A legal official of the ICJ met with Belizean journalists in the Court’s Red Room today, where the Court’s 15 judges congregate before they file into their seats in the adjacent courtroom. During that informative session, we learned that there are two classifications of cases that come before the ICJ: contentious, which require a judgment to be complied with by the disputing parties and advisory cases, where the parties seek only an advisory opinion from the Judges that is not binding, since they only seek an answer to a legal question.

If a country that comes before the ICJ happens to have a Judge on the bench, it is expected to appoint an ad hoc Judge to join the rest over the period of the deliberations.

The Judges, who are regarded as the best legal minds from all over the world, are quite humble individuals, respectful towards each other and expected to be so because the whole purpose of the ICJ is to find peaceful solutions. The Court is influenced by no one and nothing other than the arguments presented by the disputing parties.

“The ICJ is not a political organ,” the law expert told us, indicating that when the judges deliberate over a case, their arguments are focused on the matter before them rather than towards each other. All countries are considered to be equal and in international law, there is no hierarchal or super-national system.

The Judges deliberate for five days in the first instance, discussing the case presented and making written and oral presentations of their own among themselves on the position they have taken on the matter. The president of the ICJ summarizes the outcome and the panel then goes through written amendments to their presentations and then a drafting committee puts the Judges’ amended documents together – a process that can take a few weeks to be done.

The Judges once again review their amended presentations and may have additional amendments to their position papers. It is also possible in going over the amended documents, that individual Judges who had taken a certain position initially can be swayed by convincing arguments presented by a fellow Judge, either during the first or second stage of their deliberations, but this has only happened once so far. The second stage of deliberations can also take up to a week before a final position is given among them.

The law official shared that an ICJ judgment is thought to be the most carefully drafted judgments given because of the tedious process it goes through each step of the way. This is why a date is never announced for a final judgment to be given.

An enforcement mechanism is not in place at the ICJ for disputing parties to adhere to following a judgment. “What we have is the UN Charter and the Security Council who then demands what measures to take against the non-compliant state,” the law official informed. This is never done by use of force but through peaceful steps, including economic sanctions. However, there is an implementation rate of around 95 percent on judgments that have been given by the ICJ.


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