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EDITORIAL – March 15th. 2019

EDITORIAL – March 15th. 2019
March 15
11:17 2019

By Mr. Henry Lawrence

Guatemala’s revised Constitution of 1951 claimed the whole of Belize as her 23rd Province, and even though she professed that she wanted to settle the dispute by negotiated settlement, there were times when she threatened to use force to enforce her claim.

As the end of the 20th Century rolled into view it became increasingly clear that Guatemala was not about to give up on her claim to Belize, and that diplomatic negotiations were not working.

So in 1998 the Prime Minister of Belize, the Hon. George Price, determined that Belize would eventually have to take the matter to the ICJ, and with this end in view he and his Foreign Minister, the Hon. Assad Shoman, embarked on a campaign to garner international support for Belize’s cause.

The campaign was immensely successful. Belize won the support of the Commonwealth, the Organization of American States and the Association of African States. Guatemala stood alone in her claim against Belize.

Prime Minister Price became convinced that if Guatemala remained intransigent the matter might indeed have to be submitted to the ICJ. He caused the Belize Government to approach four eminent international lawyers and asked them to give their legal opinion which would, strictly on the basis of international law, consider whether Guatemala could validly question Belize’s sovereignty to the territory of Belize or any part of it.

The team was headed by the eminent British international lawyer, Sir Elihue Lauterpacht. Judge Stephen Schwebel, an American jurist of high repute and former President of the ICJ, was a member of this team. The others were Professor Shabatai Rosenne, an Israeli international expert and Professor Francisco Orrego Vicuna, a Chilean international expert. Every member of the team has had extensive ties to the ICJ.

The report, entitled “Legal Opinion on Guatemala’s Territorial Claim to Belize,” was completed in November 2001 and released to the international community.

This is the most studious, most comprehensive study ever undertaken on the dispute. It examined in minute detail the doctrine of Uti Possidetis,the protocol on which Guatemala has based her claim to Belize, and it quoted excerpts from previous ICJ judgements as well as from the Vienna Convention in the Law of Treaties.

The study concluded that this doctrine of Uti possidetis “entirely irrevelant by reason of the fact that the title of Belize to its territory has been recognized by Guatemala in two treaties.”

Guatemala can use her laws and her constitution to revoke these two treaties, if she chooses to do so, but she has no authority and no power to change or adjust any portion of the borders which these two treaties establish.

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