Yes to the ICJ

By:Adrian Torres

Dear Editor,

The Belize Progressive Party’s (BPP) fiery rhetoric provides a necessary spark to the otherwise humdrum political discourse between the two major parties. In fact, it was the specter of the party’s activism that spooked the Barrow administration into enacting the wildly unpopular (and now rescinded) statutory instrument, prohibiting peaceful Belizeans from entering the Sarstoon River.

Yet, while the BPP’s unapologetic patriotism has ensured that the Belize-Guatemala territorial dispute remain at the forefront of our national conversation, the party’s blueprint for a solution is stenciled around a fundamental misunderstanding of international law and its institutions. As such, the BPP’s proposals are not only unworkable in practice, but also dangerous and reckless. Belizeans should not be convinced of its approach.

The BPP’s solution to the territorial dispute can be loosely summarized as follows. At the outset, the party rejects having our case heard before the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Instead, the BPP proposes that Belize “internationalizes” Guatemala’s claim and its aggression by doing two things: (1) bait the Guatemalan forces into committing overtly aggressive acts of violence against peaceful Belizeans and/or our military and (2) secure support from the United Nations Security Council.
With regard to the former, the party’s political leader, Patrick Rogers, has stated “It may very well tek wah real incident happening down there [to internationalize the issue], but that’s what the [BDF] is there for.” In other words, if Belizean lives are lost in an effort to eradicate whatever goodwill Guatemala has amassed within the global community, then so be it. It is shameful and appalling for a party that seeks to form the government to advocate an approach tantamount to reckless military gamesmanship. The annals of history are riddled with lessons that demonstrate the danger and inefficacy of this approach.

The second method through which the BPP proposes to internationalize this dispute – i.e. before the UN Security Council – is a classic dilemma of placing the cart before the horse. The BPP is ostensibly convinced that the Security Council can resolve our dispute with the stroke of a pen or a simple resolution; the Charter of the United Nations simply does not give the Security Council such power. But the UN Charter does grant the power to one other institution: the ICJ. Article 92 of the UN Charter states that the ICJ “shall be the principal judicial organ” of UN members.
Additionally, Article 94 of the Charter states that each country must comply with ICJ decisions in all cases to which it is a party. On this point, many, including the BPP, have argued that Guatemala would never abide by an ICJ decision in our favor, and have used such a hypothesis to scare Belizeans away from supporting an ICJ resolution.

But the drafters of the UN Charter never intended for the ICJ to have enforcement power, as Article 94 goes on to state: “If any party fails to perform the obligations incumbent upon it under a judgment rendered by the [ICJ], the other party may have recourse to the Security Council, which may, if it deems necessary, make recommendations or decide upon measures to be taken to give effect to the judgment.”
Therefore, it is the Security Council that is given the mandate to enforce decisions of the ICJ, while the court itself is tasked with performing a strictly adjudicative function. In this sense, the Security Council can only be called to action, insofar as this dispute is concerned, after the disputing parties have obtained a judicial resolution at the ICJ.

Accordingly, the BPP’s proposal to internationalize our cause at the Security Council, while simultaneously rejecting the ICJ process, is perplexing. Both the Security Council and the ICJ are organs of the UN, and the BPP’s proposal to convince the Security Council to take up this issue in lieu of a judicial approach at the ICJ directly contravenes the UN Charter to which Belize is a signatory.
What the BPP fails to grasp is that presenting our case before the ICJ is the most effective way to internationalize – and resolve – this territorial dispute. An ICJ decision in our favor would give us an audience with the Security Council in the event that Guatemala fails to abide by the decision, and the Security Council would be empowered to take appropriate measures to coerce Guatemala into conforming its behavior with the rule of law. While the BPP dismisses the ICJ approach as capitulating to intellectual elitism, its vapid, bombastic approach guarantees that Guatemala’s claim will linger for future generations of Belizeans to grapple with.

Going to the ICJ on the one hand and standing up in peaceful protest on the other are not mutually exclusive endeavors – both approaches are necessary and neither should be compromised at the expense of the other. Belize must therefore adopt and maintain both a grassroots and judicial approach to resolve our dispute with Guatemala. We should say “yes” to the ICJ and “no” to the BPP’s ill-fated approach.

Signed: Adrian Torres
* Adrian P. Torres ([email protected]) is an attorney in the Washington, DC office of Perkins Coie LLP. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Washington University in St. Louis and a law degree from Columbia University. The views expressed by him do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Perkins Coie LLP.

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