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FORMER I.C.J JUDGE FEELS BELIZE HAS A STRONG CASE AT I.C.J

FORMER I.C.J JUDGE FEELS BELIZE HAS A STRONG CASE AT I.C.J
October 19
15:12 2018
REPORTER: Marion Ali, - 

Former Judge at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and Law Professor, Carlos Bernal, says that Belize has a strong case, if we decide in our Referendum next April to take our territorial dispute with Guatemala to the ICJ for a peaceful settlement.

The legal expert was speaking to a group of local journalists in Mexico City today as part of a sponsored US Embassy ICJ Education Campaign dubbed “From Fear to Facts; Demystifying the International Court of Justice”. The campaign involves a trip next month to the Hague in the Netherlands, Europe, which would make a final ruling on whether or not Guatemala has a legitimate claim to Belizean territory.

The journalists are in Mexico City where they applied for their Schengen Visas to go on their special assignment to the Hague.

Professor Bernal shared his perspective on the claim and explained what going to the ICJ would mean for both countries. He said that while he has not closely studied the Belize-Guatemala dispute and while there is always a legal risk of going to court, he thinks Guatemala has very little rights to its claim. “Now, like everything, it can be negotiated. It can be useful for Belize to give them (Guatemala) a way out to the Atlantic Ocean near Puerto Barrios. That would be negotiations between the two countries, but I don’t think there is a legal right of Guatemala.”

Professor Bernal pointed to countries like Honduras and El Salvador, Chile and Peru, Argentina and Uruguay, that have all gone to the ICJ to settle their disputes. He explained that countries with disputes go to the ICJ with an understanding that the Court has jurisdiction to settle the case and to make the final ruling on the disputes.

“At the International Court of Justice, if you read the rules, they are very few. Why? Because the parties are sovereign nations; they are not persons, so once they submit to the Court, the Judges, in agreement with the parties, says ‘Belize, you have eight months to introduce “memorials.” After the eight months, Guatemala will have exactly the same time to present memorials. …The parties are given exactly the same time to present their case,” he explained.

US Embassy’s Public Affairs Officer, Natella Svistunova told the Reporter that the US Embassy is organizing interviews for the journalists with a series of legal experts and people who have knowledge of how the ICJ works and what its role is.

“We want you to see firsthand, tour the ICJ to observe what is this institution. It’s the United Nations’ highest court. What is its jurisdiction; what happens there; what types of cases are heard there; how do the cases get there; who are the judges,” Ms Svistunova shared.

Another part of the campaign also involves a trip to Guatemala for the journalists in December, to “take a pulse of the people there,” the US Embassy official shared.

If the majority of Belizeans vote to take our case to the ICJ, a panel of 17 Judges will rule on the presentations, based on international law.

(Professor Carlos Bernal, Former ICJ Judge)

(Natella Svistunova, US Embassy’s Public Relations Officer)

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