Law Expert confident on Belize dealings with ICJ

There is no longer a referendum scheduled for October 6th to decide whether Belize goes to the ICJ. Even so, the discussion on the Belize Guatemala issue continues. Last week professor from the University of Wollongong School of Law in Australia, Warwick Gullett, stopped in Belize as part of a Caribbean lecture tour. His topic is a timely one: the delimitation of maritime boundaries with specific reference to the Belize-Guatemala dispute. Professor Gullett was hosted by the Caribbean Fisheries Mechanism and cited numerous cases from Norway and Sweden to Colombia and Nicaragua which were settled by means of negotiation, or arbitration before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) or the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). He discusses some of what the courts are looking for in these cases.

Professor Warwick Gullett – University Lecturer:
vlcsnap-2013-05-06-20h28m29s222Courts in these situations rely on what’s called effectivities.  This is giving weight to official actions, administrative actions of Governments.  Now because we’re dealing with offshore islands, often uninhabited, the bar tends to be set very low about what evidence is sufficient to demonstrate sovereignty.  So for example, in the Eritrea/Yemen arbitration ruling, it was stated that the criteria for effectivities must be “tempered to suit the nature of the territory and the size of the population, if any, on the islands.  So what may look at first glance to be very flimsy evidence of a claim of soverignty or ownership might actually be critical.

One potential problem the professor sees is the Sapodilla Cayes. They were a deal breaker under the Heads of Agreement when Belize and Guatemala could not reach agreement on their usage. But a third party, Honduras, also has eyes on the range.

Professor Warwick Gullett – University Lecturer:
What is the evidence of Belize’s claim to Sapodilla Cays? Well, I know that Belize administers them as a marine reserve.  I do not know Honduras’ evidence other than this chart in which their called Cayos Zapotillos, and they also feature in the Honduran Constitution.  But simply having one country produce a map that says it’s theirs is pretty weak evidence.

Professor Warwick Gullett supposes that Guatemala may be entitled to as much sea as she can get for the fisheries and exclusive economic zone, because of her concave Caribbean coastline which is sandwiched between Belize and Honduras. But his overall opinion of the claim is “thumbs down.”

Professor Gullett – University Lecturer:
I don’t see any difficulty about Belize maintaining sovereignty over the land territory.  So hopefully that Southern border is absolutely precisely determined and we have the end-point at land, from which point the maritime claims can then be made. From my look at the relevant islands, I think there’s no question about Belize having sovereignty over the relevant islands, including the Sapodilla Cays.

Profesor Gullett emphasized that whether in negotiation or arbitration, fairness is the key for both sides.

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