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Feb 19, 2016

Annual Law Conference takes on Border Dispute

Today, members of the Bar and the Bench gathered at the Belize Biltmore Plaza for a forum of sorts. It was dubbed a law conference, but the focus wasn’t law, legal matters or the judiciary. Convened by the Bar Association, the session was entitled – The Belize Guatemala Border Dispute – When and How Do We Draw the Line? The all day education and information session covered everything dispute related – from background to the ICJ, and included participation from eminent presenters. Mike Rudon dropped in during a break and has the story.


Mike Rudon, Reporting

It seems that particularly in the past year, the Belize/Guatemala dispute – or perhaps more accurately the moves to resolve that dispute – have been under constant scrutiny. As we saw today, even the attorneys from the Bar Association have decided that it’s past time for them to pay attention and even to become involved.


Jacqueline Marshalleck

Jacqueline Marshalleck, President, Bar Association

“The Belize Guatemala dispute certainly has its diplomatic elements but it also has its legal elements. I think that as the discussion becomes more public and the education exercise progresses, the Bar Association and attorneys at large will generally be expected to comment or assist people in understanding the process. There will be questions about the Court and what should happen and I think there is an assumption that because we are attorneys that we know and that we have all the answers. There are certainly some attorneys in the Bar who are very well-versed in international law and on the Belize Guatemala dispute, but we also recognize that there are attorneys who are not that familiar with the details of the dispute. We also wanted an opportunity to determine what was fact from what might be fiction so that people are clear on what are the facts on the ground…people are clear on what are the facts in terms of the diplomatic process and how things have moved along over the years.”


Former Foreign Ministers and longtime dispute negotiators Assad Shoman and Eamon Courtenay were presenters today – with a focus on how we got to this point, where we need to go and what we need to do.


Assad Shoman

Assad Shoman, Presenter

“I think we need to take back the agenda, take back the initiative. I think for the last few years Guatemala has been pushing the envelope. They have been saying what we should do and what we shouldn’t do. They have been saying we should go to referendum, we can’t go to referendum, they keep postponing dates and then they came up with the idea of let’s get a little more cozy, sign agreements between ourselves and we get to trust each more and then it’ll be more likely for us to go to referendum. I don’t think that’s true. I think we need to take back the initiative and decide ourselves what we’re going to do to push this thing forward and finally end that claim.”


Eamon Courtenay, Presenter

“Taking back the agenda to my mind means dealing with what is happening on the ground. There are security threats in the Sarstoon and on the Western border. There is serious contraband, trafficking in persons, trafficking in drugs, degradation of the forest. Those are the things that need to be dealt with and we need to deal with it aggressively – do it aggressively with the support of the international community. Internationalization to me means that we want to have a negotiation that leads to the ground…what is really happening and what is affecting people’s lives improving. That is what is a pre-condition in my view to a resolution.”


Courtenay says that it has become clear that a negotiated settlement will not happen, so certain things need to be put in place with a view to a speedy resolution.


Eamon Courtenay

Eamon Courtenay

“I think the Sarstoon has become a problem and we need to deal with that. The suggestion from Assad which I think we all agree with is that we may need new confidence building measures for the Sarstoon…one specially designed for the Sarstoon. Then after that the question is how do we get to the ICJ if that is what the people in Guatemala and the people in Belize want. My view has been that we need to build confidence on both sides of the borders. We have to become good neighbors. Guatemala has to stop doing the illegal things that it has been doing because many of the people that have been coming across come across with impunity and Guatemala does very little about it. To put it very succinctly we need circumstances that are going to be conducive to both sides to vote yes in the referendum because I think we all agree that we will never have a negotiated settlement. It’s just now for the people to decide whether they want to go to the Court or not.”


Shoman claims that Belize has been impeccable in its actions, and any hindrances, delays and acts of bad faith can be put squarely in Guatemala’s court. But he also pointed out that we as a people need to become more knowledgeable and to act from that knowledge.


Assad Shoman

“The Belizean people have to wake up a little more. They don’t seem to realize that we have an imminent threat. Things are getting worse. The Sarstoon is just the tip of the iceberg of what can happen if we don’t have an international presence. The O.A.S. office is there as a result of the facilitation process. The O.A.S. office will not stay there if they don’t see an end to this thing, and they are running out of funding and the funding comes from international bodies and governments that have faith that this thing is going somewhere. If they feel that it is going nowhere either because of Guatemala’s or Belize’s positions, then we will lose that presence.”


The session also included a presentation by Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington, the man leading the diplomatic discourse with Guatemala. Mike Rudon for News Five.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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1 Response for “Annual Law Conference takes on Border Dispute”

  1. ariana says:

    i wish i would hear about this stuff before it happens not after so the rest of us could have a chance to also be educated in it.

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