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Mar 4, 2019

A Legal Opinion on I.C.J. by Professor Stephen Vasciannie

The anticipated expert opinion on the Guatemala claim to Belize is now available. The Bar Association commissioned and is now in receipt of the opinion from a Caribbean expert on international law.  The highly respected attorney and professor, Stephen Vasciannie was scheduled to present his opinion publicly, but since he will not be available in Belize, the Bar Association is undertaking to so do.  His writing is the second since Professor Sir Eli Lauterpacht produced one on January 2002. A review of both draws similarities. In the fifty-two-page document, Vasciannie looks at the strengths and weaknesses of the Belize case should the territorial dispute land before the International Court of Justice after the April tenth referendum.  Vasciannie, however, goes one step further. He discusses developments on the Belize side of the Sarstoon where Belizeans now need permission to traverse and where the Guatemalan Armed Forces freely navigate.


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

In her address during the ceremonial opening of the Supreme Court back in January, Senior Counsel Cheryl Lyn Vidal, in her capacity as president of the Bar Association, stated that the national fraternity of lawyers would be hosting an open discussion to discuss the I.C.J. referendum.


Cheryl-Lyn Vidal

Cheryl-Lyn Vidal, President, Bar Association

“One of the major activities in that week would also be a public forum in relation to the upcoming I.C.J. referendum.  The aim of the association is to assist in public awareness and education so that voters can make a properly informed decision.”


On the heels of that discussion, the bar proceeded to seek an independent legal opinion on the matter of Belize going to the world court to settle the territorial dispute with Guatemala.  That expert view is being presented by Professor Stephen Vasciannie of the University of the West Indies.  The preeminent legal mind has maintained the connection between theory and practice in the area of law through his participation in the work of the International Law Commission of the United Nations.  Assigned to study the strengths and weaknesses of Belize’s case, Professor Vasciannie also presents the first legal opinion on the presence of the Guatemalan Armed Forces and its actions in the Sarstoon.  According to his opinion on that subject, Vasciannie says that if Guatemala’s objective is an attempt to obtain title, it would amount to an attempt at annexation.  However, if title were to be acquired, Guatemala would need to establish that Belize has, quote, slept on its rights.  He further goes on to say that from 2015 onward, it is not sufficient time for Guatemala to say that Belize has abdicated those rights.  In his summary, Vasciannie concluded that the 1859 Treaty was not a treaty of cession, stating in Article 29, “the evidence that the 1859 Treaty was not completed as a treaty of cession is quite strong.”  In presenting the weakness in Belize’s case, Vasciannie opines that the main weakness is in determining the date of the original British title.  He also says, “Finally, it is important to ensure that all key documents are available to the lawyers as they prepare for litigation.  In addition to strengthening the case for Belize, this will also prevent the possibility of surprise in the litigation, an ever present risk when more than three hundred years of documentary evidence have to be assessed.” Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.


In the days to come, it is expected that lawyers in Belize will weigh in on the opinion.

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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