Maritime Areas Act to be amended Print E-mail
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Friday, 17 May 2019 00:00

Following the YES vote on the ICJ, Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow announced that one of the first steps to be taken to move the matter along will be the amending of the Maritime Areas Act. As it stands, the Act limits Belize’s claim to three miles of the sea at the mouth of the Sarstoon. This was done to facilitate a channel for Guatemala to have access to the seas while Belize and Guatemala were in negotiations. Since there will no longer be any negotiations, Belize will now be claiming all that it is entitled to under international law.

P.M. Barrow told the press that with the claim, there is not much that is expected to change operationally in the southern waters he explained that, “ I don’t expect that anything will change on the ground, or in the sea, as it were it is just to preserve, to make absolutely sure that we preserve our rights for the case that’s going to be argued. I don’t expect that there should be any difficulty at all. That’s not what the intention, to create any problem for our neighbor; not at all,” he said,

Legal counsel for the government of Belize on this matter, Lisa Shoman, further explained to The Guardian that, “the amendment is to remove the three-mile limitation that was in place only to serve as a platform for negotiation. We are not in negotiations any more. Moving to the ICJ means we are past that, so that possibility of auto-limiting ourselves to three miles in the south will be removed. We will claim up to the extent of what we can claim. You are allowed 12 miles but if you can’t get 12 miles then it is the mid-point between the two,” she said. Shoman also noted that there is also the consideration that has to be given to Honduras as they too share territorial waters. She said that as a result of that the three countries’ claims inevitable intersect one another.

As for the original Act, Shoman noted that “the only reason we were doing this limitation was in case we could get a settlement. And if we got a settlement, we would have had to bring it to the Belizean people. The Belizean people, our bosses, have now told us go to the ICJ. So, we don’t need this anymore so that part will be amended but the Maritime Areas Act is still important in terms of the EEZ the 12-mile territorial sea zone, all of that. But there are important aspects of it which won’t change but that section that has to do to the little limitation to three miles will now be removed,” she explained.

Prime Minister Barrow explained that there already exists an amended Act which was prepared by international lawyers. It is now a matter of reviewing it and thereafter taking it to Cabinet for a decision. That decision was taken on Tuesday May 14 where Cabinet has approved that the 1992 bill be taken to the House of Representatives for amendment.

PM Barrow also stated that they will also be sending a copy of the draft bill to the Opposition for them to review. He stated that he was hoping for complete unanimous support.  The matter will be taken to the House on Monday, May 20 and submitted to the Senate on the following day, May 21.

When that is done, the ICJ will formally be notified as to result of the referendum and the government will inform them that it is in a position to submit the claim to their jurisdiction. PM Barrow stated that thereafter Guatemala and Belize have a month before the, “clock starts running.”

The process will first see Guatemala getting a year to memorialize their position. The Belizean government then has a year to respond. Guatemala will then be given an opportunity to reply to Belize’s response and then Belize can once again reply to their response. It is expected to be a long drawn out process to run between four to six years to complete.

Belize’s legal representation will be handled by Freshfields Brukhaus Deringer, which will be the coordinating firm. Ambassador Assad Shoman has been appointed as Agent for Belize and Ambassador Alexis Rosado will be Co-Agent.

The role of the Agent is to represent Belize officially at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and to monitor and coordinate the work ahead that Belize’s team of lawyers and other experts will undertake as Belize takes its case to the ICJ.

Last Updated on Friday, 17 May 2019 10:57