BELMOPAN, Belize, Mar 16, CMC – Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin will on April 1 hear arguments for an interim injunction to prevent Belize from holding a national referendum on whether to go to before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to settle its long standing border dispute with Guatemala.
The referendum is due to be held on April 10. Guatemala has already held its referendum.
Attorneys representing the six members of the main opposition People’s United Party (PUP) are asking the Court to determine the legality of the special agreement signed in 2008 that ended negotiations and opened the way to take the territorial dispute between Belize and Guatemala to the ICJ.
According to Article 5 of the Agreement, “the parties shall accept the decision of the Court as final and binding, and undertake to comply with and implement it in full and in good faith. In particular, the parties agree that, within three months of the date of the Judgment of the Court, they will agree on the composition and terms of reference of a Bi-national Commission to carry out the demarcation of their boundaries in accordance with the decision of the Court. If such agreement is not reached within three months, either party may request the Secretary General of the Organization of American States to appoint the members of the Binational Commission and to prescribe its Terms of Reference, after due consultation with the parties.”
Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay also filed on behalf of his clients an interim injunction on the April 10 referendum, which will be heard on April1 with a decision to be handed down before the referendum is held.
“I don’t want to prejudge what the Honourable Chief Justice might find. We believe that there are compelling reasons for this matter to be before the Court and that is why I stress to the Chief justice that the government itself is saying that this raises a matter of national importance,” Courtenay told reporters following the hearing on Friday.
“If both sides agree that it is a matter of national importance, it seems to me that the government can easily give an undertaking that it will put off the referendum until the Supreme Court has determined this matter. Let’s not forget that Guatemala postponed their referendum twice. There is no magic to the tenth of April and so I believe the rule of law must prevail and this matter should be completed before the referendum is held,” he added.
But Solicitor General Eliza Montalvo, who is leading the team representing the government of Belize, said essentially the claimants are asking for two things.
“Essentially, they were asking for two things. For the Prime Minister (Dean Barrow) to be prevented from asking the Governor General to hold writs of referendum. In fact that has already happened. That request was made back in January and the writs were issued in February, so this is well after any such request. “So what I signalled to the court is that Mister Courtenay accepts that that has already happened. So what we will be arguing over in terms of injunction only will be the matter of whether the referendum can or should be conducted,” she added.
Shoman questioned why the claimants waited until now to file an injunction since the Compromis and the referendum was agreed to from 2008. She said that the Court will be asked to look at a case of convenience versus justice.
“The issue of convenience is the issue of justice. In other words, there are Belizeans who want the referendum to be stopped. Among those people are the claimants for their reasons. There are equally Belizeans who wish the referendum to go on because the government has announced that it will be held and they have a legitimate expectation that it will be held,” Shoman said.
Oral arguments are set for April 1 with the defendants filing and serving affidavits by March 22 and written submission will be given on March 25.
Courtenay has hinted at the possibility of the matter going to the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), which is the country’s highest court.
“If the Chief Justice were to say no to the injunction, we have the option on moving on an emergency basis to the court of appeal and thereafter on an emergency basis to the Caribbean Court of Justice.
“But all of that is prejudging what is going to happen. We believe that the interest of justice and the rule of law will require that the claimants have their day in court before the referendum is held,” he added.