Guatemalans vote in national referendum on referring a border dispute to the ICJ

Guatemalans vote in national referendum on referring a border dispute to the ICJ

Guatemalans will head to the polls today to vote on whether a 150-year old border dispute with Belize should be

guatemala-to-vote-on-path-to-settle-belize-border-dispute

Photo: Agence France-Presse

Guatemalans will head to the polls today to vote on whether a 150-year old border dispute with Belize should be put to the International Court of Justice.

The dispute stems from the 1859 Treaty between Guatemala and British Honduras, now Belize, which demarcated the current border between the two countries. Guatemala declared the treaty void in 1940 and now claims some 12,000 square kilometres of Belizean land—over half of the country’s total territory.

As both Guatemala and Belize must decide via referendum to resolve the issue at the ICJ, it is unlikely there will be a case anytime soon. Even today’s vote may fail to achieve a yes majority, although polling has been sparse. Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales is unpopular, while the population is indifferent to the border issue: voter turnout today could be as low as ten percent.

For Belize, it could be worth bringing the case to the ICJ. As Guatemala’s claims stand on shaky legal grounds, there is reason for Belize to believe the court would rule in its favour and could deter Guatemalan incursions that have caused damage to its forest resources.