Through referenda, Belizeans and Guatemalans voted in favor of resolving their territorial, insular and maritime differendum in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands.

In Belize the referendum was held on May 8, 2019 with 55% of voters opted to send the matter to the ICJ to decide on Guatemala’s claim. In Guatemala, the referendum took place on April 15, 2018 and resulted in a “yes” vote by an overwhelming majority of 95% of the population agreeing to send the dispute to the ICJ for a final decision.

The support provided by the OAS in both countries was pivotal to the successful outcome of the national referenda. These results reaffirmed the continued political will of both governments to adhere to the 2008 Special Agreement and resolve the dispute through the ICJ.

Until the case is resolved by the ICJ, it is important that the OAS Office in the Adjacency Zone (OAS/AZ) continues operating to fulfil its functions as a civilian peace-building mission.

Background Information

On August 2, 2017, the Guatemalan Congress supported the decision to hold its referendum and tasked the Supreme Electoral Tribunal to begin preparations for its convocation. Subsequently, on October 23rd, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, in the presence of the President of Guatemala, issued the call for the referendum on April 15, 2018, in which the people of Guatemala voted ‘Yes’ to take the claim to the ICJ.

On January 13, 2017 the government of Belize amended its referendum law; removing the requirement for 60% of the electorate to turn out for the process to be deemed valid. The new law requires only a simple majority vote to decide the outcome of the referendum.

On May 25, 2015, the Belizean Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon. Wilfred Elrington, and Guatemalan Foreign Minister Carlos Raul Morales, together with the outgoing Secretary General of the OAS José Miguel Insulza, signed the Protocol to Amend the Special Agreement, to allow the referenda to be held either simultaneously or separately. During the ceremony, Guatemalan Foreign Minister Carlos Raul Morales confirmed the completion of Guatemala’s internal procedures to enable the implementation of 9 of the 13 cooperation agreements signed in December 2014, and reiterated Guatemala’s firm commitment to obtain the ratification of the remaining agreements and to submit the dispute to the ICJ.

On December 17, 2014, the Prime Minister of Belize, Dean Barrow, and the President of Guatemala, Otto Perez Molina, signed thirteen bilateral agreements in key action areas, which constituted not only an unprecedented step in the process but a historic accomplishment; so much so that the government of Belize honoured the OAS Secretary General with the most prestigious award bestowed upon a civilian foreigner: the Order of Distinction of Belize, in recognition of his diplomatic efforts and support in the advancement of the negotiation process between Belize and Guatemala. Likewise, in a parallel negotiation process, the security and armed forces of Belize and Guatemala adopted, under the auspices of the OAS, three highly significant agreements in strategic areas such as military to military cooperation; intelligence exchange; and joint police task forces, with a view to expanding and strengthening cooperation mechanisms, including coordinated operations among these security agencies to combat illegal activities and organized transnational crime.

On January 24, 2014, the Foreign Ministers of Belize and Guatemala, Wilfred Elrington and Fernando Carrera, and the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, signed at the headquarters of the multilateral Organization an agreement entitled "Road Map and Plan of Action", which has as its main objective the strengthening of the bilateral relationship between the two countries during 2014 so that a new date to hold the referenda can be fixed.

On January 17, 2014, the Deputy Foreign Ministers of Belize (CEO) and Guatemala met at the OAS Office in the Adjacency Zone to draft the Road Map Agreement that the respective Foreign Ministers will sign on January 24th at OAS Headquarters with the OAS Secretary General. The Agreement consists of the commitment of both countries to strengthen the bilateral relationship via a series of meetings of various sectors to facilitate greater exchanges as the best way to create a climate of confidence conducive to the fixing of a date to hold the necessary referenda to lead to the International Court of Justice.

On January 9, 2014, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Belize and of Guatemala along with their delegations held a successful and productive meeting in Belize City, to discuss various matters of mutual interest. They agreed that it is necessary to build more bridges and not a wall between their two countries. Both agreed that Belize and Guatemala must be partners in development and security and that they have many challenges to overcome jointly.

On May 30, 2013, the Deputy Foreign Ministers of Belize and Guatemala met in Guatemala City with the Special Representative of the Secretary General and agreed on the establishment of additional CBMs, including exchanges between parliamentarians, business people and representatives of the respective media. Likewise, it was agreed that both countries would continue with their sensitization campaigns aimed at educating the public about the history of the differendum and the advantages of submitting the dispute to the ICJ for final settlement, as well as with carrying out regular surveys and public opinion polls to monitor electoral trends.

On May 8, 2013, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Belize and Guatemala met with the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) to identify concrete measures that would enable the negotiation process to move forward, following the postponement of the referenda to submit the centuries-old dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), previously scheduled to take place on October 6th, 2013. With a view to safeguarding the Special Agreement, the Parties agreed to expanding the confidence-building measures that currently guide the process and to convene a meeting of the High-level Working Group to draft the new CBMs.

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On April 27, 2012, at the headquarters of the OAS, delegations from Belize and Guatemala, headed by their respective Foreign Ministers, Wilfred Elrington and Harold Caballeros, met with OAS Secretary General, José Miguel Insulza, to determine the date on which the single issue referenda will take place in both countries in compliance with the Special Agreement between Belize and Guatemala to submit Guatemala’s Territorial, Insular and Maritime claim to the International Court of Justice.

In a cordial and cooperative atmosphere and with a view to advancing with the process, the Ministers agreed that the referenda will take place on October 6, 2013. To this end, the Ministers stated that they would now take the necessary steps to begin informing the populations in their respective countries to sensitize them as to the territorial dispute, as well as on the need to find a peaceful and permanent solution to the differendum.

The Secretary General congratulated both Ministers for this important decision and reiterated the General Secretariat´s willingness to support the process, as well as to seek the concrete support of the international community towards this end.

The Ministers also agreed that they would convene a high-level meeting during the month of June to examine compliance with the confidence-building measures, as well as to identify activities directed at strengthening cooperation between the inhabitants of the Belize-Guatemala Adjacency Zone.

A gallery of photos of the event is available here