ICJ: Sovereignty over the Sapodilla Cayes (Belize/Honduras)

On 16 November 2022 Belize submitted an Application instituting proceedings against the Republic of Honduras with regard to a dispute concerning territorial sovereignty over the Sapodilla Cayes. As an application concerning a purported territorial sovereignty dispute over maritime features, the case –and any resulting Judgment– is of relevance to the application of the law of the sea, but is not itself a dispute concerning the interpretation or application of the law of the sea.

Nonetheless, the Application relies upon, among others, purported exercises of coastal state rights and jurisdiction to demonstrate a manifestation of sovereignty over the Sapodilla Cayes (Application, paras. 10 & 16 e.g. adjudicative jurisdiction concerning salvage claims and piracy; prescriptive jurisdiction over natural resources, fisheries and entry; military and coast guard activities around Sapodilla Cayes; and a definition of territorial sea by reference to the Sapodilla Cayes). A number of documents in the Annexes to the Application instituting proceedings also make reference to the dispute concerning “said cays and adjoining maritime areas” and maritime delimitation. The jurisdiction of the ICJ is based on Article XXXI of the Pact of Bogotá, to which Belize deposited its instrument of accession on 27 October 2022.

Indeed, considerations of maritime delimitation and the previously reported pending case before the ICJ, Guatemala’s Territorial, Insular and Maritime Claim (Guatemala/Belize), are evidently a key rationale behind the Application. Various press briefings and Senate Statements by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Immigration of Belize point to the potential for overlapping ‘related’ cases concerning, in part, Sapodilla Cayes, as well as the potential consequences of Honduras intervening in Guatemala’s Territorial, Insular and Maritime Claim (Guatemala/Belize).

For more information see the ICJ Press Release No. 2022/63.

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Filed under Jurisprudence, State Practice

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