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185- Sovereignty over the Sapodilla Cayes (Belize vs Honduras)

On November 16th, 2022, the State of Belize (the applicant State) filed an application instituting proceedings against the Republic of Honduras (the defendant State) in respect of their dispute over the Sapodilla Cayes.

Indeed, Belize claims that it has sovereignty over the Sapodilla Cayes since its accession to independence in 1981. Before that, the British Kingdom exercised peaceful and continuous possession over the territories in question, as the colonial power for 200 years. For example, the exercise by UK magistrates of their jurisdiction over the cayes of Sapodilla, express declarations confirming sovereignty, including through the publication of official maps, protests against the behaviour of other states, incompatible with British sovereignty or the granting of licenses for the exploitation of natural resources.

According to the applicant State, Honduras had never exercised — or purported to exercise — any sovereignty over the cayes of Sapodilla. In fact, prior to 1981, it repeatedly recognized British sovereignty. It was not until 1981, when Belize’s independence from the United Kingdom was imminent, that Honduras first claimed the Sapodilla Cayes. This claim was rejected by the colonial power which, in a speech delivered at the UN at the time of Belize’s accession to independence, never doubted that the Cayes belonged to the new state of Belize taking over from the UK.

However, after Belize gained independence, Honduras promulgated, in January 1982, a new Constitution which expressly states that the Sapodilla Cayes belong to it. It is in this context that Belize has referred the matter to the ICJ.

This summary is provided for informational purposes only, does not involve the responsibility of Dome and should in no way be used as a substitute for a careful reading of the judgment and order of the case.