GEORGETOWN, GUYANA - The United Nations International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea based in Hamburg is expected to pronounce on the Guyana/Suriname border dispute tomorrow, Foreign Minister Dr Rudy Insanally announced yesterday.
It was anticipated that the long-awaited and much-anticipated decision would have been given during the first quarter or thereabout of this year, but due to some practical procedural matters which had to be finalised, there has been some delay in bringing conclusion to the matter.
Speaking with this newspaper on the issue, Mr. Insanally disclosed that the decision is “very imminent” and will be announced “within a week”.
“I don’t want to comment on the outcome of the case but I can say that our lawyers did a fantastic job…we had a very, very good case,” Insanally assured.
His Ministry, a few hours later, issued a statement saying it has been informed by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which is the Registry of the Tribunal requested to delimit definitively the boundary between Guyana and Suriname, and that the award of the Tribunal will be made public by tomorrow.
According to the Foreign Ministry, the announcement will be made public by 16:00 h tomorrow.
The Guyanese Foreign Minister in an exclusive interview with the Guyana Chronicle a few weeks ago, urged that caution and patience be exercised, noting that the decision and its announcement lies solely in the hands of the UN Tribunal on the Law of the Sea.
“We have to be very patient. It’s not something we can rush…justice takes time and right now it’s all up to the UN Tribunal. Everything is in their hands,” the Foreign Minister told the Guyana Chronicle.
According to him, the matter has already been resolved and it is just a matter of the Tribunal now announcing its decision.
GUYANA/SURINAME MARITIME DISPUTE:
Suriname laid claim to a section of Guyana’s territorial sea, contending that the boundary on the continental shelf and the sea lies along a line originating at a point in Number 61 Village on the left bank of the Corentyne River and bearing 10 degrees East of true North.
Guyana, in disagreement with that claim, initiated the arbitral proceedings against Suriname in February 2004, in accordance with the UN International Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The border row between the two countries escalated in June 2000, when Suriname gunboats blocked the Canadian oil company, CGX Energy Inc, from drilling for oil in its concession off the Guyana shore.
Failed diplomatic efforts, by Guyana and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), to resolve the problem led to Guyana resorting to the international tribunal.
The tribunal had to make a ruling on two issues:
1. Whether it has jurisdiction in the matter, as Suriname argued that it did not.
2. To make an award with respect to the maritime boundary dispute.
President Jagdeo, in an address to the nation on February 25, 2004, announced that on the previous day, Guyana had initiated proceedings under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea in relation to the maritime areas of Guyana and Suriname.
He explained at a news conference in December last year, that the purpose of those proceedings was to obtain a definitive ruling on the delimitation of the maritime spaces – a binding determination of the boundary between Guyana and Suriname of the territorial sea, the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf.
“In short, to settle with finality the boundary between the off-shore areas of Guyana and Suriname,” President Jagdeo told reporters.
In taking this action, he said Guyana sought to bring to an end the differences between the two neighbouring countries over the maritime boundary, differences which have undermined efforts to develop the resources associated with those off-shore areas and a deprivation which already poor countries cannot afford.
Fortunately, he said, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which the international community has agreed on in happier times of global cooperation, offered a path to the resolution of “such wasteful disagreements”.
Guyana had a particular respect for this convention, Mr. Jagdeo said, pointing out that after more than a decade of international negotiation, it was finally concluded in the Caribbean at Montego Bay, Jamaica in 1982.
He noted that it was Guyana’s ratification of it – the 60th ratification - which brought the convention into force.
But Guyana’s respect for the convention went deeper, Mr. Jagdeo said.
“After centuries in which the use of force held sway in the world’s seas and oceans, and nowhere more so than here in the Caribbean, the 1982 Convention inaugurated a regime of law and order for the governance of the world’s maritime areas.”
“One element of that regime for the peaceful use of those areas is the arrangement it made for settlement of disputes between parties to the convention – as both Guyana and Suriname are,” the President posited.
“It is these provisions that Guyana invoked to unlock the potential of the seas beyond our shores which differences with Suriname have placed in jeopardy,” President Jagdeo told reporters.
Alluding to the fact that it has been more than three years since Guyana initiated these proceedings, President Jagdeo said this “long time” has been a time of considerable activity on both sides.
First came the constitution of the Tribunal by agreement between Guyana and Suriname and Mr. Jagdeo said Guyana was fortunate to have secured the services of very eminent international arbitrators.
The panel is presided over by Dr Dolliver Nelson of Grenada, the former President of the Standing International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea. Dr Kamal Hussain of Bangladesh and Professor Ivan Shearer of Australia – both outstanding international lawyers with special expertise in Law of the Sea matters, are the other two arbitrators nominated by the parties separately.
President Jagdeo said in Guyana’s case, this was done by the distinguished international lawyer Professor Thomas Frank and in Suriname’s by Dr. Hans Smith.
“Altogether, Guyana feels privileged to have so eminent and erudite an international tribunal to decide the important matters Guyana has placed before them,” he said.
At that December 5, 2006 news conference, the President repeated the urgings he made to the Guyanese people during his February 2004 address to the nation, when he said: “Despite our differences in other matters, the political parties of this country have always been united in matters affecting Guyana’s territorial integrity…Today let us go forward in unity as one people, one nation with one destiny in affirming our resolve to stand together in defence of our territorial integrity under law – under the law of Guyana, under the law of nations.”
“To you, my fellow Guyanese, I appeal for your mature understanding of our actions. We must settle this urgent matter of our maritime boundary with Suriname with firmness but with dignity, so that both people can go forward in friendship with enhanced prospects of development,” he added.
“I repeat those urgings now so that generations to come will look back on this time with satisfaction in the course we took together under law, in protection and development of our national patrimony,” he said.
The hearing on the Guyana/Suriname border dispute began in Washington, D.C., in December last year when oral pleadings by both countries over their respective maritime boundaries were presented before the UN International Arbitral Tribunal on the Law of the Sea.
Guyana’s legal team that pursued its case at the Tribunal was spearheaded by Sir Shridath Ramphal, a former Foreign Minister; and also comprised Mr. Paul Reichler of the Washington law firm of Foley Hoag and Dr Payam Akhavan of Yale Law School.