By Patrick Denny
President of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea Judge L. Dolliver M. Nelson has received Guyana's claim, which was filed earlier this week and a hearing on the provisional relief sought could be just weeks away.
However, Suriname's Pre-sident Ronald Venetiaan, who is on a trip to China, has not yet received the official notification.
A Ministry of Foreign Affairs official told Stabroek News the ministry received confirmation of the tribunal's receipt of the claim yesterday.
The Guyana government, in accordance with the procedures set out in Article 287 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and Annex VII, forwarded its statement of claim for the maritime border issue to be settled by binding arbitration, to both the President of the Tribunal and the Surinamese government on Tuesday evening.
The tribunal's procedures require its President to also notify the Surinamese government of its receipt of the claim and provide it with a copy of the document it has received.
Meanwhile, when contacted yesterday, Suriname's Ambassador to Guyana Manorma Soeknandan said she received the statement of claim from Minister of Foreign Affairs Rudy Insanally on Tuesday at 8.30 pm. She told Stabroek News she had informed Insanally that President Venetiaan was in China, a fact about which he had been unaware. She said she had not been able to contact Venetiaan as yet and she knew that up to Wednes-day morning President Bhar-rat Jagdeo had also been unable to contact him. Vene-tiaan is due to return to Para-maribo in early March.
Stabroek News understands that as a result of receiving Guyana's claim including the nomination of Professor Thomas Frank as its arbitrator, Judge Nelson will call on Suriname to nominate an arbitrator and it will have 30 days to do so. If Suriname does not nominate anyone within that period, then Guyana could ask to have the Tribunal nominate one. Once the two arbitrators are appointed they will meet to appoint two others and the four will meet and appoint a President.
Another procedure that kicks in with the invoking of Article 287 requires Judge Nelson and officers of the Tribunal to meet representatives of Guyana and Suriname to set a timetable. This will determine the timeframe for Guyana to file its memorial (this is a document that sets out in detail, Guyana's case based on the statement filed with the tribunal); for Suriname to file its counter-memorial and for any subsequent replies by both countries. Once all the necessary documents have been filed, a date would be set for the hearing at the tribunal's seat in Hamburg, Germany. This hearing is open to the public unless Guyana and/or Suriname request a closed hearing.
However, Guyana's claim for provisional relief is expected to be dealt with more expeditiously. An informed source has told Stabroek News that provisional relief claims are dealt with similarly to applications for injunctive relief in the High Court. The source said Judge Nelson could be expected to comment on Guyana's application, or schedule a hearing, within weeks. After this, the Tribunal would issue such orders as are necessary.
Guyana has sought provisional relief that would prohibit Suriname from harassing Guyanese fishermen fishing in the Corentyne River and to allow the exploration for and exploitation of hydrocarbon and other resources in that area of its maritime territory that Suriname is claiming.
In an address to the nation on Wednesday announcing the move to settle the maritime boundary dispute with Suriname, President Jagdeo said he had written to Venetiaan informing him of Guyana's action and assuring that it is not Guyana's intention to impair relations. He said he also reiterated Guyana's commitment to Caribbean regional integration, in particular the implementation of the Rose Hall Declaration on Regional Governance and Integrated Development. The Caricom Heads of State agreed to the declaration at their Jamaica summit last July.
In his broadcast on Wednesday, Jagdeo said Guyana is pursuing the arbitral process in the spirit of the UN Convention and in keeping with the highest standards of international amity - not as an adversarial process - but one designed to establish a sound basis for economic development in the maritime regions of both Guyana and Suriname. He had also detailed the various attempts to settle the issue at the bilateral level and with the involvement of Caricom, which were frustrated by delaying tactics on the part of Suriname.
Judge Nelson was elected President of the Tribunal for the period 2002-2005, commencing on October 1, 2002.