The Guyana/Suriname maritime border problem which is before the Hamburg-based United Nations International Arbitral Tribunal on the Law of the Sea, is very likely to conclude in the first half of 2007, members of this country's legal team said yesterday. The head of the team, Sir Shridath Ramphal and some other members in Guyana to discuss Guyana's reply to Suriname's memorial (body of legal arguments), told a press conference at the Foreign Ministry here that hearings in the case should end in November this year. A decision should be arrived at during the first half of next year, they said.
Sir Shridath, a former Guyana Foreign Minister and Commonwealth Secretary General, told reporters the decision of the tribunal is final and binding on both countries in accordance with national and international law, and there is no other recourse after the decision has been handed down. Alluding to some difficulties in accessing some documents pertaining to the border issue from Suriname and the Netherlands, Sir Shridath said these have been largely overcome as the tribunal had made an order in this respect. He added that Guyana's case has not been weakened in any way as a result of those difficulties. He recalled that Guyana's accessibility to documents from the Netherlands was less than that of Suriname , while Suriname had full access to documents in Britain pertaining to the issue, as the latter had an open policy on accessibility. Sir Shridath also observed that the amount of research required to formulate Guyana's position was monumental, but stressed that the team could not provide any details because the matter was before a court of law and therefore sub judice.
Team member, Mr Paul Reichler of the Washington-based law firm, Foley Hoag, reported that Guyana submitted its memorial in March, 2005 and Suriname presented its counter-memorial in November. Guyana is preparing and submitting its reply and has up to March 15 to do so, and the team is in consultation with the government in this regard, he said. On the other hand, Suriname has to present its legal pleadings (rejoinder) by August 1 this year, Reichler said. Following this, the tribunal will begin hearings during October/November of this year, after which it will deliberate and make its award, he explained.
He added that the tribunal has to make two decisions - to decide whether it has jurisdiction on the matter, as Suriname has objected to the tribunal having jurisdiction; and making an award with respect to the maritime boundary problem. Professor of International Law at London University, Philippe Sands, and a member of the legal team, said objection to the jurisdiction of the tribunal is quite normal in such cases, as in most similar instances the country which is brought before the tribunal does so. Reichler said when the matter is concluded, both countries will enjoy the right to exploit resources in the sea on either side of the maritime boundary line along the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Sands also indicated that the Guyana/Suriname case is the second such before the tribunal, with their Caribbean Community (CARICOM) counterparts, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago , taking their maritime boundary problem first. He noted that it was not an unusual way in which countries settled border issues in a modern world, citing instances involving Japan and Australia, Malaysia and Singapore and Nigeria and Cameroon, among others, which have settled border issues at the level of the tribunal.
He added that the tribunal has a "good track record" with respect to settling maritime border issues. Sands also said that research for putting Guyana 's position together revealed some interesting facts, which were never made public, about the period leading up to Guyana 's independence in May 1966, and this will become available after the conclusion of the award by the tribunal.
The border row between Guyana and Suriname escalated in June 2000, when Suriname gunboats blocked the Canadian oil company CGX Energy Inc from drilling for oil in a potentially giant oilfield off the Guyana shore. Failed diplomatic efforts by Guyana and CARICOM to resolve the problem led Guyana to resort to the international tribunal.
Guyana's legal team also comprises Dr. Payam Akhavan of Yale Law School and Professor Thomas Frank who served as an ad hoc judge at the International Court of Justice.