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Regional News

September 19, 2007
Guyana - Suriname maritime boundary dispute award for tomorrow
Stabroek News

The United Nations Inter-national Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) will make public its award on the Guyana-Suriname maritime boundary dispute tomorrow afternoon.

The award comes seven years and three months after a CGX oilrig was evicted from Guyana's maritime waters by Surinamese military gunboats in June 2000 and three years and seven months after Guyana took its case to the tribunal to resolve the issue of its maritime boundary in order to exploit its natural resources.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a release yesterday announced that the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which is the registry of tribunal that was requested to delimit definitively the boundary between Guyana and Suriname had said that the award would be made public tomorrow at 4 pm.

The members of the arbitral tribunal are President Judge Dolliver Nelson, Professor Thomas Franck, Dr Kamal Hossain, Professor Ivan Shearer and Professor Hans Smit.

Guyana initiated arbitral proceedings with Suriname according to the UN International Convention for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) in February, 2004 to settle once and for all with Suriname the question of the maritime boundary.

The tribunal is to make two rulings: firstly to state, whether or not it has the jurisdiction to decide the merits of the case and secondly, whether or not it draws a boundary in the sea that is consistent with Guyana's request for equitable delimitation of the boundary between the two states.

Guyana expects the ITLOS would agree with Guyana that it has jurisdiction to decide the merits of the dispute and would draw a boundary in the sea for equitable delimitation. Suriname had argued that the tribunal had no jurisdiction over the dispute. It is expected that the award would consist of a boundary line from the point of the coast where the sea meets the land for a distance of 200 miles. "The boundary may or may not be a straight line. It may or may not have various segments to it but both sides have asked that there be a single maritime boundary that extends through the territorial sea and the continental shelf, a distance of 200 miles," Co-Agent Paul Reichler had explained to the Guyana media. Guyana's team was led by Co-Agent Sir Shridath Ramphal and Co-Agent Reichler of Foley Hoag law firm; and included Professor Philippe Sands QC; and Andrew Loewenstein of Foley Hoag.

The border dispute between Guyana and Suriname came to a head when a Surinamese military gunboat forcibly evicted a CGX oilrig from Guyana's waters in June 2000.

Guyana had tried in vain to reach agreement with Suriname on joint exploration and exploitation arrangements. After proceedings to settle the dispute peacefully failed, Guyana invoked the provisions of article 287 of the convention to obtain a legal binding settlement of its maritime border dispute with the neighbouring country.

Guyana submitted its memorials on March 1, 2005, in a bid to resolve the issue of its maritime boundary to allow for the exploitation of its natural resources.

Suriname's counter-memorial, which was presented on November 1, 2005. The counter-memorial was in response to Guyana's memorial or legal text, which was presented to the tribunal on March 1, 2005.

Guyana's reply, the second round of the legal text had to be filed with the tribunal by March 15, 2006. Suriname then had the opportunity to submit its second written pleading known as a 'rejoinder', by August 1, 2006.

Following this, oral hearings were held at the Organization of American States Headquarters in Washington DC in December, 2006. The hearings were not open to the public, based on a request from Suriname.

In May this year, the tribunal's hydrographic expert David Grey visited the area of dispute accompanied by officials from Guyana and Suriname. Grey's visit was pursuant to a Procedural Order made by the tribunal after the end of the oral hearings.

The award will be binding on both states and it will constitute the internationally recognized maritime boundary between Guyana and Suriname. It will commit Guyana and Suriname to exploiting resources on each side that may lie within the sea or under the sea.

The Guyana team had its own challenges having had to research and access archival materials and plough through them, a task Sir Shridath had described as monumental. In the initial stages, the team made use of materials and public records covering some 200 years that were available in Guyana and in Britain. A lot of the issues concerning boundaries were transacted between the Britain and the Netherlands and the records were in their repositories. The records in Guyana existed but many were not properly archived. They nevertheless survived the ravages of time and tropical conditions.

British records were available to Guyana and Suriname but initially Guyana did not have complete access to the Dutch archives as Suriname had objected to giving Guyana access. The issue was addressed in the process by the tribunal, which issued orders for Guyana and the tribunal itself to access relevant materials.

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