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Regional News

September 21, 2007
UN Tribunal ruling in Guyana's favour
Guyana Chronicle

GEORGETOWN, GUYANA - Guyana now has undisputed title to the area where the CGX rig was exploring for oil before it was forcibly evicted by the Surinamese military forces.

“My fellow Guyanese - this has been a great day for Guyana. Now it remains for us to lay the foundation for a long future of harmonious relations and practical cooperation with our brothers and sisters in Suriname - to whom, on your behalf, I extend the hand of friendship” – PRESIDENT BHARRAT JAGDEO

PRESIDENT Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday announced that Guyana is “very pleased” with the judgment of the Guyana/Suriname border dispute by the United Nations International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea based in Hamburg.

The long-awaited and much-anticipated announcement of the decision on the Guyana/Suriname border dispute by the UN International Tribunal, was made public by President Jagdeo during an address to the nation yesterday afternoon.

“Guyana, which initiated this judicial process to settle once and for all any dispute over the maritime boundary with Suriname, is very pleased with the judgment. Guyana is particularly pleased that the Award was unanimous, with all five arbitrators signing on to it,” President Jagdeo declared.

According to the President, the Award, which is unanimous and legally binding, is in the interest of both our countries and the wider Caribbean and is one that “satisfies every one of Guyana’s objectives on all six of the core issues at the heart of the case”.

“When I say that on all these central issues Guyana’s interests and objectives are met, I do not mean to be triumphalist. That, in any event, would not be a proper posture for our country to adopt.”

“In fact, the Award is in the interest of both our countries and the wider Caribbean,” the Guyanese Head of State posited.

He also announced that the UN Tribunal has stated clearly that “Guyana now has undisputed title to the area” where the CGX rig was exploring for oil before it was forcibly evicted by the Surinamese military forces.

“In fact, that area lies a full 15 kilometres to the west of the boundary established by the Arbitral Tribunal, and is therefore well within Guyana’s waters,” Mr. Jagdeo said.

He noted, too, that the Tribunal’s Award is effective immediately, and Guyana looks forward to the prompt and successful resumption of petroleum exploration activities in these waters.

Following is the address to the nation by President Jagdeo yesterday afternoon on the award of the Guyana-Suriname Arbitral Tribunal.

“Fellow Guyanese – at precisely 4:00 p.m. (16:00 hours) Guyana time today, the Guyana-Suriname Arbitral Tribunal established under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea made public its Final Award, which is unanimous and legally binding on both Parties.

After several thousand pages of written submissions contained in 13 printed volumes of ‘pleadings’; after scrutiny of literally hundreds of maps, old and new; after nearly three weeks of Oral Hearings last December, which followed earlier sessions in The Hague; after innumerable hours of analysing the law and the facts pertinent to the case - the Tribunal in its binding Award has defined the maritime boundary between Guyana and Suriname - as Guyana invited it to do three and a half years ago, when it initiated these arbitral proceedings under the United Nations Convention.

The Tribunal’s Award is contained in a volume of 167 pages, many of which are inevitably cast in highly technical, legal, geographic and cartographic terms, and it includes 5 maps.

“Guyana, which initiated this judicial process to settle once and for all any dispute over the maritime boundary with Suriname, is very pleased with the judgment. Guyana is particularly pleased that the Award was unanimous, with all five arbitrators signing on to it,” President Jagdeo declared.

The Award is very favourable to Guyana. In particular, all of Guyana's principal objectives have been achieved. Most notably, we now have a definitive and permanent maritime boundary with Suriname. Guyana regards that boundary as fair and equitable to both States.

The Award has taken Guyana's major arguments fully into account, and now allows Guyana's licensees to resume their petroleum exploration activities in the part of the sea that Guyana has claimed, out to a distance of 200 miles from the coast, in accordance with international law.

The resolution of this dispute, which is now final and binding on the parties, will allow Guyana and Suriname to put this controversy behind them, and to proceed to cooperate as good neighbours on a wide range of issues.

Now, let me try to explain all this briefly, in layman’s terms, and leave it to the members of our Legal Team to elaborate. They will be available to answer questions from the news media tomorrow afternoon (today).

There were six core issues in this case, and Guyana’s interests and objectives have been met in each.

They were -

1. To establish that the Rule of International Law, not the rule of force, holds sway in CARICOM waters; and more specifically in the maritime areas of Guyana and Suriname.

2. To draw the boundary between the maritime areas of Guyana and Suriname in a manner that would be binding on both countries for all time and acknowledged by the international community.

3. To confirm that the line of the boundary would be influenced, above all, by the principle of equidistance for which Guyana had long contended and for which Guyana’s national law provides.

4. To secure Guyana’s sovereignty to the resources of the sea-bed on its continental shelf on the basis of an internationally recognized maritime boundary.

5. To enable Guyana’s licensees to return to the offshore area where they were exploring for oil in June 2000, when they were forced at gunpoint by a Surinamese naval vessel to abandon their activities and evacuate the area.

6. To achieve all this in a manner which allows Guyana and Suriname to cooperate as good neighbours and CARICOM partners in the development of their countries.

When I say that on all these central issues Guyana’s interests and objectives are met, I do not mean to be triumphalist. That, in any event, would not be a proper posture for our country to adopt.

In fact, the Award is in the interest of both our countries and the wider Caribbean. Let me explain why the Award satisfies every one of Guyana’s objectives on all six of the core issues at the heart of the case.

As to Core Issue 1: (Upholding the rule of law ) Suriname’s action on June 3, 2000 in interrupting the activities of the oil rig CE Thornton effectively prevented any further exploratory work in that maritime area – by anyone.

It certainly set back Guyana’s economic development. If that action was left as the determinant of the status quo, there would have been irreparable damage to Guyana’s development.

Moreover, left unchallenged, it undermined the purposes of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea of which both Guyana and Suriname (and most of the world’s countries) are signatories.

The Tribunal has found that the expulsion of the CGX oil rig by Suriname on June 3, 2000 (I quote) ‘constituted a threat of the use of force in breach of the Convention (on the Law of the Sea), the UN Charter, and general international law’ (end of quote).

The Tribunal’s Award has confirmed the rule of law in CARICOM’s maritime areas.

So, on Core Issue 1, Guyana has achieved its objectives.

As to Core Issue 2: (Fixing a maritime boundary) Guyana’s resort to compulsory arbitration under the Law of the Sea Treaty came after extensive efforts to resolve this issue bilaterally.

Suriname did not want the maritime boundary to be established by the Tribunal despite the damage a continuing maritime dispute would cause. Suriname actually tried to prevent the Tribunal from reaching a conclusion on the merits of the case.

It did so by arguing that the Tribunal had no jurisdiction to fix the maritime boundary – a step which inevitably lengthened the period and increased the costs of the arbitral process.

Guyana’s Legal Team argued strenuously against this. In the end, Guyana succeeded. The Tribunal found that it had jurisdiction and has authoritatively established the maritime boundary between Guyana and Suriname. It has placed the matter beyond dispute.

So on Core Issue 2, Guyana has achieved its objectives.

As to Core Issue 3: (Where the boundary is) From the time of the establishment of the International Regime on the Law of the Sea in the 1950s, Guyana has asserted its acceptance of the principle of equidistance – a technical term for a method of establishing an equitable maritime boundary between neighbouring states, by drawing a boundary line in the sea that is at all points equidistant from the coastlines of both States.

It is the most widely accepted method in the international community although there are variations in particularly complex coastlines.

In the case of Guyana and Suriname, whose coastlines are relatively regular, it produces a line that runs in a north-easterly direction from the coast; and Guyana has been guided by it consistently.

Suriname has argued for a boundary line that is more northerly; one that would therefore enlarge Suriname’s maritime area.

They argued that the boundary line between Guyana’s and Suriname’s territorial waters that was fixed in 1936 along a 10 degree North line for a distance of only 3 miles, because of considerations of the channel in the mouth of the Corentyne River, should be extended along the same 10 degree axis beyond the 3 mile limit previously agreed all the way to the 200-mile limit of the Exclusive Economic Zones claimed by both Guyana and Suriname.

The Tribunal has rejected this argument, and in the area beyond 3 miles from the shore it has drawn the boundary in a more north-easterly direction for the remaining 197 miles, as Guyana had requested, using the principle of equidistance as its basic guide. That principle was enshrined in the law of Guyana since 1977 – in our Maritime Boundaries Act; and has always guided our conduct.

So, on Core Issue 3, Guyana has achieved its objectives

As to Core Issue 4: (Guyana’s sovereignty to the resources of the sea-bed). The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea establishes that, in its Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf as delimited under the Convention, Guyana has ‘sovereign rights’ of exploration and exploitation of the resources of the sea-bed and sub-soil of the Zone, and of the waters above them.

The Exclusive Economic Zone runs outwards from Guyana’s territorial sea up to a distance of 200 miles and is bounded on the lateral side with Suriname by the maritime boundary that the Tribunal has established.

Guyana’s sovereign rights to explore and exploit the hydrocarbon resources within the boundaries of the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf, once contested by Suriname, are now settled on the basis of the Tribunal’s Award.

So, on Core Issue 4, Guyana has achieved its objectives.

Core Issue 5: (Return of Guyana’s licensees to the disputed area.) The Tribunal’s Award has made it possible for CGX and other licensees to resume their petroleum exploration activities on Guyana’s side of the equidistance line, which as of today constitutes the definitive lawful and internationally recognised boundary between Guyana and Suriname.

The Tribunal has stated clearly that “Guyana now has undisputed title to the area” where the CGX rig was exploring for oil before it was forcibly evicted by the Surinamese military forces. In fact, that area lies a full 15 kilometres to the west of the boundary established by the Arbitral Tribunal, and is therefore well within Guyana’s waters.

The Tribunal’s Award is effective immediately, and Guyana looks forward to the prompt and successful resumption of petroleum exploration activities in these waters.

So on Core Issue 5, Guyana’s objectives have been achieved.
Core Issue 6: (Guyana-Suriname relations going forward). As I explained when I announced the filing of Guyana’s Claim on February 25, 2004, Guyana saw the proceedings before the Tribunal ‘not as an adversarial process, but one designed to establish a sound basis for economic development in the maritime regions of both Suriname and Guyana’.

Throughout the proceedings, Guyana conducted itself in that manner, and now that they are ended we look to the future as a new era of cooperation with Suriname, both within CARICOM and bilaterally. Both Guyana and Suriname are pledged and obligated by international law to accept and respect the Tribunal’s Award.

I have already explained how satisfied Guyana is with the Award on every one of the Core Issues before the Tribunal. I have deliberately not spoken of ‘winners and losers’; that would not be appropriate, because in a very important sense both Guyana and Suriname are winners - for having participated responsibly and peacefully in this historic process, and for having emerged with a common maritime border that puts an end to this longstanding source of tension between our two great countries.

The great achievement of the Award is to open up before Guyana and Suriname the prospect of practical harmonious cooperation in their economic development and in their relations as good neighbours. I have already conveyed these sentiments to President Venetian.

So, on Core Issue 6, Guyana has achieved its objectives, and both Guyana and Suriname have prevailed.

It remains for me to thank Guyana’s Legal Team whose members have worked with commitment and professionalism over the last three and a half years to make today’s result possible: to our Co-Agents Sir Shridath Ramphal, Mr. Paul Reichler of the Foley Hoag law firm in Washington, and Professor Payam Akhavan of McGill University in Montreal.

I also want to thank Professor Philippe Sands of University College, London and Professor Nico Schrijver of Leiden University in the Netherlands, and our Cartographic experts Dr. Galo Carrera and Mr. Scott Edmonds.

I commend, too, Guyana’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Minister Rudy Insanally and his officers who worked tirelessly in support of our Legal Team.

And special thanks are due to Guyana’s Licensee, CGX, for its patience and support over the years it has taken to see this matter through to today’s satisfying completion.

Finally, I offer the appreciation of the Government and people of Guyana to the Chairman of the Arbitral Tribunal, Judge Dolliver Nelson, and to each of the four other distinguished Members of the Tribunal, for the erudition and justice of their Award, and to the Secretariat of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, for their professional, balanced and extremely efficient performance throughout these historic proceedings.

My fellow Guyanese - this has been a great day for Guyana. Now it remains for us to lay the foundation for a long future of harmonious relations and practical cooperation with our brothers and sisters in Suriname - to whom, on your behalf, I extend the hand of friendship.”

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