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Regional News

October 12, 2007
Suriname parliament rejects motion to challenge maritime boundary award
Caribbean Net News

PARAMARIBO, SURINAME - The Venetiaan administration in Suriname will not challenge the maritime boundary award of a United Nations Arbitration Tribunal, which on September 17, 2007 settled a long-standing dispute with neighboring Guyana.

The National Assembly, Suriname's parliament, in an emergency session on Thursday voted against a motion from the opposition in which it urged the government to establish a national reviewing commission to scrutinise the award in order to challenge the decision. Twenty-four out of thirty-seven members of parliament who were present voted against the motion.

A panel of experts here said they had discovered irregularities in the calculations of the equidistance line by the UN Arbitration Tribunal. The ad hoc and independent 'Platform to study the ITLOS award' presented its findings on Monday to President Ronald Venetiaan, offering the Suriname government tools to officially query the decision before the term of 30 days to do so expired.

According to the platform the award is not fair and equitable, since Guyana has been awarded 65 percent of the 31,600 square kilometers-wide former area of dispute, while Suriname received the remaining 35 percent.

Amongst other things, the panel also argued that, since the UN Tribunal has applied equidistance as the only principle to determine the maritime boundary, a greater accuracy was very essential. The Tribunal allegedly used only 17 equidistance points to determine the new maritime boundary, far too few, the experts claimed.

Well-prepared and well-documented, President Venetiaan on Thursday dismissed all the arguments of the panel of experts, who claimed that there were computation errors in the establishment of the equidistance line determined by the Tribunal as the definite maritime boundary between Suriname and Guyana.

After receiving the panel's report on Monday, the government consulted several other local and international experts and universities in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom to comment on the arguments of the platform. The government has been advised not to challenge the award on the basis of the findings of the platform.

The Netherlands Institute for the Law of the Sea (NILOS) at the University of Utrecht concluded that the platform did not suggest corrections pursuant to the article 17 of the procedural rules of the Tribunal. According to the NILOS the platform has suggested a complete different calculation method to establish the equidistance line. The Dutch institute said that, after analysing the platform's report, it didn't find any credible or substantial claims that, if put forward to the Tribunal, Suriname would be successful in its challenge.

The government also sought comment from Judge Stephen M. Schwebel, former president of the International Court of Justice on the technical report included in the Tribunal's award.

In his comment, Judge Schwebel noted that, in his view, "the Arbitral Tribunal and its hydrographer in the Guyana v. Suriname case correctly implemented the applicable legal principles and methods used in international law and practice to determine the equidistance line."

In his address to parliament, President Venetiaan stated that, if his government was to present the findings of the platform to the Tribunal, Suriname internationally would look like a fool. Several coalition MPs agreed with the Head of State and eventually the motioned was defeated.

National Democratic Party (NDP) opposition leader Desi Bouterse who, since day one after the ruling was made public, challenged the decision and accused the government of not having done its utmost to defend Suriname's national interest, did not attend parliament's session on Thursday.

The leader of the NDP even led several hundred angry fellow-countrymen in a protest demonstration on Monday, October 1, calling on the government to step down.

Bouterse went so far as to suggest that President Venetiaan might be part of a wide conspiracy to rob Suriname of its potential natural resources, since the Head of State was reluctant to agree with his party to formally challenge the award.

NDP's member of parliament Jenny Geerlings-Simons maintained, however, that Suriname should make reservations on several aspects of the Tribunal's ruling, which in the future could lead to other border issues with Guyana.

Simons and Kenneth Moenne, NDP's faction leader in parliament, noted that although the dismissal of its motion was a set back the party will continue to scrutinise the boundary award.

Although the formal discussion on this issue seemingly came to an end with the debate on Thursday, this issue will be on the political agenda for a long time to come.

On Monday, former president Jules Wijdenbosch will also hold a press meeting. In June 2000, then president Wijdenbosch took the decision to evict a CGX oil drilling rig from the disputed area, which resulted in a political stand-off between Guyana and Suriname. Ultimately, in February 2004, Guyana took the matter to the UN for arbitration.

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