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Guyana wants legal opinion on border controversy with Venezuela

Foreign Affairs Minister, Carl Greenidge (centre) flanked by Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Audrey Waddell-Jardime (left) and the Head of the Frontiers Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Donnette Streete.

Guyana wants the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to give a legal opinion on the 1899 Arbitral Tribunal Award of the boundary with Venezuela, but is mindful that its western neighbour could challenge such an opinion if it is not in its favour, Foreign Affairs Minister Carl Greenidge said Tuesday.

“If for example, as we are suggesting the SG (United Nations Secretary General) puts to the court- ‘give us an opinion on this matter’ – the court could do so without the agreement of Venezuela. If it is, however, that you are asking them to deal with a matter of substance they would, as I understand, Venezuela’s concurrence will be required,” he told a news conference.

With Venezuela already opposed to the matter being taken to the World Court much less agreeing to take the contentious issue for a settlement, Greenidge says if Guyana gets a legal opinion in its favour it will be internationally persuasive even if Venezuela rejects it. “The thing about an opinion in those circumstances- it is only advisory. The value of it to Guyana is the world will see that a legal exercise having been conducted on Venezuela’s claim is not supported,” he said.

Foreign mining and oil companies that have been awarded concessions offshore and onshore Guyana have over the years been scared away by Venezuela through diplomatic and military actions.

The Foreign Minister reiterated that Venezuela has been unable to produce any evidence to support its contention that the 1899 Arbitral Tribunal Award was null and void. Greenidge said if the ICJ accepts the case and makes a pronouncement, the role of the UN would be based on the legal opinion.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has already dispatched fact-finding missions to Caracas and Georgetown ahead of a decision on whether to give into Guyana’s demands for the controversy over the award to be taken to the ICJ.

Reacting to Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo’s desire for the UN to still remain involved even if the matter is sent to the ICJ, he said the matter would be out of the UN’s hands. “The cour is a definitive legal body in its own right, it pronounces on what it’s asked and that should be the end of the process as regards the SG (Secretary General) and the court but the decision itself may require action afterwards by the two sides or by one side,” he said.

Other options that are available to the UN Chief are a return to the UN Good Officer Process, conciliation or a fresh arbitration.

The Guyanese Foreign Minister said Venezuela prefers a diplomatic approach to resolving the controversy and does not accept the ICJ as a court of competent jurisdiction to address boundary issues. “Venezuela is seeking now to avoid another court pronouncement because they anticipate, no doubt, that it will be the same as the last and in those circumstances they don’t have leverage.

“Where they have leverage is that they can use military force or in the course of the exchanges, they can go and try to buy out opinions elsewhere so Venezuela’s explanation is not so much that they are opposed judicial pronouncements but in that in the case of the border they are not prepared to go to the courts for a resolution of this matter,” he said.

The 1899 Arbitral Tribunal Award, which was made by an ad hoc court, is regarded by Guyana as a full, perfect and final settlement.

The border controversy over the mineral and forest-rich Essequibo Region flared up in late May, 2015 days after American oil giant, Exxon-Mobil, announced the discovery of a significant oil deposit offshore the Essequibo Region.

Venezuela has since unilaterally extended its maritime space to include all of the waters offshore Essequibo.