Oct 22, 2008 News
…international law takes precedence – Rodrigues
There is nothing that exists between Guyana and Suriname that determines the use of the Corentyne River, and as such the international law that governs river borders apply to the Corentyne River that separates the two countries.
This is according to Guyana’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, who staunchly opposed Suriname’s claim of sovereignty to the River.
According to international convention, a river that lies from its source to its mouth within one state should be viewed as a national river.
The state in which it lies has full control over it.
There are also rivers that form the boundary between two or more states and these have been classified as Boundary Rivers.
The Guyana Government has based its claims on maps which were printed in British Guiana in 1913 and 1924, which placed the boundary between the two colonies along the thalweg (deepest channel) of the Corentyne.
This boundary was recognised by the Dutch in the early 1930’s.
The Suriname Government contends, however, that the Corentyne River is a national river.
In 1967, the Government of Suriname announced that in a treaty signed in 1799 between the Dutch and the British, all of the territory west of the Corentyne River was ceded to the colony of Berbice and the border was the left bank of the Corentyne from its mouth to its source.
The Suriname Government claims that the Corentyne is a national river which lies within its territory and is therefore not a boundary river.
In the absence of an agreement between two countries that share a river border, the United Nations General Assembly recently codified the rule of equitable utilisation in Article 5 of its United Nations Convention on the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses (UN Convention).
The Assembly approved the UN Convention on May 21, 1997, by a vote of 104–3. Article 5 requires watercourse nations to utilize an international watercourse in an equitable and reasonable manner with a view to attaining optimal and sustainable utilization and benefits consistent with adequate protection in the watercourse. Article 5 also provides that watercourse nations shall participate in the use, development, and protection of an international watercourse in an equitable and reasonable manner.
The right to participate includes both the right to utilize the watercourse and the duty to cooperate in its protection and development.
The Minister yesterday confirmed that there has been no response to date from the United Nation’s Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, and CARICOM Secretary General Edwin Carrington.
A copy of those documents signed by Foreign Affairs Minister Rodrigues-Burkett stated that the matter has serious implications for the peace and security of Guyana.
This, the Minister noted, was in light of the several provocative actions undertaken by the military and paramilitary forces of the Republic of Suriname on the Corentyne River, which forms the boundary with Suriname.
According to the document, the use of force by Suriname (the recent seizure of a GuySuCo vessel by the Surinamese Military) is in spite of formal protests to the Republic of Suriname about the harassment of Guyanese and other vessels plying the Corentyne River to conduct legitimate activities on wharves on Guyana’s shores.
On October 14, the Surinamese coastguard intercepted, boarded, seized and transported to a Surinamese port, Lady Chandra I, which was on its way to the Springlands wharf in Guyana to uplift and transport a shipment of bulk sugar for export.
Minister Rodrigues-Birkett’s letter to the two dignitaries added, “Government views this action by the Surinamese Government in using its naval forces to seize the ‘Lady Chandra I’ as a use of force.”
On June 3, 2000 also, Suriname had used its naval forces to evict CGX oil rig from waters that have since been ruled part of Guyana’s territorial waters. This issue was settled at the level of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea which ruled on September 17, last year. The actions of Suriname on that occasion “…constituted a threat of the use of force in contravention of the Convention, the UN Charter and general international law.”
Guyana’s contention, according to the document and reiterated by Jagdeo during yesterday’s press briefing, has always been that both States have equal rights to the Corentyne River.
“Suriname has claimed the river as wholly Suriname’s, but has since the issuance of the Arbitral Award on September 17, 2007, sought to unilaterally impose its ambitions…The efforts to impose Surinamese law and administrative regulations on the use of the river is without merit and contrary to international customary law in relation to boundary rivers that divide two States.”
According to President Bharrat Jagdeo during a recent press briefing, when a country shares a river border, then both countries should have equal user rights of the river.
“In this case, Suriname is trying to impose sovereignty unilaterally over the river.”
He had noted during that press briefing that, “When Suriname used force to evict the CGX rig, we did not respond in kind at that time and sought the route of international law and we were vindicated in the outcome…That doesn’t say that our response will be the same all the time…We are prepared to take all steps necessary.”
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