Oct 28, 2015 News
By Abena Rockcliffe
Even as it acknowledges the statements made by Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo, the Government of
Guyana has not altered its decision to abandon the Good Officers process and move towards the juridical route in settling the territorial controversy with Venezuela.
Yesterday, Foreign Affairs Minister Carl Greenidge dismissed Jagdeo’s advice against going the juridical route at this time to solve the border controversy.
He described the former president’s advice as splitting hairs.
At his most recent press conference, Jagdeo had extensively questioned government’s wisdom in taking the juridical route.
He said that there were many other avenues to explore before going that way and questioned the chances of losing the involvement of the United Nations Secretary General in going along that route. Jagdeo went as far as to offer alternatives to the juridical direction even as he claimed he was not against that course of action.
Jagdeo’s comments came one day after President David Granger addressed the Parliament, apprising the body of Venezuela’s continued aggression. The President noted that Venezuela continues to try to scare away huge investors as it seeks to undermine Guyana’s economic development. The Head of State, at that forum, noted that Guyana made its decision that the juridical route will best serve the country at this point.
During a conference, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carl Greenidge echoed similar sentiments to those uttered by his boss at Parliament.
In fact, a large percentage of Greenidge’s statements and responses to questions indicated that the Minister hardly considered Jagdeo’s advice.
Greenidge, in reference to Jagdeo, essentially said that one’s desire to be perceived superiorly knowledgeable may very well land the individual in trouble politically.
He said that there is a time and place for some of the utterances made by Jagdeo and those comments should not have been made at a time when Guyana is facing a national enemy.
“Perhaps it would be most effective in the political arena where we are dealing with domestic politics. But in the arena such as the one where you are facing a relentless and remorseless foe, one has to be careful about trying to split hairs where it may not help,” said Greenidge.
Nevertheless, the Minister proceeded to provide answers to some of the questions posed by Jagdeo. This was done in an effort to settle the concerns that were raised.
Greenidge indicated that when Guyana moves to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to settle the ongoing controversy, it will not need Venezuela to concur with the decision to go that route. This was questioned by Jagdeo.
But according to Greenidge, Guyana has two options when it approaches the ICJ, one being to ask the court to make a substantive decision on the issue and the other for the court to just offer an opinion.
That opinion would serve Guyana no other benefit but to tell the world that from a legal standpoint, a definitive decision was taken that Guyana is within its right.
Greenidge said that Guyana’s intention to seek the opinion of the court on the 1899 Arbitral Award is indeed necessary as Venezuela is claiming invalidity.
“The options available have all been tried under one name or another and they have all been found wanting. At the end of the exercise, they left Guyana at a disadvantage,” said Greenidge. He added, “Venezuela has been arguing that the 1899 award is null and void; for an award to be deemed null and void it has to be a process of law.”
The Foreign Affairs Minister said that any definitive solution to the problem would include answering the question of whether the award was null and void.
“Unless that contention is withdrawn…all the things that the UN might do will not help one iota,” Greenidge emphasized.
Significantly, he noted too, that Venezuela is clearly not interested in a judicial resolution since such a resolution would definitively settle the controversy.
Greenidge lamented, “Guyana has lived with this dispute for 50 odd years not because it can’t be resolved but because one part has no intention of facilitating a resolution unless they get what they want…it seems we are destined to relive 1899 many times over.”
Answering another one of Jagdeo’s questions as to whether Venezuela’s consent is needed to move to the ICJ, Greenidge said, “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, as I understand, Venezuela’s concurrence will be required.”
With Venezuela already opposed to the matter being taken to the ICJ, it is highly unlikely that a settlement could be sought but Guyana is willing to just take the opinion.
Greenidge said that 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 is that it is only advisory.”
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.
“The court 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 and the court but the decision itself may require action afterwards by the two sides or by one side,” he said.
The Guyanese Foreign Minister indicated that 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,” said Greenidge.
“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 to judicial pronouncements but in the case of the border, they are not prepared to go to the courts for a resolution on this matter,” he said.
The SG has no major role to play in the court route itself. That is another question that Jagdeo had. The Opposition Leader was at a lost as to what would be the role of the UN Secretary General if the court’s opinion is sought.
Greenidge explained that in the SG’s capacity as overseer of the Geneva agreement, he has a major role; he chooses a step and puts that step in train and he has a role at every stage. He can call upon the parties for specific reasons and reports must be submitted to him. However, he has no such role in the court route.
“If you go to the court, the court is asked to pronounce on something, it is then a simple issue, the court looks at it and pronounces. It does not in the middle of the court case say, ‘SG what do you think? Is this thing blue or green?’ The parties will, if the court accepts the request, be called upon to submit evidence that the court thinks is relevant. The parties may be made to answer questions the court may have as well.”
Greenidge said that the decision given by the court will not be influenced by any other source.
“But I do not believe that this (halted role of SG) is of any significance in the sense that we are calling for a judicial settlement. We understand the implications and the lawyers understand the implications because we want a pronouncement in a clear manner,” said Greenidge.
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 in to Guyana’s demands for the controversy to be taken to the ICJ.
Other options that are available to the UN Chief are a return to the UN Good Officer Process, conciliation or a fresh arbitration.
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 given a decree and unilaterally extended its maritime space to include all of the waters offshore Essequibo, claiming more than three quarters of Guyana.
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