By Kemol King
Former Minister of Foreign Affairs Carl Greenidge last evening explained that Guyana needs the protection of the international community in the case against Venezuela, hence it was inappropriate for persons to censor or “shout down” foreign leaders in the region for voicing opinions on Guyana’s elections.
Greenidge who is serving as Guyana’s official agent in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) – Arbitral Award of 3 October 1899 (Guyana v. Venezuela) said that the human rights principles on which Guyana requests the support of the international community against Venezuela are the very principles which allow the community to make pronouncements on Guyana’s electoral impasse.
He said that the rights of the people of a country to sovereignty need to be separated from the rights or actions of a political party. Greenidge’s comments came during a live interview on the APNU+AFC Facebook page, during which he spoke extensively about the case.
The matter of the Court’s jurisdiction to resolve the matter is set for a hearing today, during which only Guyana will present arguments, as Venezuela has decided to boycott. Guyana anticipates a decision on the matter of jurisdiction by year-end. If the Court decides that it has jurisdiction, it will move on to hear the case and decide whether the 1899 boundary that separates the two states, is a lawful and permanent boundary, such that the Essequibo region is confirmed as an integral part of Guyana’s territory for all time.
“We need, as a small state,” Greenidge said, “the protection of the international community and the predictability associated with a formal ruling which says this is what has been in place… You’ve agreed to it. It is what has been in force. It is what will continue to be in force.”
“As a small state, we have to be protected from bigger ones, whether they are super large, or whether they are very large,” he told the coalition operatives last night.
The former Foreign Affairs Minister explained that such support is drawn from the adoption of international principles of human rights and the rule of law. The Peace of Westphalia came into focus during the interview, a series of peace treaties signed in 1648 which brought to significant end the religious wars in Europe. He said that the Peace of Westphalia was effectively an international protocol which protected a country’s borders from international interference.
“That is 1648.” he said. “Since then, we have had in the United Nations, the adoption of principles governing human rights and the rule of law. And what that means is that, within borders, actions of governments can be the subject of international or regional court action.”
“You can on the one hand,” he said, “as Guyana for example, call upon the international community to have Venezuela respect the rule of law internationally… You will call upon the UN and then the security council to take action if they fail to honour their obligations.”
Greenidge drew a nexus between Venezuela’s situation and that of statements being made by officials in Guyana that foreigners who comment on the electoral impasse should respect Guyana’s sovereignty. He explained that if Venezuela rejects a court ruling in Guyana’s favour and moves to prevent Guyana from exploiting its resources there, Guyana may call on the international community to take action. He said that Venezuela had passed domestic legislation which lays claim to resources in the maritime zone, but that does not allow it to say “this is domestic legislation; it is our government that has taken that decision, you have no right to say anything or to ask us any questions.”
Just as such a principle applies therefore, Greenidge said “you have to be consistent in law.”
He explained that if Guyana takes some action which causes people to flood to Barbados or Trinidad, “you [Guyana] can’t be telling Trinidad or Barbados government [that] this is Guyana’s sovereignty, because your people are moving in response to your measures or perceived to be moving.”
“So one ought to be very careful,” Greenidge said, “when you invoke these things [questions of sovereignty] to perhaps suit a specific topic, because they may have implications for us. For Guyana, the rule of law internationally is our only protection.”
He had been asked for his view on how foreigners should address the Guyana situation, on matters of sovereignty and nationhood. The coalition has spoken in opposition to statements made by CARICOM heads of government, as those statements appeared to be critical of the coalition government.
Greenidge said that the issue of sovereignty is about the rights of the people of Guyana to the territory within which they operate – a matter distinct from the rights or actions of a political party.
“A country’s sovereignty needs to be very clearly separated from the rights of a political party or the actions of a political party,” Greenidge stated.
Even then, he added “you do not have the right to censor other people for pronouncing or giving a view on such matters.”
Greenidge reminded that Guyana was one of the countries “most vociferous in the battle – and people now forget – against apartheid.”
He indicated that the South African government – which was a racist government – could not reject criticisms of the Court or the government, because the issues touched on fundamental rights and principles.
“If you have acted properly,” he said, “you don’t have to, at the same time, prove that you acted properly by censoring other people and shouting them down for voicing a view.”
In that vein, Greenidge said that he has observed arguments being made by senior officials in Guyana that foreign leaders who comment should respect Guyana’s sovereignty. Those comments, he said, are inappropriate.
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