“Everything is at stake for Guyana” – Sir Shridath Ramphal
Guyana/Venezuela border controversy
– urges Guyanese not to fall prey to contradictory opinions
As Guyana prepares to head to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for a final settlement of the border controversy with Venezuela, the country’s legal adviser, Sir Shridath Ramphal said on Wednesday that Guyana must make all the necessary preparations and equip itself so as to get the best outcome possible, since everything is now at stake.
Speaking on the sidelines of the GIPEX Summit, the renowned Guyanese diplomat told the local press that the matter is of significant importance to Guyana, as it has been discussed at lengths for several decades.
Asked whether the legal expense could be an encumbering factor towards having this issue resolved, he said, “If you go to court there must be some legal expenses
but what is at stake for Guyana is everything. Legal expenses are miniscule compared to everything to that’s at stake.”
Sir Ramphal said whether Venezuela decides to go to the ICJ or not, Guyana will be moving forward with the mater. He also noted that the controversy would not be heard by the ICJ in an advisory capacity.
“It is not going to be in an advisory capacity. Unfortunately, some pretty wild things have been said in Guyana which are far from legally accurate and this is totally different from the advisory position that is possible under the Charter. Don’t be misguided by these wild opinions. This is not a time for Guyana to argue these issues in Guyana and with Guyana,” he added.
The former Foreign Minister of Guyana and former Commonwealth Secretary General also revealed that the legal team that represented Guyana in the matter involving the boundary dispute with neighbouring Suriname could be retained for the Guyana/Venezuela border controversy.
Sir Ramphal said because of the success of this team, it may be worth “reassembling” them to ensure that Guyana gets the best possible result.
“What I think we are likely to do is to reassemble the team that was so successful with Suriname. This is not the moment to discuss those details, but they will be released in due course,” he stated.
The team which was headed by Paul Reichler, a partner in the Washington office of law firm Foley Hoag LLP, was successful in that matter which was eventually settled by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in 2007.
Asked to give his opinion of the time frame in which this matter could be resolved at the ICJ, he said, “It is a very difficult question because it can depend on what Venezuela ultimately does that can determine the length of time, the character of the proceedings. It could be shorter if they persist they are not involved and if they change their minds, and it’s a full-fledged hearing, it could be longer. But you are talking about a matter of years.”
He further explained that the ICJ would hear the case under the United Nations Charter and the Geneva Agreement of 1966 that had provided for, among other means, mediation and judicial settlement.
The coalition Government had said that it has plans to use a signing bonus of US$18 million received from ExxonMobil to stand the expense of a legal team. The money was however kept in a secret account at the Central Bank. This information was exposed by private media companies, including this newspaper.
After years of mediation, the United Nations (UN) last week announced its decision to finally send the ongoing border controversy between Guyana and neighbouring Venezuela to the ICJ. According to the UN’s Spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric, the decision came after careful analysis of the good offices process.
Dujarric explained in a statement that enough progress was not made towards a solution on the controversy. As a result, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres referred the matter to the ICJ. This is in accordance with the framework left by his predecessor, Ban Ki-moon.
However, Guterres did not rule out the continuation of the good offices process of the UN to complement court proceedings. In addition, the Secretary General also committed to accompanying both Guyana and Venezuela in their bid to settle their differences.
President David Granger has since welcomed the Secretary General’s decision to refer the matter to the world court. According to Granger, “Guyana remains confident in the correctness of its case (and) looks forward to the reaffirmation of the validity of the 1899 Arbitral Award before the (ICJ).”
The Head of State reminded that Guyana’s position has always been that the basis of the controversy is a legal question and as such, should be resolved peacefully and conclusively through a legal process.