Guyana to hire ‘expensive, bigger’ team for border case

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With Guyana gearing to put up a convincing legal argument in defence of the more than century-old award that settled the borders with Venezuela, the Government would be courting the best legal minds.

Over the past year, Guyana had engaged former Attorney General and Commonwealth Secretary-General Sir Shridath Ramphal and International Dispute Settlement lawyer, Payam Akhavan.

They worked with the Guyana legal team as the United Nations Secretary-General – through his Personal Representative Dag Halvor Nylander – spent 2017 in enhanced mediation efforts between the two countries to settle the issue.

“The money for the lawyers we are talking about is for a team yet to be recruited in order to carry the case to the ICJ; it’s a far more expensive and bigger team,” Carl Greenidge, Minister of Foreign Affairs told a press conference on December 14, 2017.

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carl Greenidge

The United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Gutierrez Tuesday announced that he had referred the controversy to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the principal judicial organ of the UN.

Already, US$15 million from a US$18 million signing bonus with oil giant ExxonMobil has been reserved in a special bank account to pay legal fees.

The Minister said then that the Government decided to set aside the oil bonus to pay legal fees because it did not want the headache of having to go looking for funds.

“He [the Minister of Finance] and his technicians don’t have to go somewhere and sit down and ask themselves, ‘Have we got the money?’, because that’s really where the problem arises,” Greenidge stated.

But with the money set aside for use as needed, Greenidge said it could be “drawn down easily.”

In September of 2017, Venezuelan Foreign Affairs Minister, Jorge Arreaza referred to Guyanese as “brothers and sisters” and said Venezuela was committed to “the path of peace.”

It was because the mediation effort by the UN Secretary-General achieved no significant progress that the matter was referred to the ICJ, which is based in The Hague.

The ICJ was established in June 1945 by the Charter of the United Nations and began work in April 1946.

The Court’s role includes settling, in accordance with international law, legal disputes submitted to it by States.

The Court is composed of 15 judges, who are elected for terms of office of nine years by the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council.

By the Geneva Agreement of February 17, 1966, Guyana and Venezuela allowed for the UN Secretary-General to determine a resolution to the controversy which arose after Venezuelan contended that the Arbitral Award of 1899 which settled the countries’ borders was null and void.

Guyana is adamant that the 1899 Tribunal provided “a full, perfect and final settlement” but Venezuela denounced the Arbitral Award in 1962 at the Decolonisation Committee of the UN General Assembly as British Guiana sought Independence.

Guyana has accused Venezuela of a series of acts of aggression, starting with a Presidential decree of June 1968.  The border controversy flared again in early 2015 when American firm Exxon Mobil announced that it had made a “significant” oil discovery.

After threatening the company, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro issued a decree on May 26, 2015, seeking to extend Venezuela’s land claim to also annex the country’s maritime space.

Four years ago, Venezuela sent a naval ship into Guyanese waters and seized a U.S.-chartered oil survey ship and escorted it to Margarita Island.

In September 2015, Guyanese authorities also said the Venezuela army was in the Cuyuni River. In October, Canadian-based mining company Guyana Goldfields said it had received an “unfounded” notification of possible legal action by Venezuela over its operations in Guyana.

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