October 28, 2008

Suriname - Guyana Dispute

This latest Suriname-Guyana row
Published on: 10/28/08.
Source: Nation News - Barbados

ONCE AGAIN, a dispute has arisen between Guyana and Suriname, two neighbouring states of the Caribbean Community, over alleged violation of territorial space; and once again CARICOM is faced with the challenge of helping resolve the row, consistent with the spirit and letter of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.

In June 2000, when a Suriname gunboat forcibly evicted a Canadian oil company, CGX Energy, from carrying out off-shore drilling operations in the Corentyne River, on the basis of licence issued by the Guyana Government, CARICOM had warned against the implications of such an unprecedented action by a member state.

Its offer to play a mediating role was rebuffed by Suriname and, eventually, Guyana felt compelled to seek a more far-reaching and definitive resolution to a recurring problem over territorial rights. It opted to go the route of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The initiative resulted in an historical ruling through arbitration last year that predominantly favoured Guyana' case, in delimitation of maritime boundaries.

Then came the recent surprising development to once more disturb Guyana-Suriname relations. This time it had to with the seizure on October 13 by Surinamese military personnel of a Guyanese cargo ship transporting sugar, for allegedly steering into what Suriname claims to be its portion of the Corentyne River. Guyana has rejected this claim as being legally baseless, contending that the vessel was in "international water" along a route often traversed.

The captain of the cargo vessel, Arnold Garraway has been reported in the region's media as saying that for three years now he has been travelling along the same route in the Corentyne River.

Regrettably, as tension rises over this latest incident to aggravate relations between two CARICOM states that share much in common, there is yet to be a meeting at the level of heads of government to produce a satisfactory explanation of what really went wrong when the cargo ship Lady Chandra was seized.

Not only are both Guyana and Suriname members also of the Association of Caribbean States and the 12-nation Union of South American Nations, they are signatory partners to the Revised CARIOM Treaty which has numerous provisions for the peaceful settlement of disputes.

Ultimately, if they so choose, a dispute between member states could be referred for a ruling by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) which has original jurisdiction on dispute settlement. First, there must be an official notification by the relevant parties of the dispute to be resolved.

It is to be hoped, therefore, that fresh efforts will speedily be made by the governments in Paramaribo and Georgetown to settle the dispute at hand, knowing that they could also access the dispute settlement mechanisms afforded by the CARICOM Treaty.

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