Guyana’s sole objective was to determine the validity of the 1899 Prize
Not too long after the World Court ruled Guyana’s claim as to ‘the legal validity and binding effect of the ruling on the border between the colonial Guiana of Britain and the United States of Venezuela on October 3, 1899,’ the press issued two rather interesting interpretations concerning the decision of the Court.
More views and interpretations are expected from mainstream media editors and experts at home and abroad in relation to the Court’s decision.
The interpretations published so far have raised some interesting questions.
Ralph Ramkarran in the last paragraph of his recent Conversation Tree blog ‘Victory at the World Court.’ he wrote:
‘Of interest is that the ICJ’s paragraph in paragraph 135 seems to argue that if it manages that the 1899 Prize is void, then it has jurisdiction over the related question of the land boundary.’
In a sentence before the last paragraph in his blog Ramkarran opines; ‘Further, the Court ruled that it had no jurisdiction over the events that occurred after the signing of the Geneva Agreement. So the seizure of Anoka, Venezuela’s break from Guyana’s sovereignty on land and sea, will have to be resolved by other peaceful means. ‘
Bertrand Ramcharran writes under the heading ‘A reckless decision of the World Court on borderline controversy’ in the Sulbro edition of the Stabroek News, aimed at the court’s decision.
He asked; ‘How can the Court supposedly have a mission to uphold the rule of international law, ignore Venezuela’s illegal occupation of the island of Ankoko and other territorial invasions?’ He continued, ‘This Court lost an opportunity to uphold the principles of legality and justice for a small state at the mercy of a much larger bully.’
However, experts would argue that Guyana, in his application to the Court, did not ask the Court to pronounce on the legality or illegality of Venezuela’s occupation of Ankoko.
Guyana’s application to the Court was limited – he asked the Court to pronounce on ‘the legal validity and binding effect of the 1899 Decree.’
Here Ramkarran’s question seems to have a relevant meaning, ‘… if (the Court) rules that the Judgment is void, then it has jurisdiction over the related question of the land boundary.’
From this assertion, it should be assumed that at a certain point Guyana will raise the question of the land border between Guyana and Venezuela in a further application to the Court, now that the question of jurisdiction is about legality and binding the effect of the Prize Out of the way arbitration.
Under the circumstances, Guyana seems to have taken a step-by-step approach to the Court on this complex and long-standing issue.
From all indications, Guyana’s approach seems to be more strategic, rather than a one-off tactical one.
Ramcharran’s assertion on Ankoko’s question, though important, appears to be preemptive, if not premature. There is no ‘lost opportunity’ here. Nor has the Court ‘failed in its mission to uphold the rule of international law’ as Ramcharran claims.
I have to think that, of all courts, the World Court would dare to repeat half of the sixty-five ruling of our Court of Appeal and thus bring the world stage into disrepute.
My own view is that, contrary to Ramcharran’s assertion of ‘lost opportunity,’ we have not yet reached that stage in the case where all things being equal, it seems a long way off.
My wish on the Ankoko issue is that Guyana wanted the issue resolved, he always did. He never retained sovereignty over Ankoko to Venezuela.
Choosing Guyana as a ‘small state at the mercy of a much larger bully’ has always been the solution, not by military means, but by peaceful means, and the World Court is the only forum that small states have at their disposal to do so.
The simple fact that Guyana more than fifty years ago demanded that the Ankoko issue should have been taken to the UN Security Council and, if necessary, to the World Court was a clear indication of his interest in having the matter to settle peacefully.
In anticipation of the Court’s ruling that the Arbitration Judgment was void and, as a result, it had jurisdiction over the ‘related question of the land boundary,’ if that judgment were to occur, it would offer the strong possibility of convergence in Ramkarran’s interest in seeing the Ankoko issue settled by peaceful means and Ramcharran’s question of the Court’s ruling on that issue, and their settlement to the satisfaction of the two legal enlighteners.
In addition to the above, Ramcharran raised a number of provocative issues in his article. I ticked ten such issues as follows:
1. ‘The World Court in its own right devised a dispute over a land border between the two countries;’
2. ‘The Court has jurisdiction to entertain the related question concerning the definitive settlement of the land boundary dispute between the two territories;’
3. The World Court has granted Venezuela a gift holding that there is a ‘territorial dispute;’
4. Guyana never invited the Court to hold that there was a ‘territorial dispute;’ This decision is … irresponsible and reckless; ‘
5. ‘The Court recklessly volunteered that the Geneva Agreement used the term’ argument ‘as a synonym for the word’ dispute; ‘
6. ‘The Court is wrong in holding that there is a territorial dispute when Guyana has consistently asserted that there has been an argument …;’
7. ‘The Court loosely joins the issue of territorial dispute with the validity of the 1899 Prize;’
8. That the Court’s finding that two matters are now to be resolved i) the validity of the Arbitration Judgment and ii) the related question concerning the definitive settlement of the land boundary dispute. That this perception will be of great discontent with Guyana and its people; ‘
9. That there were two complex issues of the World Court’s decision 1) it had no jurisdiction to entertain Guyana’s allegation arising from the events that occurred after the signature of the Geneva Treaty and 2) that the Court had ignored Venezuela’s illegal occupation of the island of Ankoko. and other illegal territorial trends; ‘
10. That Guyana’s lawyers need to seriously consider whether to apply to remedy the Court’s decision or face the risk that Venezuela will recklessly take advantage of the gift that the World Court has given them.
All ten issues raised by Ramcharran are interrelated and interconnected in one way or another, and yet he makes the mistake through his misunderstanding of the fundamental questions about why Guyana went to Court and what was the question asked of the Court? namely; ‘Does the Court have jurisdiction to entertain Guyana’s claim in relation to the dispute over the legal validity and binding effect of the ruling on the border between the British Guiana colony and the United States of Venezuela on 3 October 1899. The Court’s unequivocal and implausible answer was yes.
Guyana’s sole objective in his application to the Court was to determine the validity and binding nature of the 1899. Prize. It is in Guyana’s national interest to do so. On the other hand, Venezuela has no interest in discussing the validity of the Prize as such, it believes that the Geneva Agreement has to do with what they claim to be a ‘territorial dispute.’
So far as Guyana’s application to the Court is concerned, the validity and binding nature of the judgment on which he asked the Court to pronounce, not the land borders between the two countries. At least not yet. In any event, the Court abstained from pronunciation on such matters. Now that it has decided that it has jurisdiction to pronounce on the Arbitration Award question, the ball is now in Guyana court to take her case to another level.
It is now a matter for Guyana to move to the next step considered. Herein lies the core of the matter. An application to the Court as to whether it has jurisdiction to determine the validity and binding nature of the Award has been decided in favor of Guyana. Perhaps sometime in the near future, Guyana will make a fresh application to the Court asking it to finally and definitively govern Guyana’s land and sea borders with Venezuela.
Guyana never asked the Court to pronounce on that issue. And yet we learn from the writing of Mr. Ramcharran, the rather shocking conclusion that the ‘Court has given Venezuela a gift in holding that’ a territorial dispute. ‘
If Mr. Ramcharran is referring to the territorial dispute vis-a-vies of the Geneva Treaty, then he must know that that was a Venezuelan job for a long time. Not Guyana. Under the circumstances, the Court could not give Venezuela what Venezuela held notionally as its position since Noah when he was a boy!
From what I have read thus, the Court did not give Venezuela anything of substance by ‘gift.’ Regarding Ramcharran ‘entreatment’ Guyana’s lawyers would need to seriously consider whether to apply to remedy the Court’s decision or face the risk that Venezuela would recklessly take on the gift that the World Court has given them . ‘ I defer to Ramkarran who wrote in his blog, ‘This great preliminary achievement was achieved after a huge amount of work over a long period of time by a large number of foreign ministry officials, consultants, experts, advisers and lawyers.’
I note the term ‘preliminary success’ which indicates that there is still more to come that will build on what was achieved on December 18 in Court.
Surely Ramcharran had assumed this to be the case and it could not have been ‘that the mighty mountain gave birth to a little mouse.’
I know Mr. Ramcharran personally. We met and chatted from time to time while I was serving as Guyana’s Foreign Minister. It has always been conducive to placing his skills, knowledge and experience in the service of his home country.
Perhaps at some point Mr Ramcharran might be involved.
Clement J. Rohee
Former Minister of Foreign Affairs