COFCOR and Guyana’s move to the ICJ

Speaking on Monday at the opening of the 21st Meeting of the Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR) in The Bahamas, CARICOM Secretary-General Irwin LaRocque implored the ministers gathered to speak with one voice to maximize benefits for the region.

“What we do as a Community continues to make a difference. Just recently, we were successful in pressing the case of the undocumented British citizens of Caribbean descent long resident in the United Kingdom (the Windrush Generation). We have brought global attention to issues of non-communicable diseases, graduation from access to concessional financing, climate change and the vulnerability of Small States to name just a few”,  Ambassador LaRocque noted in his address.

He cited migration as requiring “effective multilateralism and concerted action” and adverted to a bevy of other issues such as blacklisting of CARICOM members on the grounds of being tax havens or perceived weak anti-laundering laws, the withdrawal of correspondent banking services, transnational crime and the threat of violent extremism which could similarly benefit from speaking with unanimity.

Speaking with one voice has been a longstanding and major problem for CARICOM in terms of optimising the influence of its votes in international fora. There have been spectacular bust ups in the region over international issues and candidatures, none more sordid than the 2015 split over which of the regional nominees would be supported to be the Commonwealth Secretary General.

The 2014 fiasco over the United Nations General Assembly vote declaring Crimea’s Russian-backed referendum on secession from Ukraine as invalid was particularly troubling as it not only divided the community but raised serious questions about the reasoning behind Guyana’s position.

Guyana and several other CARICOM countries including St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Antigua and Barbuda abstained when they shouldn’t have while Barbados, The Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago and Haiti quite correctly voted for the resolution. Given its peculiar circumstances, Guyana cannot afford not to condemn the clear use of force in addressing territorial matters.

Which brings us back to the COFCOR meeting of May 7th in The Bahamas. On the agenda, as it always is at these meetings and those of the Heads of Government, was the status of Guyana-Venezuela relations. The communique that is issued at the end of these meetings usually makes the standard commitment to the inviolability of Guyana’s territorial integrity and usually takes account of any new development since the matter was last considered.

This communique was no different and the section on Guyana and Venezuela read as follows:

“The COFCOR noted that the Government of Guyana had filed its Application with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on March 29, 2018 in keeping with the decision by the Secretary General of the United Nations issued on 30 January 2018, within the framework of the Geneva Agreement of 1966, to choose the ICJ as the means that is now to be used for the settlement of the controversy between Guyana and Venezuela.  Ministers noted that the decision of the Secretary General, which was in accordance with the principles and purposes of the United Nations Charter, was intended to bring a peaceful and definitive settlement to a longstanding controversy. The COFCOR reiterated its unequivocal support for the maintenance and safeguarding of Guyana’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

This was unremarkable except for the highly disappointing fact that COFCOR merely “noted” Guyana’s approach to the ICJ. It is unclear what Georgetown asked for from this meeting and argued for. However, merely noting the advance to the ICJ was no ringing endorsement at all for what has been a monumental decision by Guyana in the nearly six decades-old battle to end the spurious challenge by Caracas to the 1899 arbitral award which constituted a full, perfect and final settlement of borders between the two countries.

One would have expected that the Community would have fully supported Guyana’s decision to seek a juridical settlement to this millstone around its neck and which mechanism is fully in keeping with the tenets underpinning the founding Treaty of Chaguaramas. At their February, 2018  inter-sessional meeting, Heads of Government had merely expressed their full confidence in the decision of the United Nations Secretary General, in exercise of his authority under the Geneva Agreement of 1966, to refer the border controversy case to the ICJ.

One can only assume that Venezuela’s oleaginous reach into community affairs coupled with other calculations thwarted a resounding declaration of support from COFCOR for Guyana’s decision to move to the ICJ.

It would seem that it didn’t take long for the Secretary General’s admonition to  fall on deaf ears at the meeting. Guyana has much work to do in preparation for shepherding its case at the ICJ and it seems working within the community for unequivocal backing of its actions is the logical place to start.


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