— calls for immediate release of citizens
— urges peaceful resolution, respect for international law in border controversy
DAYS after Venezuelan authorities detained and charged Guyanese fishermen who were operating in Guyana’s waters along the Waini River in Guyana’s territory, the Organisation of American States (OAS) has condemned this illegal detention and called for the immediate release of the men and their vessels.
In a terse statement issued by the organisation’s General Secretariat on Wednesday, the OAS said, “The General Secretariat demands that the Guyanese citizens are released promptly and safely to Guyanese authorities, as well as the two detained vessels.”
The OAS also acknowledged that the Guyana-registered fishing vessels and their crew were operating within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Guyana. The EEZ is an area of the sea in which a sovereign state has special rights regarding the exploration and use of marine resources, including energy production from water and wind, as prescribed by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Following the detention of the 12 men on the fishing crew and the Lady Nayera and Sea Wolf fishing vessels on January 21, Guyana posited that the Venezuelan naval vessel “Commandante Hugo Chavez GC 24” was illegally manoeuvring within Guyana’s EEZ and contiguous zone.
Furthermore, the Government of Guyana has considered this act a wanton show of aggression by the Venezuelan armed forces against Guyana and Guyanese citizens. It follows on the heels of a recent unilateral decree by President of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, claiming Venezuela’s sovereignty and exclusive sovereign rights in the waters and seabed adjacent to Guyana’s coast, west of the Essequibo River.
Currently, Guyana is seeking a final and binding judgement that the 1899 Arbitral Award, which established the location of the land boundary between the then British Guiana and Venezuela, remains valid, and that the Essequibo region belongs to Guyana and not Venezuela.
In December, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that it has jurisdiction to hear the Guyana/ Venezuela border controversy case and the World Court is preparing to hear the arguments in the substantive matter.
The OAS in its statement reminded of this ongoing judicial process and emphasised, “Any attempt to derail this international legal process, such as the degree issued by the Maduro regime, is contrary to international law and standards, and has no legal bearing or significance.”
On Wednesday also, during a regular meeting of the Permanent Council of the OAS, Ambassador Dr Riyad Insanally, Guyana’s Permanent Representative to the OAS, appraised the group of Venezuela’s actions, despite the ongoing judicial processes.
“It is regrettable that the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has chosen to resort to the unilateral use of military force to assert its territorial claims and maritime jurisdiction, which Guyana regards as entirely baseless and contrary to international law,” Ambassador Insanally told the virtual gathering.
Moreover, he highlighted that President Maduro’s recent decree and the more recent illegal detention of the Guyanese fishermen and vessels are aggressive and hostile acts, which should not and cannot be tolerated by any state in the world.
He insisted upon the immediate release and return of the Guyanese and their vessels, and called upon Venezuela to participate in the proceeding before the ICJ, from which the Spanish-speaking country has thus far abstained.
At that meeting, numerous country representatives of the OAS called upon Venezuela to release the civilian crew members and vessels and further, to desist from its hostile acts. Instead, they encouraged that Venezuela engage in the recognised and reputable legal process.
“The U.S. condemns the January 23 seizure and detention of the two Guyanese fishing vessels by the Maduro regime’s navy and we call for the immediate release of the Guyanese vessels and crew,” Bradley Freden, Deputy Permanent Representative of the United States to the OAS, said.
He highlighted that the U.S. supports a peaceful resolution to the Guyana/Venezuela maritime boundary controversy and the North American country welcomes the December ruling of the ICJ that it has jurisdiction to hear the case brought by Guyana.
A recent statement from the Belize Press Office that supported Guyana’s sovereignty was read into the record. That statement reiterated Belize’s unequivocal support for Guyana’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as the process underway before the ICJ to finally and peacefully resolve the controversy between the two countries was read at the OAS meeting.
According to the statement, the Belizean Minister of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Immigration Eamon Courtenay met with the Venezuelan Ambassador to Belize, Gerardo Argote on Sunday for an explanation of the incident. It was noted that during that meeting, Minister Courtenay took the opportunity to condemn “this latest flagrant violation of Guyana’s sovereignty.”
OAS Secretary-General, Luis Almagro pointed out that while the controversy between Guyana and Venezuela engages the World Court, human rights cannot be overlooked.
“This is an issue that affects all of us as a region and [we are] looking at a peaceful resolution in international law,” Almargo said, later adding: “… any unilateral move without any consideration of the EEZ is not the way to resolve this.”
Additionally, Panama called for measures to protect the health and well-being of Guyanese crew members, but also emphasised that the Guyanese should be immediately released.
Adding to Almargo’s statements was his fellow countryman and Permanent Representative of Uruguay, Washington Abdala, who reasoned that Guyana, much like Uruguay, is a small country and therefore, international law and international support are the first line of defence for the small countries.
He highlighted that it is not very often that so many members of the council agree, though to varying degree, would agree on a matter. But, he stated, “There seems to be an agreement with regard to the path forward that it ought to be one of a peaceful solution.”
Meanwhile, Guyana-born diplomat representing Antigua and Barbuda at the OAS, Sir Ronald Sanders said, “We are particularly concerned of the heightening of tensions between Guyana and Venezuela, occasioned by recent events, especially the detention by a Venezuelan naval vessel of two civilian Guyanese vessels operating in Guyana’s Exclusive Economic Zone.”
Sir Ronald reiterated that country’s support for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)’s call to end any aggression towards Guyana by Venezuela, and settle any contention through peaceful means as set out in international law.
Permanent Representative of Trinidad and Tobago to the Organisation of American States (OAS), Anthony Phillips-Spencer also reminded that Trinidad’s Minister of Foreign and Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Affairs, Senator, Dr Amery Browne called for a peaceful solution to the latest incident between Guyana and Venezuela over the detention of two Guyanese fishing boats and crew.
In addition to the show of support from CARICOM member-states, representatives from Canada, Brazil and Guatemala all called for a peaceful resolution to the controversy between Guyana and its western neighbour in accordance with international law, at the ICJ.
But, Venezuela’s special representative to the OAS, Gustavo Tarre Briceño, who was appointed by opposition leader Juan Guaido after the Maduro Government withdrew from the OAS, contended that the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, who was the one who referred the border controversy to the ICJ, should have sought agreement from both countries before doing so.
In the absence of that, and due to Venezuela’s reluctance to participate in the legal proceedings at the World Court, Briceño supported Maduro’s sentiments that the existing controversy between Guyana and Venezuela ought to be settled through bilateral engagements, which is what Venezuela deems to be a peaceful resolution to the matter.
In response to these statements, Guyana’s representative questioned rhetorically, “What more peaceful and legally binding means of settlement can there be apart from recourse at the ICJ, the highest and most respected global court that we have?”