Law of the Sea Arbitral Tribunal Rules in Favor of Guyana Over Suriname

Law of the Sea Arbitral Tribunal Rules in Favor of Guyana Over Suriname

An arbitral tribunal set up according to Annex VII of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea made public a judgment yesterday settling a border dispute between Guyana and Suriname involving an oil-rich underwater basin (full judgment here). A Canadian oil company, CGX, had been exploring the basin only to be expelled by Surinamese gunboats back in 2000. This arbitration commenced, with lots of international law and corporate law bigshots on both sides, as well as on the tribunal itself (on the arbitral tribunal: Professor Ivan Shearer, Professor Thomas Franck, H.E. Mr. Dolliver Nelson (President), Dr. Kamal Hossain, Professor Hans Smit. Foley Hoag, with Professor Phillipe Sands and others, represented Guyana while Cravath Swaine and Moore, with Professors Sean Murphy and Christopher Greenwood and others, represented Suriname). The fees for this case must have been pretty huge.

News reports have been calling this a judgment by the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea, but that is not accurate. Instead, this is an arbitration tribunal with five members chosen by the parties (Guyana and Suriname) according to Annex VII of the UNCLOS. ITLOS can appoint members in case of a deadlock, but I don’t know if that happened here.

In fact, ITLOS is a largely dormant institution (15 cases so far, in its entire 13 year history). The U.S., for instance, has opted out of the ITLOS for almost all disputes (assuming it eventually ratifies UNCLOS) in favor of the Annex VII arbitral process. This proceeding wasn’t even held at ITLOS’s chambers in Hamburg. Instead, it was administered by the Permanent Court of Arbitration situated (where else?) at The Hague.

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