|Related Links:||Articles on foreign affairs|
|Letters Menu||Archival Menu|
Despite the importance of the agreement, it was signed in Georgetown between Foreign Affairs Minister Rudy Insanally and Assistant US Secretary of State for Arms Control, Stephen Rademaker without any prior notification to the media or the issuing of a press statement.
The sole notification that the agreement has been sealed came yesterday - a day after the signing - via a photograph from the Government Information Agency with a spare caption and the date and nature of the assignment inscribed on the back of the photograph.
Foreign Affairs Ministry officials last evening confirmed that the agreement had been signed with Washington and said that a statement should be issued by Monday on it. This approach contrasts with a slew of recent Foreign Ministry events where multiple notifications are issued prior to, and after the ceremonies no matter the type of occasion.
Rademaker paid a brief visit to Guyana earlier this week and there was no announcement by the Guyana Government or the US Embassy of his trip and the reason behind it. Stabroek News was invited to one photo opportunity related to his visit - a meeting with President Bharrat Jagdeo at the Office of the President.
In July this year, President Jagdeo announced that Guyana intended to sign the immunity agreement exempting US servicemen from prosecution by the ICC, an institution which Washington opposes. He said the agreement would only be sealed after parliament has ratified the Rome Statute giving effect to the ICC.
Speaking two weeks after the Caricom Heads of Government Meeting in Jamaica, Jagdeo had told reporters then that parliament would ratify the Rome Statute when it reconvened after the August/September recess.
He said the government had held internal discussions on the ratification of the ICC and its implications and had listened to legal advice from several persons. "We also intend to sign with the US the bilateral non-surrender agreement once we ratify" the statute, Jagdeo declared.
The issue of Caricom states ratifying the ICC treaty was a hot topic at the Jamaican summit. Most Caricom countries have signed on to the criminal court treaty but only some have ratified it. And as the leaders were discussing the issue the US announced that it was cutting off military aid to 35 countries, including six in Caricom, which had already ratified the ICC treaty.
The US is concerned that the court could be the vehicle for spurious cases being brought against its military personnel. It has been argued internationally that to enter into a bilateral immunity agreement with the US would undermine the independence and legitimacy of the court given that its jurisdiction is meant to cover any national from any country.
Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago had seen their US military aid cut because they have not signed the so-called Article 98 immunity agreement with the US. Antigua recently initialled a deal with Washington.
At the July summit the leaders agreed, after what Jagdeo described as lengthy and lively debate, that countries yet to ratify the ICC treaty would do so but individual member states, based on their legal determination, could enter into bilateral agreements providing that these were not incompatible with the Rome Statute.
Asked whether Guyana was pressured into agreeing with the bilateral agreement with the US, Jagdeo said "the US raised this matter with us but I wouldn't say that it's pressure."
In response to whether it was fear that the US would cut aid that Guyana had not yet ratified the statute, he said it was a "national interest consideration."
"It's not a fear. The US has made it clear that they will cut off the aid. I need the military co-operation with the US to continue. It is as clear as that. I can't be more clear."
He said Guyana saw the US as a partner on several issues including the training of military officers and some assistance with military equipment. He added that the country had large unprotected borders vulnerable to drug smuggling, and as Colombia puts pressure on narco-trafficking, activities could shift to northern Brazil, Suriname and Guyana. He noted the recent arrest of a top drug dealer in Suriname. "We need the US government support."
In their statement issued at the Caricom summit in Jamaica, heads had said "they were deeply disturbed at the punitive action taken by the US Government, with effect from July 1st, 2003, against the six CARICOM member states which are parties to the International Criminal Court. They stressed that this development was at complete variance with the spirit of the special relationship which has traditionally existed between the United States and the Caribbean, a relationship which has always been characterised by mutual respect and cooperation, and strict adherence to the rule of law, to international obligations, and constructive dialogue which Heads are committed to continuing."
The heads also stressed "that the effective protection of the `Third Border' of the United States could not be achieved unilaterally, and that continued military and security cooperation between the Caribbean and the United States was in the national security interest of all countries which comprise our common Caribbean neighbourhood."
The heads also pledged to examine the possibility of establishing mutual legal arrangements on military matters among their member states.
Guyana's decision to sign the exemption agreement with the US will likely lead to tension with fellow Caricom states some of which are adamantly opposed to the exemption pacts particularly Trinidad and Tobago which played a leading role in the formation of the ICC. To date, around 70 countries - including 50 that have supported the setting up of the ICC - have signed immunity deals with the US. Guyana has now joined the list.
Originally, some Caricom countries had agreed to hold off signing the immunity pact with Washington to give regional leaders an opportunity to lobby the Bush administration for a waiver sparing Caricom from having to sign the agreement and preserving US military aid to the region. However, despite several meetings at various levels Washington could not be persuaded to acquiesce.