News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Fri. Dec. 1, 2023: The International Court of Justice (ICJ) today issued a significant ruling on the Guyana/Venezuela border dispute, stating that Guyana has met all the necessary requirements for provisional measures concerning Venezuela’s upcoming December 3rd consultative referendum.
This referendum pertains to Venezuela’s claim to the oil-rich Essequibo County of Guyana.
The Order of the Court was unanimous, with all of the sitting Judges voting in favor of it. The Order states: “Pending a final decision in the case, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela shall refrain from taking any action which would modify the situation that currently prevails in the territory in dispute, whereby the Cooperative Republic of Guyana administers and exercises control over that area.”
Both Venezuela and Guyana have been instructed to abstain from any actions that could exacerbate or prolong the ongoing dispute before the court, making it more challenging to reach a resolution. The ICJ’s orders were unanimous, and Judge Joan Donoghue, the court’s President, delivered the ruling.
Guyana had sought the intervention of the United Nations’ top court to impose temporary restrictions, potentially leading to the removal of certain questions from the referendum. Guyana perceives this vote as an “existential threat” that could enable Venezuela to annex Essequibo.
Venezuela’s Vice President, Delcy Rodríguez, has already stated that not even the court can prevent her country from proceeding with the referendum as planned. The proposed referendum aims to grant Venezuelan citizenship to residents of an annexed Essequibo.
In commenting on the ruling, Guyana President Dr Irfaan Ali said: “Today, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued an important Order granting the provisional measures against Venezuela that Guyana requested in response to Venezuela’s announcement that it would be holding a referendum that would endorse, among other illegal measures, Venezuela’s annexation of Guyana’s Essequibo Region.”
“We welcome this unanimous ruling by the ICJ,” he added. “As the Court has made clear, Venezuela is prohibited from annexing or trespassing upon Guyanese territory or taking any other actions – regardless of the outcome of its referendum on December 3 – that would alter the status quo in which Guyana administers and controls the Essequibo Region, as an integral part of its sovereign territory, under the Arbitral Award of 3 October 1899. Today’s ruling is legally binding on Venezuela. Both the UN Charter and the Statute of the Court, to which Venezuela is a Party, require its strict compliance. This is an opportunity for Venezuela to join Guyana in demonstrating respect for international law and the principles that govern peaceful coexistence.
“Guyana remains steadfast in its commitment to the international judicial process and the rule of law. It is fully confident that, when the ICJ issues its final Judgment on the merits of the case, it will conclude that the Essequibo is legally and rightfully Guyanese territory. We believe that justice, not force, should be the arbiter of international disputes. To this end, we affirm our dedication to pursuing a peaceful, legal resolution to this dispute in the right and proper place – the ICJ – as authorized by the UN Secretary-General in the exercise of his powers under the Geneva Agreement of 1966.”
Earlier this year, in April, the ICJ affirmed its jurisdiction to address the border controversy between these two South American nations. However, Venezuela does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction, which could potentially delay a final decision for years.
Venezuela contends that the border with Guyana, a former colony of The Netherlands and the United Kingdom, was fraudulently imposed by the British, accusing them of a “land grab.” Conversely, Guyana maintains that the border was established through arbitration on October 3, 1899, by an arbitration panel (Arbitral Award of 3 October 1899).
The Anglo-Venezuelan Arbitral Tribunal met in Paris, France, 122 years ago, giving its award that defined the border between Venezuela and then-British Guiana. For over half a century, Venezuela adhered to the 1899 Arbitral Award. However, in 1962, Venezuela asserted that the Essequibo area of Guyana was within its borders, particularly escalating after ExxonMobil discovered oil in Essequibo in 2015.
In response to this situation, Guyana initiated a case against Venezuela at the World Court in 2018, seeking confirmation that the border was established through arbitration between British Guiana and Venezuela in 1899.
Under the framework of the 1966 Geneva Agreement between the two nations, the Secretary-General conducted Good Offices processes from 1990 to 2017 in an attempt to find a resolution to the border dispute.
On January 30, 2018, then-Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, following a thorough evaluation of the developments in 2017, selected the ICJ as the mechanism to address the controversy.
Essequibo constitutes nearly two-thirds of Guyana’s territory, with approximately 125,000 of the nation’s 800,000 inhabitants residing in this area.
In the substantive case, Guyana aims to secure a final and binding ICJ judgment, confirming the validity and binding nature of the 1899 Arbitral Award, which delineated the land boundary between British Guiana and Venezuela, and asserting Essequibo as Guyana’s territory.