Venezuela bound to accept ICJ decision

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By Devina Samaroo

Foreign Affairs Minister Carl Greenidge has confirmed that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) can only offer what is known as an “advisory opinion” on the border controversy between Guyana and Venezuela.

While this is not a binding ruling, Greenidge said it still has significant weight in the international community and that the pronouncement by the World Court would still be “comforting” even if Venezuela refuses to accept the decision.

“It is not for a country to decide unilaterally what are its obligations and the world’s obligations. You are in a community, not an island as a country. You can say whatever you like but you cannot pronounce on the law which is an international one. The law that we are making reference to is internationally fashioned, it is not the Venezuelan law or a Guyanese law. It is an international treaty and you are obliged under the United Nations Framework to honour treaty obligations and honour international law,” the Foreign Affairs Minister told reporters on the sidelines of an event hosted at the Pegasus Hotel on Monday, February 5, 2018.

Greenidge added, “Once there’s a pronouncement as to the standing of a treaty, and this one in particular, we are fine. That is very comforting.”

Venezuela contends that the Arbitral Award of 1899 which settled the countries’ border was null and void. However, Guyana is adamant that the 1899 Tribunal provided “a full, perfect and final settlement” but Venezuela denounced the Arbitral Award in 1962 at the Decolonisation Committee of the UN General Assembly as British Guiana sought Independence.

In this regard, Greenidge explained that the question to be put to the ICJ for an “advisory opinion” whether the Arbitral Award is a final settlement or null and void.

“An advisory opinion would say, if you want, this treaty is still in existence, nothing has come to displace it. That is fine. We are not setting out in the court to get the court to go now and mark boundaries. That’s not the issue. The issue is an allegation made by Venezuela in 1962, that a treaty that they’d honoured for 61 years is null and void,” the Foreign Affairs Minister explained.

As it relates to whether Guyana’s western neighbour will participate in the process, Greenidge posited that “if they [Venezuela] are so convinced that it [the Arbitral Award] is null and void, (then) that [the ICJ] is the forum to represent their case.”

He further explained that the ICJ is the direction – as decided by the United Nations Secretary-General, to resolve the allegation made by Venezuela.

“It doesn’t matter who is listening or who doesn’t want to support their own arguments,” he said.

The UN Secretary-General recently referred the matter to the ICJ – following one more year of negotiations between the two countries. After Venezuela made its claim in 1962, the two countries entered a framework called the Geneva Agreement which allowed for the UN Secretary-General to determine a resolution to the controversy.

Greenidge said the Guyana Government is in full preparation mode to head to the World Court.

He explained that the Government has to make decisions on how and when to approach the ICJ.

“That has to be done after further reflection and consultation with the United Nations and the Court,” he stated.

He explained that a delegation from the Foreign Affairs Ministry comprising of legal minds worked late hours last evening to map out broad options including issues that need “immediate attention” and those which need to go to the Cabinet for “policy” and “guidance”.

Meanwhile, Greenidge contended that the Good Offices Process under the Geneva Agreement has finally been completed and that Guyana does not desire to continue more years of negotiation with Venezuela.

However, the Foreign Affairs Minister said the Guyana Government is willing to work with Venezuela to resolve any issue that will arise in this phase.

“We have and we will continue to be members of the United Nations and within the framework of the UN, the Secretary-General has a role in any dialogue between countries that may pose challenges. In that regard, and I take it Venezuela is aware of that framework, we stand ready to work along with Venezuela and the Secretary-General to solve any problems that may arise in this phase,” he explained.

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