Border controversy: Without evidence of claims, Guyana says Venezuela attempting to stall work of World Court

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Venezuela continues to seek the dismissal of Guyana’s request for a final settlement to the ongoing border controversy case before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) but it has not provided substantial evidence detailing why this should be done, Guyana’s representatives told the World Court on Tuesday.

As such, members of Guyana’s legal team and Guyana’s agent in the case Carl Greenidge believe that Venezuela is only stalling the much-needed judgement into the border case.

“One thing however is abundantly clear, Venezuela does not want to court to determine the merits of Guyana’s claims.

“… One cannot escape the conclusion that it is a desire to continue perpetuating a falsehood rather than a desire to expose and vindicate the truth, that underlies Venezuela’s hostility to the Court hearing Guyana’s claims,” Greenidge said in closing remarks at the Court in the Hague, Netherlands.

Further, he believes that Venezuela does not want the World Court to preside over the matter because this will validate the 1899 Arbitral Award which set the boundary between the two countries and prove that Essequibo does belong to Guyana.

Before Greenidge offered his closing statements, members of Guyana’s legal team, Professor Pierre d’Argent and Professor Philippe Sands, stressed that much of Venezuela’s arguments before the Court were without evidence.

The Spanish-speaking country raised preliminary objections that halted the adjudication process in the border controversy.

It argued that the United Kingdom (UK) should be a party to the border case given that the British government was party to the 1899 Arbitral Award that determined the land boundary between Venezuela and then British Guiana.

It also posited before that tribunal and those involved in the 1899 Award may have been compromised or engaged in some misconduct.

Additionally, Venezuela’s Professor Paolo Palchetti on Monday said that the United Kingdom engaged in coercion and corrupt practices in relation to the 1899 Award.

Guyana’s legal team continued to disagree with these arguments and said that the World Court could aptly investigate such claims while presiding over the substantive border controversy case.

“It is somehow an insult to tell the Court that by ruling in December 2020, you could not have realised that by examining the validity of the award, as you had decided to do, you could be led to necessarily look into the conduct of the UK at the time of the arbitration,” Professor D’Argent told the Court however.

Professor Sands, on the other hand, pointed out that no evidence of misconduct had been provided by Venezuela nor has any evidence of how a ruling in this case could affect the UK, which has no legal interest or obligation here.

He also reminded the Court of the 1966 Geneva Agreement which intended to resolve the controversy over the frontier between Guyana and British Guiana.

When Guyana became independent in May 1966, the UK no longer had a role in the settlement of the controversy. Based on Article IV of that Agreement, the UK gave its consent for the United Nations, and by extension the ICJ, to resolve the controversy.

“… the Court’s judgement of December 2020 deserves to be read with great care.

“Venezuela has no good answer to the proposition that by signing the Geneva agreement, the UK has explicitly expressed its consent to the Court exercising its jurisdiction over Guyana’s claims being brought pursuant to that agreement,” Professor Sands said.

Subsequent public statements, he said, also indicate that the UK backs the Court’s jurisdiction in presing over the matter.

With oral arguments on the preliminary objections filed by Venezuela completed, the Court will issue a judgement subsequently. That judgement is expected to detail whether the ICJ believes it should preside over the claims brought by Guyana.

For context, however, in December 2020, the ICJ already ruled that it has jurisdiction to hear the case. Subsequently, the ICJ ordered that Guyana file its Memorial on the merits of its case against Venezuela. Guyana did so on March 8, 2022.

When Guyana filed its Memorial, Venezuela filed preliminary objections to the admissibility of Guyana’s Application to the Court to determine the validity of the 1899 Arbitral Award on June 7, 2022.

In accordance with its rules, the Court suspended the proceedings on the merits until the determination by the ICJ as it relates to Venezuela’s preliminary objections.

Venezuela refused to participate in the legal proceedings before this and Guyanese stakeholders believe that these preliminary objections are meant to delay the Court’s ruling on the substantive matter: the border controversy.

Guyana is seeking to obtain a final and binding judgement that the 1899 Arbitral Award, which established the location of the land boundary between then British Guiana and Venezuela, remains valid and that the Essequibo region belongs to Guyana and not Venezuela.

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