World Court rules Venezuela must not take any action over Guyana’s Essequibo region


By Neil Marks

The World Court on Friday ruled that Venezuela should not take any action to seize control of Guyana’s Essequibo region.

President Dr Irfaan Ali hailed the ruling saying the country will come off victorious in its quest for a final, legally binding ruling at the court, where it has filed a case to affirm the 1899 arbitral award that determined the boundary between Guyana and Venezuela.

But Venezuela is holding a referendum on December 3 in which it seeks a mandate from its people to assert rights over the Essequibo and Guyana moved to the court to seek protection until the main case is decided on.

Judge Joan E. Donoghue, President of the Court, read the Court’s Order.

“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.”

She said the provisional measures are binding and imposes a legal obligation for the court’s decision to be respected.

President Ali hailed the unanimous decision of the court.

“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,” the President said in a statement.

Judge Joan E. Donoghue, President of the Court, read the Court’s Order

Guyana asked the Court to rule that until it rules on the substantive case, Venezuela should not seek to question the legal validity and binding effect of the 1899 Award or seek to create the State of ‘Guayana Esequiba’ and any associated measures, including the granting of Venezuelan citizenship and national identity cards.

The court accepted Guyana’s argument that a real and imminent danger exists to the exercise of its sovereignty over the Essequibo region and hence its order for Venezuela not to take any action to modify the status quo, that is, Guyana’s exercise of its right over the region as handed down by the arbitral award of 1899.

The Court noted statements by Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro and others that it will not turn its back on the results of the referendum, which seeks to annex the Essequibo region.

Hence, the Court accepted Guyana’s arguments of the risk posed to its territory and ruled that Venezuela shall not take any actions that are intended to prepare or allow the exercise of sovereignty or de facto control over any territory that was awarded to British Guiana in the 1899 Arbitral Award.

Guyana had moved to the court to seek protection, saying that even before the Court rules on the central issue before it, namely the legality of the borderline drawn over a century ago, Venezuela was seeking to annex the Essequibo region. The region covers two thirds of Guyana which is prized for its rich rainforest and gold and diamond reserves.

Guyana had argued that the referendum is a rubberstamp for decisions already made by the highest officials of the Venezuelan government.

Guyana further argued that it risks irreparable harm or permanent loss of its territory if the referendum, in its present form, goes ahead and Venezuela takes action to annex the Essequibo region.

During hearings before the Court two weeks ago, Paul Reichler, one of the most eminent lawyers with extensive experience litigating on behalf of Sovereign States, presented evidence to the Court in which Venezuela is preparing to take military action to enforce the outcome of its referendum.

The Court noted that Venezuela stated during the oral proceedings that it “will not turn its back on what the people decide in the referendum” of 3 December 2023.

The Court pointed out also that on October 24, 2023, the President of Venezuela Mr Nicolás Maduro publicly stated that the referendum “is the first time that all arguments – political, diplomatic, legal, historic, territorial – are given to our people so that we take a collective decision as a country”.

Other official statements suggest that Venezuela is taking steps with a view towards acquiring control over and administering the territory in dispute, the court noted.

For instance, on 6 November 2023, the court noted that the Minister of Defence of Venezuela, General Vladimir Padrino López, made an appeal to “go to combat” with reference to the territory in question. Furthermore, Venezuelan military officials announced that Venezuela is taking concrete measures to build an airstrip to serve as a “logistical support point for the integral development of the Essequibo”.

An agreement reached in Geneva on February 17, 1966, allowed for the United Nations Secretary-General to determine a resolution to the controversy, and dialogue and talks ensued for decades.

In mid-February 2017, the new UN Secretary-General António Guterres appointed Dag Halvor Nylander of Norway as his Personal Representative on the Border Controversy, in a final effort at dialogue to settle the matter. That failed.

On January 31, 2018, the UN Secretary-General referred the matter to the ICJ.

Upon that referral Guyana, in March 2018, moved to the court for a full and final settlement to Venezuela’s rejection of the arbitral award which settled the boundaries of the two countries 124 years ago. Venezuela has refused to recognise the right of the court to determine the case.

The first step was to establish jurisdiction, whether the court can rule on the case and it did so on April 6 this year.

While boycotting much of the procedure, Venezuela tried to stop the case from moving forward by arguing the United Kingdom should be involved as Guyana was a British colony in 1899, but judges rejected that reasoning and said they had jurisdiction.

“The Court observes that the situation that currently prevails in the territory in dispute is that Guyana administers and exercises control over that area.

“The Court considers that, pending the final decision in the case, Venezuela must refrain from taking any action which would modify that situation,” the President of the ICJ declared in handing down the ruling of the Court.

1 Comment
  1. Stephen Monohar Kangal says

    Venezuela again lost another round at the ICJ today Friday when the Court ruled quite unanimously that Guyana had established a most convincing case against Venezuela in its application to the ICJ for the issuance of an injunctive Order preventing Venezuela from undertaking any planned action to invade and annexe The Essequibo Region that the Court recognized as being at present under the sovereignty of Guyana.
    Venezuela also lost two previous submissions that the Court did not possess the requisite jurisdiction to adjudicate on the dispute.
    The Court did not issue any statement on the legality of the domestic Consultative Referendum to be held on Sunday in Venezuela which is an admission that that matter was within the ambit of the internal affairs of Venezuela to legislate.
    But the Court ruled by inference that such domestic laws cannot be the basis or justification for Venezuela to encroach upon what is legally an integral part (three quarters) of Guyana’s territorial sovereignty and which is the subject of the Court’s current proceedings.
    The Court found that such illegal encroachment or invasion by the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela “…might aggravate and extend the dispute…”
    Let me congratulate the Guyanese Team led by sub Agent Dr Carl Greenidge inclusive of AG Prem Nandlal for presenting a most compellingly astute case for the issuance of Provisional Measures by the ICJ that earned the unanimous approbation of the entire Panel of Judges since that submission in the words of the Court met all the requirements and criteria that it had to factor into its decision-making process.
    The threat of an existential Venezuelan invasion would appear to lose some of its traction and the Guyanese Nation can now breathe a temporary sigh of relief and much needed reduction of the tension that even reached the young and innocent in the schools.
    We now await to see whether Caracas will ignore the Order of the Court and proceed with its adventurous land grabbing obsessions in The Essequibo and face the sanctions of the UN Security Council.
    It is to be noted that since the Court established that the Essequibo Region was now under the exclusive sovereignty of Guyana it stands to a reasonable conclusion and legally deducted inference that its appurtenant Territorial Sea, Exclusive Economic Zone and extensive Continental Shelf that it generates into and under the sea are also under the sovereignty and sovereign rights of Guyana and is a no go and prohibited area as well for Venezuela.
    The maritime areas and the land territory are inextricably inseparable and constitute one territory according to the The Law of the Sea Convention of which Guyana is a party but Venezuela is not.

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