ICJ Rejects Venezuela’s Objection to Guyana’s Application for Validity of 1899 Arbitral Award

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has rejected Venezuela's preliminary objection to Guyana's application for the upholding of the validity of the 1899 Arbitral Award settling the boundaries between the two countries. The conflict traces its origins to the end of the 1800s when the British Empire aimed to increase its sway over South America.[0] The majority of the contested land was granted to British Guiana by an arbitration panel in Paris in 1899. Subsequently, in 1966, the country gained independence and adopted the name Guyana.[0] Venezuela rejected the award as invalid and claimed sovereignty over the entire Essequibo region.[0] Guyana filed a case with the ICJ in 2015 to seek a judicial confirmation of the validity of the 1899 Arbitral Award and its boundary with Venezuela. The Bolivarian administration refrained from taking part in the proceedings as it believed that the ICJ did not possess jurisdiction and that the Geneva Agreement mandated face-to-face negotiations between the involved parties.[0]

In March 2018, Guyana filed its application with the ICJ to confirm the validity and binding effect of the Arbitral Award of 1899 on the boundary between the two countries and the subsequent 1905 agreement, following the decision by the UN Secretary-General Guterres to choose the ICJ as the next means of resolving the controversy which stems from Venezuela’s contention that the award was null and void. The ICJ rejected the arguments presented by the Bolivarian authorities to justify that Guyana's claims over this region are not appropriate.[1] As a signatory to the 1899 Arbitral Award, the United Kingdom was not summoned to testify in the court proceedings. This decision was made by the Court, despite the fact that the award granted the majority of the contested land to British Guiana.[2]

The Court established on December 18, 2020, that it possessed the authority to consider Guyana's lawsuit concerning the legitimacy of the 1899 arbitral decision.[1] Venezuela received its inaugural legal setback.[1] The court's decision was primarily influenced by the 1966 Geneva Agreement, which had addressed the issue of British Guiana's independence. This agreement was implemented just three months later on May 26, 1966.[3] Additionally, the court determined that the responsibility for resolving the dispute through the mixed commission mechanism belonged exclusively to Venezuela and British Guiana.[3]

Guyana and Venezuela failed to find a settlement after 52 years of direct discussion, mixed commissions, and mediation.[1] Therefore, on 30 January 2018, the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, chose the ICJ “as the means that is now to be used for its solution.”[1] Subsequently, Guyana instituted proceedings against Venezuela at the ICJ to establish “the legal validity and binding effect” of the 1899 boundary settlement. During that period, two Guyanese generations had to deal with uncertainty and fear caused by Venezuela's aggressive actions and invasions into their land.[1]

From the very beginning, Venezuela expressed discontent towards the ICJ's involvement, despite it being a legal and peaceful mechanism provided by the UN Charter for resolving conflicts, which has been utilized by nations worldwide since its inception.[1] On June 18, 2018, Venezuela initiated its initial protest against Guyana's lawsuit, arguing that the ICJ lacked the authority to consider the matter.[1]

Venezuela's challenge for admissibility was dismissed on Thursday. The country contended that the court could not try the case without the participation of the United Kingdom, which served as Guyana's colonial ruler during the initial border resolution.[4] The argument presented by the Guyanese party was that once Guyana gained independence in 1966, Britain no longer had any role to play in the case, and Venezuela was simply using its argument as a means to delay the proceedings.[4]

The ICJ judges, having considered the legal arguments made by Guyana and Venezuela, and after an examination of the historical facts of the case, decided to reject the Venezuelan preliminary objection, saying that the exercise of the Court's jurisdiction “is based on the application of the Geneva Agreement” and that the UK was not involved in the dispute settlement arrangements between Guyana and Venezuela, nor did either of them “request the United Kingdom's participation.”

As a result, the Court will move forward with resolving the disagreement between the two States, making a conclusive and obligatory decision regarding the legality of the 1899 Arbitral Award that established the territorial border between Venezuela and the prior British Guiana.[5] For over 60 years, both Venezuela and the United Kingdom have acknowledged the legitimacy of the Arbitral Award and the consequent global border.[5] After gaining independence in 1966, Guyana acknowledged the boundary and the Award. However, Venezuela reversed their stance and asserted their ownership of over two-thirds of the land in Guyana to the west of the Essequibo River.[5]

The government of Guyana maintains its confidence that the Court will uphold the established boundary between Venezuela and Guyana. In a statement, Ali expressed his confidence that the court would confirm Guyana's enduring international boundary with Venezuela.

Venezuela's jurisdictional objections have been rejected by the International Court for the second time. Venezuela's objections were overruled by the Court in December 2020, with a vote of 12-4.[5] A new objection was raised by Venezuela in June of 2022.[5] In November 2022, there were oral hearings where the Court listened to both parties as they presented their arguments.[5] The objection has been resolved by today's ruling, which mandates Venezuela to present its written arguments on the legitimacy of the Arbitral Award and the associated international boundary.[1]

0. “ICJ To Give Ruling On Guayana & Venezuela's Territorial Dispute” teleSUR English, 3 Apr. 2023, https://www.telesurenglish.net/news/ICJ-To-Give-Ruling-On-Guayana–Venezuelas-Territorial-Dispute-20230403-0005.html

1. “Mature Response From Guyana At ICJ Victory Over Venezuela” MENAFN.COM, 6 Apr. 2023, https://menafn.com/1105959619/Mature-Response-From-Guyana-At-ICJ-Victory-Over-Venezuela

2. “Venezuela To Continue Defend Essequibo Region Sovereignty” teleSUR English, 6 Apr. 2023, https://www.telesurenglish.net/news/ICJ-Incidental-Rulings-On-Essequibo-Favor-Venezuela-Rodriguez-20230406-0005.html

3. “WORLD COURT: Venezuela loses preliminary point that Britain is an indispensable party to border case with Guyana” Demerara Waves Online News Guyana, 6 Apr. 2023, https://demerarawaves.com/2023/04/06/world-court-venezuela-loses-preliminary-point-that-britain-is-an-indispensable-party-to-border-case-with-guyana/

4. “UN court says it can hear Guyana-Venezuela border dispute” The Washington Post, 6 Apr. 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2023/04/06/venezuela-guyana-territorial-dispute-court/c3b3059c-d482-11ed-ac8b-cd7da05168e9_story.html

5. “Statement by His Excellency, Dr Mohamed Irfaan Ali, President of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana on the ICJ ruling” BNamericas English, 6 Apr. 2023, https://www.bnamericas.com/en/news/statement-by-his-excellency-dr-mohamed-irfaan-ali-president-of-the-co-operative-republic-of-guyana-on-the-icj-ruling

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