Guyana affirms confidence in ICJ; says committed to int’l law

President Dr Irfaan Ali
President Dr Irfaan Ali

In his inaugural address to the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday, President Irfaan Ali, affirmed Guyana’s confidence in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) even as the Guyana-Venezuela border controversy case is before the court.

“Guyana reposes confidence in this institution. We are committed to the rule of international law, inclusive of the peaceful resolution of disputes,” President Ali told the 75th session of the General Assembly.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most world leaders are not attending in person at the UN Headquarters; the annual gathering known as the General Debate. Instead, many, including Guyana’s President Ali, have chosen to do so virtually.

During his address, the President recalled that in March 2018, Guyana filed its application in the International Court of Justice seeking an affirmation of the validity of the 1899 Arbitral Award and the international boundary that it established.

“We are happy to report that on the 30th of June, 2020 the ICJ held its first virtual hearing on the controversy involving Guyana and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

“Regrettably, Venezuela has refused to participate in the hearing,” President Ali noted.

First, the ICJ is likely to rule by the end of 2020 on whether it has jurisdiction to hear the case filed by Guyana, who is asking for a final pronouncement on the validity of the Arbitral Award of 3 October 1899 (Guyana v. Venezuela) regarding the boundary between the two countries.

The case is premised on a border dispute between Guyana and Venezuela in which the Spanish-speaking country has laid claim to more than two-thirds of Guyana’s landmass in the Essequibo region and a portion of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in which more than eight billion barrels of oil have been discovered.

Providing that the Court finds that it has jurisdiction to hear the case, Guyana’s Advisor on Borders, Carl Greenidge, had explained that such cases could take an average of up to six years to conclude. He had noted that it all depends on the complexity of the case and whether both countries participate in the proceedings.

“On average, the court takes about six years plus to conclude such matters. It depends on how complex the case is. [As it relates to when the court is] due for its decision as it regards to jurisdiction…one would expect sometime between now and this quarter,” Greenidge had said.

The Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has claimed, in a letter to the ICJ, that the Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), António Guterres, exceeded his authority under the 1966 Geneva Agreement when he referred the case to the ICJ, and therefore the court lacks jurisdiction to adjudicate the matter.

On this basis, Venezuela has indicated that it will not participate in the proceedings. However, Greenidge said he is still hopeful that the Spanish-speaking nation would participate in the matter.

The Agreement to resolve the controversy over the frontier between Venezuela and British Guiana, commonly known as the Geneva Agreement, is a treaty signed in Geneva, Switzerland, on February 17, 1966 that resolved the disagreement between Venezuela and the United Kingdom regarding the border between Venezuela and British Guiana.

On March 29, 2018, Guyana filed an application instituting proceeding against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. In its application, Guyana requested the Court to confirm the legal validity and binding effect of the Award regarding the boundary between the Colony of British Guiana and the United States of Venezuela, of October 03, 1899.

Guyana claimed that the 1899 Award was “a full, perfect, and final settlement’ of all questions relating to determining the boundary line between the colony of British Guiana and Venezuela.