Guyana-Venezuela border controversy: Commonwealth Heads of Govt support final resolution at ICJ

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In a major decision coming out of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) 2022 in Kigali, Rwanda, the 54 member nations have all thrown their support behind Guyana and its efforts to resolve its border controversy with Venezuela before the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

This was one of the developments affirmed in a communique issued by the 54-nation Commonwealth bloc, with the conclusion of CHOGM 2022 on Saturday. In the communique, the Heads of Government noted that the ICJ has already ruled that it has the jurisdiction to consider the merits of the case concerning the Arbitral Award of 3 October 1899 (Guyana v Venezuela).

They also noted that Guyana had submitted its Memorial on 8 March 2022, in accordance with the schedule set by the ICJ to hear the case, concerning the validity of the Arbitral Award of 1899 and the related question of the definitive settlement of the land boundary between the two countries.

“Heads reiterated their full support for the ongoing judicial process that is intended to bring a peaceful and definitive end to the long-standing controversy between the two countries,” the communique detailed.

In addition to their support for bringing an end to the longstanding border controversy, the Heads of Government also reaffirmed their “firm and unwavering support” for the general maintenance and preservation of Guyana’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

It was only recently that Venezuela filed an objection to Guyana’s case, which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had described as a bid to delay the substantial hearing of the 1899 Arbitral award case before the ICJ, after refusing to join the proceedings since 2018.

Guyana approached the World Court in 2018 seeking a final and binding judgement to reinforce that the 1899 Arbitral Award remains valid and binding on all parties as well as legal affirmation that Guyana’s Essequibo region, which contains much of the country’s natural resources, belongs to Guyana and not Venezuela.

The Spanish-speaking nation had initially refused to participate in the proceedings and had even challenged the Court’s jurisdiction to hear the matter. But in December 2020, the ICJ established that it has jurisdiction to hear the substantive case – something which Venezuela did not accept.

Back in March of this year, Guyana had submitted its written arguments for its memorial to the ICJ, which was a requirement by the court following its December 18, 2020, decision that it had the jurisdiction to hear the case against Venezuela.

Guyana moved to the World Court after exhausting all means of negotiation with Venezuela and the failed good offices process between the two South American neighbours.

United Nations Secretary General António Guterres, in January 2018, decided that the case should be settled by the ICJ after exercising the powers vested in him to decide how the controversy should be settled by the 1966 Geneva Agreement between Guyana, Venezuela, and the United Kingdom.

The ICJ is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. It was established by the United Nations Charter in June 1945, and began its activities in April 1946. The Court is composed of 15 Judges elected for a nine-year term by the General Assembly and the Security Council of the United Nations. The seat of the Court is at the Peace Palace in The Hague (Netherlands).

The Spanish-speaking nation is laying claim to more than two-thirds of Guyana’s landmass in Essequibo and a portion of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in which almost 11 billion barrels of oil have been discovered over the past seven years.

Guyana’s President Dr Irfaan Ali has been using his platform at international forums to inform the world about Venezuela’s continued disregard for international norm in pushing its illegal claim to Guyana’s territory.

Simultaneously, Guyana had recommitted to maintaining bilateral relations with Venezuela. In fact, Venezuela’s Ambassador to Guyana Carlos Amador Perez Silva has met with various Cabinet Ministers including Prime Minister, Brigadier (Ret’d) Mark Phillips during this month.

During their meeting, PM Phillips and the Venezuelan diplomat discussed ways of enhancing bilateral relations between the neighbouring countries. The Prime Minister had indicated that Guyana is ready to improve relations, within the construct of respect for Guyana’s sovereignty.