ICJ urged to act against Venezuela’s efforts to undermine court’s authority, threaten regional peace

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…as Guyana presents arguments against Dec 3 referendum

By: Jarryl Bryan

In an effort to stop Venezuela’s December 3 referendum aimed at annexing Guyana’s Essequibo territory, the Guyana Government on Tuesday morning presented its case before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) by urging the court to not only protect Guyana’s rights, but also its own authority which Venezuela is trying to undermine.

Guyana’s agent in the case, Carl Greenidge, presented an opening statement on behalf of Guyana. Venezuela’s representative, Vice President Delcy Rodrigues, was present, though she did not make any presentations, as Venezuela has been given Wednesday, November 15, to make its oral arguments to the challenge to its referendum.

Greenidge reminded the ICJ that it has already twice affirmed its jurisdiction to mediate the boundary controversy between Guyana and Venezuela. He pointed out to the court that Venezuela, by attempting to preempt the court’s ruling and take extra-judicial action, is challenging the court’s authority and by extension, the United Nations ability to ensure a resolution of the matter.

“Only the court can protect Guyana and its rights at issue in this case, from the irreparable harm that would certainly befall it if Venezuela is permitted to cross that threshold into the seizure and incorporation of the territory, whose ultimate fate is to be determined by the court, not by the unilateral action of either of the parties.”

“Only the court can prevent the imminent annexation of tens of thousands of square kilometers of Guyanese territory. In these circumstances, Guyana looks to the court to safeguard these rights by applying the principles of international law faithfully, fairly and impartially,” Greenidge said.

The court was also informed of Venezuela’s mobilisation of its military on the border with Guyana. Meanwhile, Guyana’s legal arguments were presented by attorneys-at-law Paul Reichler and Professor Emeritus of the University of Paris Nanterre, Allain Pelley. Reichler laid out not only the harm that Venezuela’s referendum would cause, but also laid bare Venezuela’s efforts to prejudice the case.

“Venezuela has made clear that the purpose of this referendum is not merely to assess public opinion. It is to obtain popular support for decisions that the government has already made and a license to act on those decisions,” Reichler said, quoting the words of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on October 23, 2023, when he had said the referendum would enable his government to take a collective decision on Essequibo.

“The nature of that collective decision is revealed by the questions themselves, both in their form and their content. They are far from neutral, as would be the case in a true test of public opinion. It does not take an expert on public polling to see that these five questions are deliberately crafted to leave no possible outcome other than an overwhelming mandate for the government to take actions it has already decided on.”

Reichler pointed out that even if the Venezuelan public do not know anything about the case, questions deliberately framed in a way to imply that Venezuela has been defrauded and stripped of “their Essequibo”, thereby painting Venezuela as the injured party, would only mislead the people.

“There is no doubt that Venezuela’s intention is to produce another overwhelming popular mandate, this one to endorse not only its rejection not only of the 1899 Arbitral Award, but of the court and whatever judgment you may ultimately issue on the merits of this case,” the lawyer said.

The lawyer told the court of the tragic fate that awaits Guyana should Venezuela be allowed to go forward and act on the inevitable results of the referendum, particularly question 5 which would seek to annex two-thirds of Guyana.