Venezuela’s action an irrefutable violation of Guyana’s territorial rights – OAS

Luis Almagro

The Organization of American States (OAS) has expressed support of the recent statement issued by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in relation to Venezuela’s proposed referendum which seeks its population’s approval to seize Guyana’s Essequibo region.

“We condemn any act that constitutes a breach of peace and an attempt to encroach on a country’s sovereign borders,” expressed OAS General Secretary Luis Almagro.

“This is an irrefutable violation of Guyana’s territorial rights and we support @CARICOMorg’s statement,” he added, via a social media post.

CARICOM has since made it clear that the decision of the Venezuelan National Assembly to conduct a popular referendum on defending Venezuela’s claim of the Essequibo, has no validity in international law.

On Wednesday, Caricom issued a statement that further noted that two of the questions approved to be posed in the Referendum, if answered in the affirmative when the referendum is held on December 3, 2023, would authorise Venezuela to embark on the annexation of territory, which constitutes part of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, and to create a state within Venezuela known as Guyana Essequibo.

“Caricom reaffirms that international law strictly prohibits the government of one State from unilaterally seizing, annexing or incorporating the territory of another state,” CARICOM explained.

“An affirmative vote as aforesaid opens the door to the possible violation of this fundamental tenet of international law. It is to be emphasized that the land and water in question — the Essequibo Region of Guyana — comprises more than two-thirds of the whole of Guyana itself.”

According to Caricom, the language of the two questions approved in the referendum contains Venezuela’s vows to affirm and implement its expansionist posture “by all means”. According to CARICOM, reasonable persons can conclude that “by all means”, speaks to the use of force or war.

“Caricom earnestly hopes that Venezuela is not raising the prospect of using force or military means to get its own way in this controversy over territory. After all, it has been the long-standing position of Latin American and Caribbean counties, including Venezuela, that our region must remain a zone of peace.”

“Meanwhile, Caricom insists that the Referendum proposed by Venezuela has no validity, bearing, or standing in international law in relation to this controversy; the Referendum is a purely domestic construct, but its summary effect is likely to undermine peace, tranquility, security, and more, in our region,” Caricom also said.

Moreover, Caricom also reaffirmed its support for the judicial process and expressed hope that Venezuela will engage fully in that process before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which has determined that it has the jurisdiction in the case brought before it to determine the validity of the 1899 Arbitral Award.

In Venezuela, the National Electoral Council had issued five questions to be asked in a national referendum scheduled for December 3, 2023, including a question that seeks the approval of the Venezuelan people to create a new Venezuelan state out of Guyana’s Essequibo region – which the Guyana Government has already lambasted as “brazen” and “pernicious”.

“In particular, question three of the set of questions to be placed before the people of Venezuela speaks to the “historical position” of Venezuela “of not recognizing the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice to resolve the territorial controversy over Guayana Esequiba,” a statement from the Guyana government had said.

“Question five seeks the approval of the Venezuelan people for the creation of a new Venezuelan State consisting of Guyana’s Essequibo Region, to include “the granting of citizenship and Venezuelan identity card in accordance with the Geneva Agreement and international law.” This is a deliberate misinterpretation of the Geneva Agreement and a clear violation of international law.”

Back in 2018, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres, had decided that the Guyana/Venezuela border controversy 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.

He resorted to judicial settlement after the good offices process between Guyana and Venezuela failed. Within the framework of the 1966 Geneva Agreement between the two countries, the Secretary General conducted good offices from 1990 to 2017 to find a solution to the border controversy.

Among other things, Guyana is asking the ICJ to adjudge and declare that the 1899 Award is valid and binding upon Guyana and Venezuela, that Venezuela is internationally responsible for violations of Guyana’s sovereignty and sovereign rights, and for all injuries suffered by Guyana as a consequence.

Guyana’s legal team before the ICJ is headed by Co-Agent and Counsel, Sir Shridath Ramphal, and includes a member of the Bars of the United States Supreme Court and the District of Columbia, Paul S Reichler; and Professor Emeritus of the University Paris Nanterre, former Chairman of the International Law Commission and member of the Institute de Droit International, Alain Pellet.