World Court begins virtual meetings as COVID-19 measures continue


The International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Thursday announced that it is continuing to perform its functions despite the containment measures put in place around the world to halt the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).

The ICJ, via a press release said that through the use of modern technologies, the Court has made the necessary arrangements to hold virtual meetings and to adapt its working methods to the need to work remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the past weeks, committee meetings of the Court have taken place through video-conference. On 22 April 2020, the Court held the first virtual plenary meeting in its history. The President and the Registrar were present in the Deliberation Room of the Peace Palace, the seat of the Court, while the remaining Members of the Court participated in the meeting remotely, via video-conference.

During its meeting, the Court considered pending judicial matters and adopted an order on procedural issues.

“The Court wishes to assure members of the international community that, in spite of the current circumstances, it will continue to discharge its judicial functions and to deal with matters submitted to it or those already pending before it,” the ICJ said.

The ICJ had postponed the long-anticipated hearing of the Guyana/Venezuela border dispute case that was scheduled for March 23, 2020, citing the worldwide crisis of the coronavirus.

The ICJ had communicated to Guyana that the oral proceedings that were scheduled to begin on March 23 have been postponed until a new date can be set.

“In the case concerning the Arbitral Award of 3 October 1899 (Guyana V. Venezuela), the International Court of Justice has informed Guyana that the oral proceedings scheduled to begin on March 23, 2020, have been postponed due to the current worldwide health crisis. The Court has further informed that it will give a decision on a new date in due time,” the Foreign Ministry here had said.

Sir Shridath Ramphal is leading a battery of lawyers to the ICJ to defend Guyana’s case

Guyana filed its case with the World Court on March 29, 2018, seeking a final and binding judgment that the 1899 Arbitral Award, which established the location of the land boundary between the then-British Guiana and Venezuela, remains valid and binding, and that Guyana’s Essequibo region belongs to Guyana, and not Venezuela as is being claimed by the Spanish-speaking country.

The case was filed following a decision by Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres, in January 2018, that the controversy between Guyana and Venezuela should be decided by the ICJ.

The Secretary General made the decision by exercising the power vested in him in the 1966 Geneva Agreement between Guyana, Venezuela and the United Kingdom to decide how the controversy should be settled.

However, Venezuela had claimed, in a letter to the World Court, that the Secretary General exceeded his authority under the Geneva Agreement, and therefore, the Court lacks jurisdiction to adjudicate the lawsuit filed by Guyana.