World Court to begin hearing Guyana-Venezuela border case in March 2020

FILE: Registrar of the International Court of Justice, Mr. Philippe Couvreur (left) and former Vice President and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carl Greenidge (right)

Almost one year after the Government of Guyana approached the International Court of Justice for a solution in relation to territorial claims made by its western neighbour, Venezuela, the hearing is expected to begin in March of next year.

According to a statement from the Foreign Affairs Ministry, the Guyana Government said the oral hearing will be held in The Hague from March 23-27, 2020. It also explained that the hearing will determine whether the Court has the jurisdiction to take the case forward.

“This hearing will determine whether the Court has jurisdiction over the case filed by Guyana on March 29, 2018. By that case, Guyana seeks to obtain from the Court a final and binding judgment that the 1899 Arbitral Award, which established the location of the land boundary between then-British Guiana and Venezuela, remains valid and binding, and that Guyana’s Essequibo region belongs to Guyana, and not Venezuela,” the statement read.

Guyana brought its case to the Court following the decision by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, in January 2018, that the controversy between Guyana and Venezuela should be decided by the International Court of Justice.

However, Venezuela had claimed, in a letter to the Court, that the Secretary-General exceeded his authority under the 1966 Geneva Agreement, and that the Court therefore lacks jurisdiction to adjudicate Guyana’s lawsuit. Because of that stance, Venezuela informed the court that it would not be participating in the proceedings.

On November 19, 2018, Guyana submitted its Memorial to the Court refuting Venezuela’s arguments and demonstrating that the Court has jurisdiction.

Under well-established judicial precedent, the Court will proceed to decide if it has jurisdiction over Guyana’s claims, irrespective of whether or not Venezuela participates in the proceedings. If it decides that it has jurisdiction, the Court will proceed to rule on the merits of those claims, and decide whether the validity of the 1899 Arbitral Award and the border between the two States should be confirmed.

Under the United Nations Charter and the Court’s own rules, its final judgments both on jurisdiction and the merits will be legally binding on Guyana and Venezuela, whether or not Venezuela participates in the proceedings.

Venezuela had, for more than 60 years consistently recognized and respected the validity and binding force of the 1899 Award and the 1905 map agreed by both sides.

Venezuela had only changed its position formally in 1962 as the United Kingdom was making final preparations for the independence of British Guiana and had threatened not to recognize the new state, or its boundaries, unless the United Kingdom agreed to set aside the 1899 award and cede to Venezuela all of the territory west of the Essequibo River, amounting to some two-thirds of Guyana’s territory.

However, Venezuela has never produced any evidence to substantiate its belated repudiation of the 1899 award, that country has used it as an excuse to occupy territory awarded to Guyana in 1899, to inhibit Guyana’s economic development and to violate Guyana’s sovereignty and sovereign rights.