Border controversy case: World Court to start hearing oral arguments on Venezuela’s objections today

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) will be hearing oral arguments over the next few days on Venezuela’s objections to Guyana’s submission on the merits of the border controversy case between the two South American neighbours.
The public hearings on this matter will run from today, November 17 to Tuesday, November 22 at the World Court in The Hague, Netherlands.
“The hearings will be devoted to the preliminary objections raised by Venezuela in response to Guyana’s submission of its Memorial on the merits of the case,” Guyana’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said on Wednesday.
Venezuela is claiming two-thirds of Guyana’s landmass – the entire Essequibo region – and part of the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), where nearly 11 billion barrels of oil have been found offshore and production activities are ongoing.
In March 2018, Guyana approached the World Court for a final and binding ruling on the 1899 Arbitral Award. The Court confirmed its jurisdiction to hear the case, rejecting Venezuela’s objections, in a judgment issued in December 2020. Then in March of this year, Guyana filed its Memorial on the merits of its case against Venezuela.
However, after refusing to join the proceedings since 2018, the Spanish-speaking nation earlier this year participated in the case and subsequently filed preliminary objections in June to the admissibility of Guyana’s Application to the Court to determine the validity of the 1899 Arbitral Award.
Venezuela is claiming that the case was improperly before the court, and that such a case should not have been brought by Guyana, but by the United Kingdom – the then Great Britain, which had signed the 1899 Arbitral Award with Venezuela to demarcate the then British Guiana’s boundaries. Guyana had been one of Britain’s colonies and changed its name upon gaining independence in 1966.
In accordance with its rules, the Court suspended the substantive proceedings on the merits until its determination of Venezuela’s preliminary objections.
Only last month, Guyana’s Agent on the border controversy case, Carl Greenidge called Venezuela’s objections frivolous. He explained that once this issue was dealt with, then the hearing of the substantive case would resume.
“Venezuela’s intent in (those good offices) engagements is to convert the process into a process that runs into infinity – the matter is not to be solved… But now that you move to a process where there has to be a definitive decision, and deadlines have been set… the court can’t take forever to give an answer. Now it’s important that they divert, or waste as much as they can, so that’s the process that they’ve embarked on,” the former Guyanese Foreign Affairs Minister had posited.
Moreover, the Guyana Government has already described the objections by the Spanish-speaking nation as a bid to delay the substantive hearing of the border controversy case, in which Guyana is 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.
Guyana moved to the World Court after exhausting all other means to address Venezuela’s contentions, including the United Nations-led good office process between the two South American neighbours, had failed.

Judicial settlement
Back in September 2022, at the United Nations General Assembly, President Dr Irfaan Ali had reiterated Guyana’s commitment to a peaceful resolution of the border controversy. However, this had caused some unease in Caracas, and the Nicolás Maduro-led regime had issued a statement on September 30 in which it repeated many of its spurious claims regarding the border controversy.
In response, the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Georgetown stood behind President Ali’s words, and reiterated that the judicial settlement route to settle the controversy was determined by the UN Secretary General himself.

“We own”
Meanwhile, earlier last month, there was a widespread campaign on social media, with many Government officials and other stakeholders sharing a map of Guyana to declare that everything within the country’s border is “we own”.
Further, the Foreign Affairs Ministry had reached out to major platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, requesting that they remove posts made by a number of Spanish-language social media accounts, claiming Guyana’s territory by publishing illegal maps.
In the meantime, Guyana continues to receive the support of various countries and organisations for the judicial settlement of the border controversy case. These include the Caribbean Community (Caricom) and The Commonwealth, as well as the United States with its Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Ambassador Brian A Nichols, reaffirming his country’s support for a peaceful resolution of the controversy between Guyana and Venezuela in October.
The public hearings commencing today will be streamed live, in English on the World Court’s website and on UN Web TV.
Attorney General Anil Nandlall, Governance Minister Gail Teixeira, Greenidge and A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Opposition representative Ronald Austin are among the officials of the Guyanese delegation at The Hague for these hearings.
Sir Shridath Ramphal and the team of international legal experts will continue to represent Guyana’s case before the ICJ. (G8)