Guyana-Venezuela border controversy
The Caribbean Community has recommitted its support for Guyana in the border controversy case with Venezuela. Last week, Caricom facilitated its 51st Heads of Government meeting, where key issues and matters of interest were deliberated.
There, leaders in the regional bloc reiterated their support for the maintenance of sovereignty in Guyana, as the border controversy case against neighbouring Venezuela takes shape. They also reinforced support for the judicial process, since it will bring the longstanding matter between the two nations to rest.
“Heads of Government reiterated their full support for this judicial process that is intended to bring a peaceful and definitive end to the long-standing controversy between Guyana and Venezuela. Heads of Government further reiterated their firm and unswerving support for the maintenance and preservation of the sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Guyana,” a communique from Caricom shared.
“If the Court affirms its jurisdiction, Guyana will proceed to the next stage of its pleadings as to why the 1899 Arbitral Award is the valid demarcation of the boundary between Guyana and Venezuela, thus providing for a final resolution of the controversy between the two countries as determined by the Secretary General of the United Nations,” it added.
The meeting was chaired by Caricom Chairperson, Dr Ralph Gonsalves and Guyana was represented by President Dr Irfaan Ali. On the Belize-Guatemala border issue, the Heads of Government re-emphasised their steadfast support for territorial integrity and security for Belize also.
With relation to Guyana’s case, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is likely to rule by the end of 2020 on whether it has jurisdiction to hear the case filed by Guyana, who is asking for a final pronouncement on the validity of the Arbitral Award of October 3, 1899 (Guyana v Venezuela) regarding the boundary between the two countries.
On June 30, 2020, the ICJ, which has its headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands, heard oral arguments via video conference from Guyana’s legal team headed by Sir Shridath Ramphal on the question of its jurisdiction to adjudicate in the matter.
The case is premised on a border dispute between Guyana and Venezuela in which the Spanish-speaking country has laid claim to more than two-thirds of Guyana’s landmass in the Essequibo region and a portion of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in which more than eight billion barrels of oil have been discovered.
The Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has claimed, in a letter to the ICJ, that the Secretary General of the United Nations (UN), António Guterres, exceeded his authority under the 1966 Geneva Agreement when he referred the case to the ICJ, and therefore the court lacks jurisdiction to adjudicate the matter. On this basis, Venezuela has indicated that it will not participate in the proceedings. However, Greenidge said he is still hopeful that the Spanish-speaking nation would participate in the matter.
The Agreement to resolve the controversy over the frontier between Venezuela and British Guiana, commonly known as the Geneva Agreement, is a treaty signed in Geneva, Switzerland, on February 17, 1966, that resolved the disagreement between Venezuela and the United Kingdom regarding the border between Venezuela and British Guiana.
On March 29, 2018, Guyana filed an application instituting proceedings against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. In its application, Guyana requested the Court to confirm the legal validity and binding effect of the Award regarding the boundary between the Colony of British Guiana and the United States of Venezuela, of October 3, 1899.
Guyana claimed that the 1899 Award was “a full, perfect, and final settlement” of all questions relating to determining the boundary line between the colony of British Guiana and Venezuela. Guyana asserts that between November 1900 and June 1904, a joint Anglo – Venezuelan Boundary Commission had “identified, demarcated and permanently fixed the boundary established by the Award” before the signing of a Joint Declaration by the Commissioners on 10 January 1905 (referred to as “the 1905 Agreement”). Guyana contends that, in 1962, for the first time, Venezuela had contested the Award as “arbitrary” and “null and void.”
This, according to Guyana, had led to the signing of the Agreement to resolve the controversy between Venezuela and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland over the frontier between Venezuela and British Guiana at Geneva on February 17, 1966, which “provided for recourse to a series of dispute settlement mechanisms to finally resolve the controversy”.
Guyana, therefore, argues that pursuant to Article IV (2) of the Agreement, the Secretary General is empowered to decide on the settlement to be employed should there be any issues arising from that Agreement.