ICJ postpones today’s case management hearing to February 26

Guyana-Venezuela border controversy

The International Court of Justice

The International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) continuation of its hearing into the Guyana-Venezuela border controversy, which was supposed to get underway today with a case management hearing, has been postponed to February 26, 2021.
This was confirmed when this publication made contact with Guyana’s Agent on the Guyana-Venezuela border controversy, Carl Greenidge. Greenidge, who is also the Government’s Advisor on Borders, noted that they were informed by the ICJ of the postponement ahead of time.
The case management conference was initially scheduled for today, after being postponed from January 15 for undisclosed reasons. At the time, Greenidge had noted that at the upcoming case management conference, the Court will decide on the time to be allotted to each of the parties, they will find out whether Venezuela will participate and they will also give an opportunity to clear up any matters to deal with the procedures which the parties or the court may have.
Guyana approached the World Court in 2018 seeking a final and binding judgement to reinforce that the 1899 Arbitral Award remains valid and binding on all parties, and legal affirmation that Guyana’s Essequibo region, which contains much of Guyana’s natural resources, belongs to Guyana and not Venezuela.
However, earlier this month the Nicolás Maduro regime in Venezuela issued a decree claiming sovereignty and exclusive sovereign rights in the waters and seabed adjacent to Guyana’s coast, west of the Essequibo River – a move which President Dr Irfaan Ali has staunchly rejected.
The Guyanese leader declared on January 9 that Venezuela’s maritime border claim is a “legal nullity” that will not be recognised by Guyana or any other State in the world. He added that while this latest move by the Spanish-speaking nation is “deeply disturbing”, it will not deter Guyana’s resolve to seek a final and binding resolution at the ICJ.
“We have always chosen a path of peaceful resolution of the Venezuelan issue within international law… I remind that sovereignty over this coast, and the land territory to which it is attached, were awarded to Guyana (then British Guiana) in the 1899 Arbitral Award, whose validity and legally binding character Guyana is confident the International Court of Justice (ICJ) will uphold unequivocally,” President Ali had asserted during an address to the nation.
Meanwhile, Venezuela’s action has also been widely rejected here by the parliamentary Opposition, other political parties, civil society bodies and bilateral partners like the United States and Canada as well.
However, in the past few days, there has been an escalation of tension, brought on by Venezuela’s detention of the 11-member crew of two Guyanese-registered fishing vessels – the Lady Nayera and the Sea Wolf – off the coast of Waini Point in Guyana’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
According to a statement from the Foreign Affairs Ministry on Saturday, Venezuelan vessel Commandante Hugo Chavez GC 24 was illegally sailing within Guyana’s EEZ and contiguous zone when it intercepted and boarded the vessels, whose captains were instructed to chart a course to Port Guiria where they were detained. According to the Ministry, the Guyana Government was not notified of the detention of its nationals, in contravention of established norms.
“Guyana condemns in the strongest possible terms this wanton act of aggression by the Venezuelan armed forces against Guyana and Guyanese citizens. This Venezuelan action amounts to an interference with the sovereign rights of Guyana in its EEZ, contrary to international law,” the statement had said.
“The Government of Guyana insists on the immediate release of the crew and vessels. It further exhorts the Government of Venezuela, and its agents, to behave in a manner consistent with international law and good neighbourly relations,” it added.
Guyana’s March 2018 application to the ICJ was filed based on the recommendation of the United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres, following a failed good offices process between the neighbouring states.
In a majority decision on December 18, 2020, the ICJ ruled that it has jurisdiction to adjudicate over the border controversy case.
This was after Venezuela, which has refused to participate in the legal proceedings, wrote the court to say that the UN SG 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.
The ICJ found that both Guyana and Venezuela consented to judicial settlement when they signed the Geneva Agreement since the judicial process via the ICJ is one of the means available to the Secretary General to bring an end to the controversy. Hence, the Court’s decision is binding on both parties. (G3)