The International Court of Justice (ICJ) will host a case management session today to set the tone to hear the border controversy case between Guyana and Venezuela.
During this hearing, the World Court, which is located at The Hague, Netherlands, is expected to decide on the time to be allocated for the different elements of the hearing – presentation by the two sides and responses, then deliberation by the judges.
Guyana’s Agent in the matter, Carl Greenidge, had stated that none of these elements could take a year each, and if Venezuela continues to abstain from participation, at least two elements would be suppressed. As such, Greenidge noted that he does not think the second leg of the ICJ hearing should take more than two to three and a half years.
“The average time between the lodging of the complaint and the decision by the Court was 4.9 years. As might be expected, the actual time taken is a function of the complexity of the case, and of course whether or not it is contested. Guyana’s application was filed on March 29, 2018. On the foregoing basis alone, there is no reason to expect another decade of deliberations or pleadings. It is true that some cases have taken as long as nine years to be completed. However, Guyana is not at the commencement of the process, we are already two and a half years into it,” Greenidge, a former Foreign Affairs Minister, had stated.
On December 18, the ICJ ruled in a 12-4 majority decision that it has jurisdiction to entertain the application filed by Guyana concerning the Arbitral Award of 1899, which sets out the boundary between Guyana and its neighbour, Venezuela.
On June 30, 2020, the ICJ, which has its headquarters in the 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 controversy 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.
After a failed Good Offices process between the two neighbouring countries, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres in 2018 referred the border controversy matter to be resolved by the World Court.
Two months later, Guyana filed a case seeking a final and binding judgment 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, the Government of Venezuela has claimed, in a letter dated June 2018 to the World Court, that the UNSG 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.
But ICJ President, Judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, explained in the ruling almost two weeks ago that both Guyana and Venezuela have consented to judicial settling when it signed the Geneva Agreement, since the judicial process via the ICJ is one of the means available to the Secretary-General in determining the controversy.
With a date for the case management hearing set, the World Court is now preparing to hear Guyana’s substantive application.
Greenidge had previously stated that Guyana’s legal team for the Border Controversy case, which is led by Sir Shridath Ramphal and includes several local and international professionals, had started strategising since before the December 18 ruling, and is in a state of readiness for when the matter is called up.
Meanwhile, Sir Shridath, one of Guyana’s two co-agents, is responsible for coordinating the inputs of the legal counsel and advocates. In addition to being internationally renowned as a negotiator, he brings unique first-hand experience of the specific technicalities, policies and events surrounding negotiation of the Geneva Agreement and the deliberations of the related Mixed Commission which are so central to the Court case.