Venezuela border controversy: ICJ to rule on Guyana’s request to block Venezuela’s referendum on Friday

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) will on Friday deliver its ruling on Guyana’s application for provisional orders against Venezuela’s planned referendum seeking to annex the Essequibo region – just two days before the controversial referendum is expected to be held.
Guyana had approached the ICJ in October 2023, seeking orders against a referendum Venezuela had planned for December 3. That referendum will seek to, among other things, annex Essequibo and create a Venezuelan state.
According to the World Court in a statement on Tuesday, their ruling on Guyana’s application will be delivered on Friday… just two days before the referendum. It was explained that a public sitting will take place at the Peace Palace at 15:00h, where the President of the Court, Judge Joan Donoghue, will read the order.
Allowances were made for both the press corps present in the room to have the live video feed of the reading of the judgement in both English and French and for the sitting to be streamed live on the court’s website in both languages.
Meanwhile, President Dr Irfaan Ali, who departed Guyana on Monday for Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where he will be leading a delegation at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (COP) 28, is expected to return on December 2.
During the hearing of Guyana’s application for provisional measures on November 14, Carl Greenidge, Guyana’s agent in the case, had presented an opening statement on behalf of the country to the court. Meanwhile, Guyana’s legal arguments were presented by Attorneys-at-Law Paul Reichler and Professor Emeritus of the University of Paris Nanterre, Allain Pelley.
Both lawyers had laid out convincing arguments for why Venezuela’s referendum, as presently constructed, threatened Guyana’s sovereignty and international law. The Court was also informed of Venezuela’s mobilisation of its military on the border with Guyana, in highlighting the urgency of the ICJ expediting its order.
Reichler had told the court of the tragic fate that awaits Guyana should Venezuela be allowed to go forward and act on the inevitable results of the referendum, particularly question 5 which would seek to annex two-thirds of Guyana.
Meanwhile, Professor Pelley provided evidence on the actions of the Venezuelan National Guard, a heavily armed contingent which patrolled the Cuyuni River in Essequibo on October 3. According to him, this Venezuelan contingent claimed to be patrolling in “our Essequibo” and parroting the Venezuelan slogan that “the sun of Venezuela was born in Essequibo.”
Specifically, Guyana is seeking an order from the court that Venezuela shall not take any actions that are intended to prepare or allow the exercise of sovereignty or de facto control over any territory that was awarded to British Guiana in the 1899 Arbitral Award.
And further Guyana is seeking an order to the effect that Venezuela shall refrain from any action which might aggravate or extend the dispute before the Court or make it more difficult to resolve.
Following the determination of Guyana’s application against the referendum, hearings on the merits of the substantive case are the next stage. A final decision on the substantive case might not, however, come for years.
After years of failed good offices process via the UN, 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’s Spanish-speaking neighbour has laid claim to more than two-thirds of Guyana’s landmass in the Essequibo region, and to a portion of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in which nearly 11 billion barrels of oil have been discovered largely by United States oil giant ExxonMobil.