Venezuela’s attempt to unilaterally fix boundaries a legal nullity

…Guyana conveys diplomatic rejection of Maduro’s decree – President Irfaan Ali
…alerts int’l community of Venezuela’s threat to peace and security

Days before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) holds a case management hearing on Guyana’s application for a final and binding settlement of the border controversy with Venezuela, the Nicholas Maduro Government on January 7, 2021, issued a new decree to claim for itself, the land and seabed west of the Essequibo Coast.

President Irfaan Ali

In a special address to the nation on Saturday afternoon, President Dr Irfaan Ali staunchly rejected this new claim by Venezuela, calling it a “legal nullity” that will not be recognised by Guyana or any State in the world.
According to Ali, Guyana has always chosen to have the issue resolved within international law. He, therefore, described the Maduro Government’s latest statements as “deeply disturbing” but made it clear that they would not deter Guyana from seeking a final, binding resolution at the ICJ.
“I find it deeply disturbing that on January 7, the President of Venezuela issued a decree claiming for Venezuela’s sovereignty an exclusive sovereign right to the waters and seabed adjacent to Guyana’s coast west of the Essequibo River,” Ali said.

Venezuela’s President Nicholas Maduro

“I remind that sovereignty over this coast and the land it is attached to was awarded to Guyana, then British Guiana, in the 1899 Arbitral Award, whose validity Guyana is confident the ICJ will uphold unequivocally.”
Ali explained that Venezuela’s decree breaches fundamental principles of international law, including the fact that no nation can unilaterally determine its own boundaries, except through an agreement with its neighbours or a judgement from the international court.
“The second violation of fundamental international law is based on the fact that, under well-established rules of international law, there is a fundamental principle that “the land dominates the sea”. This means that sovereignty, and sovereign rights in the sea and seabed, emanate from title to the land that forms the coast to which those seas and seabed are adjacent.”
“Since Guyana is sovereign over the coast west of the Essequibo River, as far as Punta Playa, it follows, consequently, that only Guyana can enjoy sovereignty and exclusive sovereign rights over the adjacent sea and seabed,” President Ali explained.

The President expressed confidence that the ICJ will ultimately settle not only the land dispute in Guyana’s favour but also the maritime space. According to him, Venezuela will have no choice but to accept the ruling, whether it partakes in the border case or not.

The International Court of Justice

“The United Nations Charter obligates all Member States to comply with their obligations under international law, including as determined by the ICJ. In this connection, Venezuela does not have the ‘right’ to ‘reject’ the court’s binding decision. What is more, its legal advisers would know that to do so, is a flagrant breach of its legal obligations, and will not be accepted by the ICJ, the United Nations or any other body that upholds international law, and its norms and practices.”
“As President of Guyana, I express the hope that the Venezuelan Government will reconsider its position and will decide to participate in the remainder of the proceedings before the ICJ, as the court decides upon the validity and binding character of the 1899 Arbitral Award and the international boundary that it created,” the President said.
But Ali noted that even if Venezuela chooses to boycott the ICJ proceedings, this will not deter or delay the case. According to him, the rules of the court ensure that one party’s absence will not prevent the case from being decided.

International community
Over the past few years, Venezuela has been increasingly isolated as Maduro maintained his grip on power despite elections the international community denounced as fraudulent, international sanctions and crippling economic stagnation.
In his address to the nation, Ali called the international community’s attention to the Venezuelan President’s decree. According to him, Venezuela’s continued unjust claims to Essequibo are a danger to international peace and security.
“We are alerting the international community, including our sister States in the Caribbean Community (Caricom) and in the Americas of the danger to international peace and security that is being threatened by last Thursday’s Venezuela decree which violates fundamental principles of international law.”
“My fellow citizens, we will continue our bipartisan and national approach to this matter, secure in the knowledge that the right and law are on our side. Be assured that my Government – and I personally – will continue to keep you informed as any further developments take place in this matter,” Ali said.
The President also revealed that he instructed Foreign Minister Hugh Todd to summon the Head of Venezuela’s Mission in Guyana, to the Foreign Ministry. According to Ali, the Head of Mission has been told of Guyana’s concerns with Maduro’s decree and that it has entirely rejected Venezuela’s renewed claims to Essequibo.
“The Officer-in-Charge has been told to convey to the Venezuelan authorities in Caracas, that, in accordance with international law, and its assertion of its sovereignty and territorial integrity, Guyana rejects entirely the decree issued by President Maduro.”
“Guyana will continue on the path of peaceful resolution of this matter in keeping with international law and the jurisdiction of the ICJ. We urge our neighbour Venezuela to do the same,” Ali explained.
Meanwhile, this publication made contact with Minister Todd, who revealed that he had a conversation with the Head of Mission, who is Ambassador Luis Edgardo Diaz Monclus, and will further have a face-to-face discussion with the Head of Mission on Monday.
And while President Ali has expressed hope of bipartisan unity on the issue, this publication was unable to make contact with Opposition Leader Joseph Harmon for a comment nor was a statement issued by his party up to press time. When contacted, People’s National Congress (PNC) General Secretary Amna Ally declined to comment.
On Thursday last, Maduro issued a presidential decree reinforcing his country’s illegal claim to Guyana’s Essequibo region. Additionally, the Venezuelan President announced that he has written to Secretary General of the United Nations (UN) Antonio Guterres, to lead direct negotiations between the two countries, as opposed to the binding judgement of the ICJ.
That option has been exhausted, however, as the UN tried to mediate discussions between Guyana and Venezuela for years as part of an ultimately futile good offices process until Guyana activated its right to take Venezuela to the ICJ in 2018 to get a final ruling on the border issue. (G3)