The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is expected to set various timelines by which Guyana and Venezuela will have to make their respective submissions in the border controversy case.
This was the outcome of a case management conference held on Friday. It was a virtual private hearing and was presided over by newly elected ICJ President, United States Judge Joan Donoghue.
Guyana was represented by Agent Carl Greenidge and Co-Agents Sir Shridath Ramphal and Audrey Waddell along with international lawyer Paul Reichler and from the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Permanent Secretary Ambassador Elisabeth Harper and Attorney Onika Archer.
While the World Court has already established that it has jurisdiction to hear the substantive case, Venezuela continues to maintain that the World Court has no jurisdiction to hear the matter. Despite this, however, a team from the Spanish-speaking nation was present during Friday’s hearing.
Venezuela’s representatives included Vice President Delcy Rodríguez and Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza as well as the country’s Attorney General and a British lawyer.
When contacted by Guyana Times for the outcome of the case management conference, Greenidge related that the meeting went well and the two sides were given the opportunity to speak.
“The Court is now going to retire and the President will take to the other Judges [on the ICJ panel] the discussions, and make recommendations to them about how long each of the two sides should be given to prepare their submissions,” he noted.
This newspaper was further told that while Guyana would have asked for less than a year, Venezuela has requested almost two years’ time.
Nevertheless, Greenidge said that they are expecting these timelines within the next two weeks.
“The Court will choose and make a decision [on the timelines] … But we hope to have the decision within a week or so. We hope that the Court will notify us within a week or so,” the Agent on the Border case posited.
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 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.
The Spanish-speaking neighbour 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.
In fact, the Nicolás Maduro regime in Caracas renewed these claims when it issued a decree in January 2021 claiming sovereignty and exclusive sovereign rights in the waters and seabed adjacent to Guyana’s coast, west of the Essequibo River – a move which has been staunchly rejected by President Dr Irfaan Ali as well as local stakeholders including the APNU/AFC Opposition and Guyana’s partners in the international community.
However, tension between the two countries escalated in the following weeks after Venezuela’s navy detained 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 EEZ.
The men were eventually released and have returned safely to Guyana’s shore upon the intervention of President Maduro following widespread pressure from the international community including regional nations.
In fact, the Caribbean Community (Caricom) at its recent 32nd Intersessional Meeting of Heads of Government reiterated concerns over this recent decree and condemned the detention of the Guyanese fishermen.
“Heads of Government noted with satisfaction that the cumulative effort of the region contributed to the unconditional release by Venezuela of the fishing vessels and crews,” the Community noted in a statement.
Caricom further reaffirmed support for Guyana in the fight for its territorial integrity and sovereignty.
“Heads of Government expressed their full support for the ongoing judicial process that is intended to bring a peaceful and definitive end to the long-standing controversy between the two countries and urged Venezuela to participate in the process. Heads of Government remained very concerned about the threatening posture of Venezuela and reaffirmed their consistent support for the maintenance and preservation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Guyana,” the Caricom Member States outlined while lauding the World Court’s decision to assume jurisdiction of the border controversy.
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.