Venezuela dodges ICJ hearing
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Venezuela’s Foreign Minister, Jorge Arreaza
Venezuela’s Foreign Minister, Jorge Arreaza

—Guyana confident of a final, binding judgement upholding 1899 Arbitral Award

WITH the International Court of Justice (ICJ) set to hear the jurisdictional case on the Arbitral Award of 1899 (Guyana v. Venezuela), just over a week from now, Venezuela has iterated its position that it will not be attending the hearing.

In a press statement on June 20, Venezuela’s Foreign Minister, Jorge Arreaza, contended that the ICJ took an unprecedented decision to hear the case via video conference due to the COVID-19 pandemic which the Spanish-speaking country does not support.
“This decision is unprecedented; it does not correspond to a new generally applicable practice; until now it has not been applied to other cases that are before this important international judicial [court],” Arreaza stated.

Even so, the position mirrors that of the one taken in June 2018 when the country declined to participate in the hearing based on the position that the Court lacks jurisdiction on the matter. In February 2020, the country added that it had no intention of appearing at the oral hearings. The case was filed by Guyana.

The long-awaited hearing was initially set for March 23 – 27, 2020, but the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic derailed those plans, and it was rescheduled to June 30 by video conference.

The Court required the two countries to provide their arguments on jurisdiction, as a first step. However even in that instance Venezuela has refused to participate and the Court has moved forward with the proceedings nonetheless.

In the press statement on Saturday, Venezuela’s Foreign Minister said: “Venezuela’s clear position of not attending the Court has been concretized on the basis that it lacks jurisdiction… it sincerely invites the sister Cooperative Republic of Guyana to renew the negotiation to which both nations are obliged under the Geneva Agreement, the only international instrument specially signed to govern the territorial controversy…with the purpose of reaching amicably a practical, acceptable and satisfactory arrangement for both Republics.”

Guyana, however, has recognised the importance of settling the longstanding controversy that exists between the two countries.

As recent as December 2018, Guyana’s territorial integrity was violated when a Venezuelan Navy corvette – the Karina PC-14 – made a hostile incursion into Guyana’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The incursion took place at approximately 144 kilometres (km) from the boundary which separates Guyana from Venezuela and saw attempts by the Navy corvette to land a helicopter on the unarmed oil survey ship. In a firm statement, Guyana’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected Venezuela’s aggression as a violation of the Charter of the United Nations (UN) and general international law.

Meanwhile, in 2013, a petroleum exploration vessel – RV Teknik Perdana –conducting a survey in the Roraima block offshore, was intercepted by a Venezuelan Navy frigate and ordered to cease its activities.

President David Granger has stated publicly: “Incursions have occurred not only in our maritime space but also on land. Illegal mining, illegal logging, illegal arms, narcotics, people and wildlife trafficking and the smuggling of precious minerals have continued; they have to stop…incursions must be deterred; insurrections must be suppressed; the State must remain secure.”

Guyana was keen in pointing out that efforts over more than half-a-century, including a four-year Mixed Commission (1966-1970), a 12-year moratorium (1970-1982), a seven-year process of consultations on a means of settlement (1983-1990), and a 27-year Good Offices Process under the UN Secretary-General’s authority (1990-2017), all have failed to end the controversy.

In 2018, United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, Antonio Gutteres, referred the Guyana/Venezuela controversy to the ICJ. He acknowledged that the Good Offices Process had failed to achieve a peaceful settlement of the controversy.

The upcoming hearing will determine whether the Court has jurisdiction over the case filed by Guyana on March 29, 2018. Guyana seeks to obtain, from the Court, a final and binding judgement that the 1899 Arbitral Award, which established the location of the land boundary between then-British Guiana and Venezuela, remains valid and binding, and that Guyana’s Essequibo region belongs to Guyana, and not Venezuela.

“A favourable decision by the Court will be of tremendous benefit to Guyana. Guyana has suffered tremendously over the years at the hands of Venezuela from acts of intimidation, threats of military action, incursions into our sovereign territory and the stymieing of our economic development,” Guyana’s Foreign Secretary, Carl Greenidge, recently stated.
The Government of Guyana is confident of a win against Venezuela in both cases – the jurisdictional matter and the substantive matter treating with the validity of the Arbitral Award of 1899.

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