[UPDATED] UN court backs Guyana in Essequibo dispute

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Bahamas Prime Minister Phillip Davis, second from left, with Caricom leaders Mia Mottley of Barbados, Roosevelt Skerritt of Dominica, TT’s Dr Keith Rowley and Guyana’s Irfaan Ali, during the Caricom conference at the Hyatt Regency, Port of Spain on July 5. File photo by Angelo Marcelle –

THE UN’s top court, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), told Venezuela on Friday to refrain from any action in its claim over Guyana’s Essequibo region and warned against any aggravation of the dispute. The court issued a provisional order in the name of its president, Joan Donoghue.Venezuela is due to hold a referendum of its citizens this Sunday, including a question on whether it should turn the Essequibo into a state within Venezuela.

The ICJ order said, “The court considers that, in light of the strong tension that currently characterises the relations between the parties, the circumstances described above present a serious risk of Venezuela acquiring and exercising control and administration of the territory in dispute in the present case.”

This situation presents “a risk of irreparable prejudice” to the right claimed by Guyana, it added.”The court further considers that Venezuela’s expressed readiness to take action with regard to the territory in dispute in these proceedings at any moment following the referendum scheduled for 3 December 2023 demonstrates that there is urgency, in the sense that there is a real and imminent risk of irreparable prejudice to Guyana’s plausible right before the court gives its final decision.”

In its conclusion, the order noted Guyana administered the Essequibo and said, “The court considers that, pending the final decision in the case, Venezuela must refrain from taking any action which would modify that situation.”

The order also said the court deemed it necessary to indicate an additional measure directed to both parties and aimed at “ensuring the non-aggravation of the dispute between them.”

The ICJ ruled, “Unanimously, pending a final decision in the case, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela shall refrain from taking any action which would modify the situation that currently prevails in the territory in dispute, whereby the Co-operative Republic of Guyana administers and exercises control over that area;

“Unanimously, both parties shall refrain from any action which might aggravate or extend the dispute before the court or make it more difficult to resolve.”

Guyana had asked the court that the five-question referendum not proceed “in its present form” but to exclude three questions posed to Venezuelans – if they reject an 1899 ruling that “dispossessed” Venezuela of the Essequibo, if they agree to not recognise the ICJ, and if they agree on the creation a Guayana Esequiba state (whose current inhabitants would get Venezuelan citizenship.)

Caricom, in a statement, viewed the court order as saying that whatever the outcome of the referendum, it would not empower Venezuela to annex the Essequibo.

Caricom said the court ordered Venezuela “not to take any action to challenge, disrupt or interfere with Guyana’s long-standing control and administration of the Essequibo Region, which constitutes more than two-thirds of Guyana’s land territory,” until the ICJ’s final judgement.

“Specifically, the court ordered that ‘the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela shall refrain from taking any action which would modify the situation that currently prevails in the territory in dispute, whereby the Co-operative Republic of Guyana administers and exercises control over that area.’

“The order was adopted unanimously by all the sitting judges.”

The statement said the order was issued in response to Guyana’s request for provisional measures, prompted by Venezuela’s referendum asking people to approve the annexation of the Essequibo Region and incorporation into the Venezuelan State.

About the annexation, Caricom said, “The court’s order prohibits Venezuela from taking such a measure, or any other measure that would change the status quo in the territory, regardless of the outcome of the Venezuelan referendum on Sunday.”

The order reinforced the fundamental principle of international law, enshrined in the UN and OAS Charters, that every state must respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of others, Caricom said.

“The order makes clear that holding a national referendum does not exempt a state from its obligation to comply with this duty.

“Venezuela cannot by a referendum, or otherwise, violate international law and disregard the order of the world’s highest court.”

Caricom said it expected Venezuela to uphold the order.

“It also insists that Venezuela complies with international law in all respects, and the Charter of the United Nations, and, in this connection, calls on it to take no actions in violation of them.”Caricom said that the controversy was properly before the ICJ by the UN Secretary-General’s decision for ‘final settlement’ under the 1966 Geneva Agreement, to which both Venezuela and Guyana were bound.

“Caricom demands that Venezuela pursue its claims within the law and the legal process.

“Further, Caricom demands that the Caribbean be respected as a zone of peace and that nothing should be done to disrupt the tranquillity of the region, which is essential to the economic prosperity and social well-being of all countries of Caricom and Latin America.”

Guyana President Dr Mohamed Irfaan Ali, in a broadcast statement on Friday, said the UN’s court, in its ruling, has banned Venezuela from Guyanese territory.

Ali said, “We welcome this unanimous ruling by the ICJ.

“As the court has made clear, Venezuela is prohibited from annexing or trespassing upon Guyanese territory or taking any other actions, regardless of the outcome of its referendum on December 3 that will alter the status quo in which Guyana administers and controls the Essequibo region as an integral part of its sovereign territory under the Arbitral Award of October 3 1899.

“Today’s ruling is legally binding on Venezuela.”

Saying Venezuela was a party to the statute of the ICJ, Ali said the statute and the UN charter both required compliance.

“This is an opportunity for Venezuela to join Guyana in demonstrating respect for international law and the principles that govern peaceful coexistence.”

Saying Guyana was steadfast in its commitment to the international judicial process and the rule of law, he said Guyana was confident the ICJ would rule the Essequibo was legally and rightfully Guyanese territory. Saying international disputes must be solved by justice, not force, he vowed Guyana’s dedication to pursuing a peaceful and legal resolution at the ICJ, as authorised by the UN Secretary-General.

“The solidarity of the international community with Guyana has been invaluable. We appeal to our sister countries of Caricom and brother international community to continue supporting the principles of justice and international law.

“As Guyana prepares to join the UN Security Council, we are confident of the responsibility that comes with this role, to encourage and support international peace and stability and the rule of law.”

He urged all peace-loving nations to encourage Venezuela to respect the UN charter and ICJ.”We are resolved to maintain our region as a zone of peace, and we invite all nations to join us in this noble pursuit.”

Ali thanked all Guyanese who had worked towards getting the ICJ ruling – lawyers, technicians, diplomats, and members of the Guyana government and parliament.

“We invite Venezuela to be a good international citizen and to adhere to the orders of the court, as we shall.”

Venezuela, however, claimed victory, saying the court was not impeding Venezuela’s referendum.

The Venezuelan Government’s two-page communiqué published online said it took note of the ICJ’s pronouncement on what Venezuela dubbed the “outrageous and interventionist” measures requested by Guyana against the referendum. Venezuela said it stayed faithful to its historic position to not recognise the ICJ’s jurisdiction to settle the territorial controversy, especially in light of the Geneva Agreement of 1966.

Venezuela said Guyana had requested the referendum not be held or that the three particular questions be modified.

“In its decision, the court dismissed in its entirety this unprecedented and groundless request which related to a matter of Venezuela’s exclusive domain.”

The communiqué said nothing in international law allowed the ICJ to interfere in Venezuela’s internal affairs nor to pretend to prohibit or modify a sovereign act organised under the country’s political system and constitution. Venezuela vowed to continue its preparations to conduct the referendum.

“Nothing and no one will prevent the Venezuelan people from expressing themselves freely on December 3 on a matter that belongs to it, is internal, and of enormous transcendence, such as its territorial integrity.”

The communiqué vowed Venezuela’s unwavering defence of international legality and the Geneva Agreement as the only legal instrument for reaching a practical and satisfactory solution for both parties through friendly, political and peaceful negotiations.

“The truth of Venezuela and its inalienable sovereignty, constitutionality and self-determination have been victorious.”