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CARIB | Dec 19, 2020

World Court rules it has jurisdiction to hear long running Guyana/Venezuela border dispute

/ Our Today

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12-4 majority ruling yesterday in favour of hearing the case

The International Court of Justice, which has its seat in The Hague, is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. (Photo: icj-cij.org)

In a crucial ruling yesterday (December 18), the World Court has decided that it has jurisdiction to hear the more than a century-old border dispute between Guyana and Venezuela.

The dispute between the two South American neighbours is over the demarcation of their land border, which may ultimately determine which has rights to offshore oil and gas fields. In a 12-4 majority decision, the judges at the United Nations court, formally known as the International Court of Justice (ICJ), concluded that it has jurisdiction to hear a suit brought by Guyana.

In its case, Guyana is arguing that the border, which was established by an 1899 arbitration between Venezuela and the then-colony of British Guiana, is legally binding and should be observed by Caracas. However, the Venezuelan government has countered that claim declaring that the international court had no jurisdiction and it prefers direct talks with Guyana over its claims to a huge, sparsely populated area west of the Essequibo River.

Court will intervene to settle the border dispute

Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, president of the International Court of Justice. (Photo: UN.org)

The court has not yet set a date for arguments on the merits of Guyana’s case but with yesterday’s ruling, the court has declared that it will it would intervene to settle a longstanding border. Both the Latin American nations are battling for a Tunisia-sized swath of jungle located west of the Essequibo River.  

Earlier this year, Venezuela opposed the World Court decision to intervene, stating that it did not have the jurisdiction to decide the matter. The border dispute first began in 1899 when an arbitration award by an international tribunal drew borders between the two South American nations.

The arbitration was rejected by Venezuela which stated that a 1966 agreement nullified original arbitration. The matter was then taken to the ICJ in 2018. For years, the eastern region, which makes up 40 per cent of modern-day Guyana, has been referred to on Venezuelan maps as a “reclamation zone” and denoted with diagonal lines.

The International Court of Justice, which has its seat in The Hague, is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. (Photo: icj-cij.org)

ICJ President comments on the ruling

Commenting on the matter, ICJ President Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, said that “the court concludes that it has jurisdiction to entertain Guyana’s claims concerning the validity of the 1899 award … and the related question of the definitive settlement of the land boundary dispute between the territory of the parties.”

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