On 29 March 2018, the Co-Operative Republic of Guyana (‘Guyana’) instituted proceedings before the International Court of Justice (‘ICJ’) against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (‘Venezuela’) in respect of the long-running boundary dispute between the two States.[1]

The origins of the dispute date back well over a century to the establishment of the boundary between the colony of British Guiana and Venezuela following an 1899 Award[2] made pursuant to the Treaty of Arbitration between Great Britain and Venezuela.[3] The Award fixed the land boundary commencing in the north on the Atlantic Coast at Punta Playa and extending southward to the border with Brazil.

Following the Award, the land boundary was demarcated in 1905 under a Joint Declaration issued by an Anglo-Venezuelan Boundary Commission established pursuant to the 1899 Award.

In 1962, Venezuela asserted that the 1899 Award and 1905 Declaration were both null and void and that a dispute existed concerning the demarcation of the boundary between Venezuela and British Guiana. Negotiations between the United Kingdom and Venezuela resulted in an Agreement[4] to resolve the controversy, which Guyana acceded to following its independence on 26 May 1966.

The Geneva Agreement provided for the establishment of a Mixed Commission[5] to examine options to resolve the dispute. When the mandate of the Mixed Commission expired in 1970 without success, the Parties agreed to a moratorium on dispute settlement efforts. Having failed to resolve the dispute, the Parties later requested the Secretary-General of the United Nations to decide upon the means of dispute settlement under Article 33 of the United Nations Charter acting under Article IV of the Geneva Agreement.[6]

On 30 January 2018 the Secretary-General of the United Nation, acting under the authority of Article IV of the Geneva Agreement, decided that the dispute be settled by recourse to the ICJ. The decision followed a determination that the process of Good Offices carried out by successive Secretaries-Generals over the period 1990 to 2017 had failed to achieve a peaceful settlement of the dispute and that a different means of settlement was required.

In its Application to the ICJ, Guyana claims that Venezuela has repeatedly violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Guyana in breach of the 1899 Award and 1905 Declaration, including by sending military and other officials across the boundary and threatening to interfere with land and maritime development activities authorised by Guyana.[7]

Guyana bases the jurisdiction of the Court on Article 36(1) of the ICJ Statute, pursuant to the mutual consent given by Guyana and Venezuela under Article IV (2) of the Geneva Agreement, noting that both Parties had conferred upon the Secretary-General of the United Nations the authority to choose a means of settlement of the dispute, and that the ICJ had been selected by the Secretary-General in the exercise of that authority.[8]

The relief sought by Guyana includes a declaration by the Court that the boundary established by the 1899 Award and the 1905 Declaration is valid and binding and that Guyana enjoys sovereignty over the territory recognised as such under the Award. It also requests the Court order Venezuela to cease occupation of territory that is recognised as the territory of Guyana in accordance with the 1899 Award and 1905 Declaration and that Venezuela refrain from threatening or using force against any person or company licensed by Guyana to engage in economic or commercial activity in Guyanese territory, including any maritime area in respect of which Guyana exercises sovereignty or sovereign rights.[9]

[1] See: Application Instituting Proceedings in the International Court of Justice. Co-operative Republic of Guyana v. Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. March 29, 2018. Application Instituting Proceedings (‘Guyana Application’). Viewable online at: http://www.icj-cij.org/files/case-related/171/171-20180329-APP-01-00-EN.pdf

[2] See: Award Regarding the Boundary between the Colony of British Guiana and the United States of Venezuela of 3 October 1899 (‘1899 Award’). Viewable online at: http://legal.un.org/riaa/cases/vol_XXVIII/331-340.pdf

[3] Treaty of Arbitration Between Great Britain and United States of Venezuela, signed 2 February 1897, viewable online at: https://archive.org/details/treatyofarbitrat00venerich

[4] See: Agreement to resolve the Controversy Between Venezuela and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Island Over the Frontier Between Venezuela and British Guiana, signed at Geneva on 17 February 1966 (‘Geneva Agreement’), viewable online at: http://treaties.fco.gov.uk/docs/pdf/1966/TS0013.pdf

[5] See: Article I, Geneva Agreement.

[6] See: Article IV (2), Geneva Agreement.

[7] See: Guyana Application, pp. 16-18, paras. 50-54.

[8] See: Guyana Application, p. 5, paras. 14-15.

[9] See: Guyana Application, pp. 19-20, para. 55.

Posted by Joshua Brien