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ICJ rules it has jurisdiction to intervene in historic boundary dispute between Venezuela and Guyana
© WikiMedia (Yeu Ninje)
ICJ rules it has jurisdiction to intervene in historic boundary dispute between Venezuela and Guyana

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled Friday that it has jurisdiction to intervene in a historic boundary dispute between Venezuela and Guyana. Venezuela refused to participate in the hearing but submitted 200 pages of evidence in its defense.

In the 1890s, when Guyana was still a British colony, the UK and Venezuela both claimed certain territory. An international tribunal of arbitrators from the UK, the US and Russia drew boundaries for Venezuela and the former colony of British Guiana in 1899.

The territory demarcation worked in Britain’s favor. Guyana’s allotment had abundant natural resources. Venezuelan officials immediately claimed that the agreement was unfairly influenced by collusion between the British and Russian arbitrators. 

Relations between Venezuela and Guyana fluctuated throughout the 20th century. In 1966, they established a framework to settle the dispute. This plan, known as the Geneva Agreement, delegated the bodies which could intervene in the controversy. The agreement did not lead to resolution, but in 1970, a 12-year moratorium was negotiated on Venezuelan efforts to reclaim the territory.

Tensions between Venezuela and Guyana remained stable until 2013. The Venezuelan Navy seized a Guyanese ship surveying for oil in disputed maritime territory. Guyana then secured a contract with ExxonMobil to drill in the contested zone. 

This controversy reignited border arguments. Under the 1966 agreement, the ensuing dispute was to be heard by the UN secretary-general. When negotiations failed again, Guyana brought the issue to the ICJ.

Although the ICJ has jurisdiction to hear the dispute, it can only hear issues that arose before 1966. As the case goes forward, it will focus on the legitimacy of the treaty of arbitration that led to the 1899 arbitral award.

If Venezuela secures ownership of the disputed territory, it will obtain more than 40 percent of Guyanese territory. 

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