Guarding Sovereignty

by December 10, 2023

The UWI Vice-Chancellor’s Forum examines the Political and Legal Issues arising from the Guyana/Venezuela Border Controversy.

Upcoming instalment of The University of the West Indies (UWI) Vice-Chancellor’s Forum will examine the political and legal issues arising from the Guyana/Venezuela Border Controversy. The UWI, with its expertise from the Faculty of Law and Faculty of Social Sciences is well placed to lead with its voice on the controversy and share views on how the issue might be resolved.

Themed, “Guarding Sovereignty”, the virtual event to be carried live on UWItv’s website on Tuesday, December 12, 2023, starts at 6:30 p.m. (AST/Eastern Caribbean) | 5:30 p.m. (EST/Jamaica).

The presentation, which is a collaborative undertaking of the Office of the Vice-Chancellor and the Faculties of Law and Social Sciences at The UWI Cave Hill Campus, will be moderated by Professor Cynthia Barrow-Giles, Professor of Constitutional Governance and Politics at The UWI Cave Hill Campus. The forum’s panellists include The Honourable Mohabir Anil Nandlall M.P., S.C., Attorney-General, Minister of Legal Affairs and Member of the Parliament of Guyana; Ambassador Riyad Insanally, Senior Fellow, Caribbean Initiative of the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Center for Latin America;  Professor Anthony Bryan, Founder and Co-Director, Caribbean Policy Consortium; Professor Ivelaw Lloyd Griffith, Senior Associate, Center for Strategic and International Studies; Dr. Duane Edwards, Senior Lecturer, Department of Sociology, University of Guyana; and Mrs. Nicole Foster, Law Lecturer, Faculty of Law, The UWI Cave Hill Campus.

The Guyana/Venezuela controversy is as much a political issue as it is a legal one. The controversy involves territorial sovereignty which is an essential foundation of international relations and the demarcation of territorial borders of states. It also lays bare the various methods by which territorial disputes are resolved internationally such as arbitration, mediation, and judicial settlement before the International Court of Justice.

An Arbitral Award dated October 3, 1899 (the 1899 Award) settled the boundary-line between Guyana (then a British colony), and Venezuela. The 1899 Award granted the entire mouth of the Orinoco River and the land on either side to Venezuela; it granted to the United Kingdom the land to the east extending to the Essequibo River. In 1962 Venezuela repudiated the 1899 Award alleging it was a political transaction carried out behind its back.

A 1966 Agreement signed between Guyana, Venezuela, and the United Kingdom in Geneva (the Geneva Agreement) established a Mixed Commission to seek a settlement of the controversy between the parties. Since there was no significant progress made toward arriving at a full agreement for the solution to the controversy, in 2018, the United National Secretary-General chose the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to resolve the controversy.

Though Venezuela disputed the ICJ jurisdiction, in a judgment dated December 18, 2020, the ICJ decided that it has jurisdiction to entertain Guyana’s application concerning the validity of the 1899 Award and the related question of the definitive settlement of the land boundary dispute between the two countries.

Venezuela also objected that Guyana has no standing to bring the application before the ICJ. In a judgment dated April 6 2023, the ICJ held that the practice of the parties to the Geneva Agreement demonstrates their agreement that the dispute could be settled without the involvement of the United Kingdom.

Following the decision of Venezuela to hold a referendum on December 3, 2023 to ascertain its citizens’ opinion on whether it should create a new “state” in Essequibo, Guyana sought provisional measures before the ICJ. On November 28, 2023, the ICJ held unanimously that (1) Pending a final decision in the case, Venezuela shall refrain from taking any action which would modify the situation that currently prevails in the territory in dispute, whereby Guyana administers and exercises control over that area; (2) Both Parties shall refrain from any action which might aggravate or extend the dispute before the ICJ or make it more difficult to resolve.