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International Court of Justice orders urgent provisional measures against Venezuela

Published:

On 1 December 2023, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) unanimously issued an urgent order requiring Venezuela not to take any action which would modify the situation which currently prevails in the Essequibo Region of Guyana, an area of more than 150,000 square kilometres which represents more than two-thirds of Guyana’s territory.

In 1899 an international arbitral tribunal determined that the territory belongs to Guyana (then the British colony of British Guiana).  After recognising the validity of that arbitral award for decades, in 1962 Venezuela suddenly repudiated the award and asserted that the territory which had been determined to form part of Guyana in fact belonged to Venezuela.  In 2018, the Secretary-General of the United Nations decided that the ICJ should determine the dispute between Venezuela and Guyana regarding the validity of the 1899 award.  The ICJ subsequently delivered judgments in 2020 and 2023 confirming that it has jurisdiction to determine the dispute and that there is no obstacle to it exercising that jurisdiction.

In October 2023, Venezuela announced plans to hold a national referendum in which the people of Venezuela would be asked whether they support Venezuela’s rejection of the ICJ’s jurisdiction and the annexation of the Essequibo Region into the territory of Venezuela. In response to that development, Guyana filed an urgent request for provisional measures to prevent Venezuela causing irreparable prejudice to the rights which are the subject of the proceedings before the Court.

Following a hearing of that request in mid-November 2023, on 1 December the ICJ delivered an order which “observe[d] that the situation that currently prevails in the territory in dispute is that Guyana administers and exercises control over that area” and “emphasize[d] that the question of the validity of the 1899 Award and the related question of the definitive settlement of the land boundary dispute between Guyana and Venezuela are matters for the Court to decide”.  The ICJ therefore unanimously ordered that: “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.

Edward Craven has represented Guyana throughout the proceedings before the ICJ.

A copy of the Court’s decision and order is available here.