ICJ to rule on Guyana’s request for provisional measures against Venezuela’s referendum on Friday

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) will issue its ruling on Friday, December 1, 2023, regarding the request made by Guyana for provisional measures to prevent Venezuela from going ahead with its planned referendum in its current format, as it includes a number of questions that threaten Guyana’s territorial integrity.

The ruling will be delivered publicly at 3:00 pm (10:00 am local time) at the Peace Palace in The Hague. President of the Court, Judge Joan E. Donoghue will announce the Court’s Order.

In its request to the ICJ, Guyana has asked that an order be entered, which prevents Venezuela from taking any action to seize, acquire, encroach upon, or assert or exercise sovereignty over the Essequibo region or any other part of Guyana’s national territory, pending the court’s final determination of the validity of the 1899 Arbitral Award that established the land boundary between the two states and the final and binding nature of that boundary.

In 2018, Guyana filed an application instituting proceedings against Venezuela, requesting the ICJ “to confirm the legal validity and binding effect of the Award regarding the Boundary between the Colony of British Guiana and the United States of Venezuela, of 3 October 1899.”

However, on September 21, 2023, Venezuela’s National Assembly passed a resolution for a referendum on the territory awarded to British Guiana in 1899, now part of Guyana since its independence in 1966.

The National Electoral Council of Venezuela issued five questions for the December 3, 2023, referendum. Questions three and five are particularly concerning, aiming to support Venezuela’s baseless claim to the Essequibo region.

Question three seeks approval for Venezuela’s refusal to recognise the ICJ’s jurisdiction in the controversy, while question five seeks approval from Venezuelans to create a new state in Guyana’s Essequibo Region, incorporating it into Venezuela, and granting citizenship to the population.

The Essequibo region accounts for almost two-thirds of Guyana’s territory, with around 125,000 of the country’s 800,000 inhabitants living there.

It is against this background, that Guyana approached the ICJ for provisional measures, asking Venezuela to refrain from those actions. Such actions would unlawfully annex Guyana’s territory and violate international law principles in the UN Charter.

Moreover, such actions would usurp the jurisdiction of the ICJ by presenting it with a fait accompli before the Court has had a chance to rule on Guyana’s claim of sovereignty over the territory under the 1899 Arbitral Award.

Guyana presented its case on November 14, and Venezuela on November 15.