ICJ rules it has jurisdiction to hear border controversy between Guyana and Venezuela 

In a majority judgement, International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Friday ruled that it has jurisdiction to hear the case on the validity of the Arbitral Award of 3 October 1899 (Guyana v. Venezuela) regarding the boundary between Venezuela and then British Guiana. The case is premised on a border controversy between Guyana and Venezuela in which the Spanish-speaking country has laid claim to Guyana’s largest county Essequibo.

The Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has claimed, in a letter to the ICJ, that the Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), António Guterres exceeded his authority under Article IV paragraph 2 of the 1966 Geneva Agreement, when he referred the case to the ICJ.

According to Article IV (2): “If, within three months of receiving the final report, the Government of Guyana and the Government of Venezuela should not have reached agreement regarding the choice of one of the means of settlement provided in Article 33 of the Charter of the United Nations, they shall refer the decision as to the means of settlement to an appropriate international organ upon which they both agree or, failing agreement on this point, to the Secretary-General of the United Nations. If the means so chosen do not lead to a solution of the controversy, the said organ or, as the case may be, the Secretary-General of the United Nations shall choose another of the means stipulated in Article 33 of the Charter of the United Nations, and so on until the controversy has been resolved or until all the means of peaceful settlement there contemplated have been exhausted.”

Venezuela therefore argues that the ICJ lacks jurisdiction to adjudicate Guyana’s lawsuit and has indicated that it will not participate in the proceedings. Delivering  the judgment virtually was the ICJ’s President  Judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, who held that both Guyana and Venezuela accepted the  Geneva Agreement over the 1899 Arbitral Award.

Therefore, as prescribed in the Geneva Agreement, the Court ruled that the border controversy must be settled through the judicial system or arbitration as stated under Article IV paragraph (2) of the said Agreement.  The ICJ noted that the UN Secretary-General acted in conformity with the Geneva Agreement when he referred the case to ICJ for adjudication. According to the ICJ, Guyana and Venezuela consented to the Court’s jurisdiction by signing the Geneva Agreement.

In light of the ruling, the ICJ will now go ahead and hear Guyana’s claim concerning the validity of the 1899 Arbitral Award. Moreover, the court said that Venezuela’s non participation cannot affect the validity of its judgement which is final and binding on both countries.  Guyana has requested of the ICJ to confirm the legal validity and binding effect of the Award, and that same is a full, perfect, and final settlement of all questions relating to determining the boundary line between the colony of British Guiana and Venezuela.


Guyana was represented by a team of distinguished international lawyers including Sir Shridath Ramphal, former Commonwealth Secretary General; Payam Akhavan, Professor at McGill University in Montreal; Paul Reicher, British-French lawyer; and French lawyer Alain Pelley.