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ICJ rejects Venezuela stance on Guyana border dispute

April 7, 2023

The International Court of Justice has rejected Venezuela's objections, saying its judges can rule on a 19th-century border dispute. The country is at odds with neighboring Guyana over a fossil fuel-rich region.

Exterior view of the Peace Palace housing the UN's International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands
This is the the second time the International Court of Justice has rejected Venezuela's argumentsImage: Peter Dejong/AP Photo/picture alliance

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Thursday allowed a long-running border dispute between Venezuela and Guyana for jurisdiction.

The two countries have remained entangled in a dispute over an oil and gas-rich region known as Essequibo. The Hague-based court can now adjudicate on the 19th-century border dispute, which has seen many escalations since oil was discovered in the region.

The court's ruling

In 2018, Guyana had pleaded with the ICJ to confirm that the border was drawn in an 1899 arbitration between Venezuela and the then-colony of British Guiana.

However, in an attempt to stall the case, Venezuela had argued that Britain should be involved since it was the colonial power at the time of arbitration.

Rejecting Venezuela's argument, the court said it has jurisdiction over the matter. "The court ... rejects the preliminary objection raised by the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela" by 14 judges to one, ICJ chief judge Joan Donoghue said.

Guyana oil boom: dream or nightmare?

Welcoming the court's decision, Guyanese President Irfaan Ali said: "Guyana remains confident that the court will confirm its long-standing international boundary with Venezuela."

The decision marks the second time the court has rejected Venezuela's arguments, Ali said.

Despite the recent ruling, it could take years for a final verdict in the case.

What is the reason behind the dispute

In 2015, US oil giant ExxonMobil discovered crude oil off Guyana's coast, which until then had no history of oil production. However, with the discovery of oil in the Essequibo region, it now has the potential to become one of the top oil producers in Latin America.

A consortium of oil companies produces oil in Guyana's offshore Stabroek block, part of which is located in waters claimed by Venezuela.

Guyana has upheld the validity of borders and maintains they were laid in 1899 by an arbitration court decision in Paris involving Venezuela, Britain and then-British Guiana but Caracas has rejected the claim.

mf/rc (AFP, Reuters)