Venezuelan decree a ‘legal nullity’, says Guyana president Ali

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President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, His Excellency, Dr Mohamed Irfaan Ali

By Isaiah Braithwaite

GEORGETOWN, Guyana, (DPI) – His Excellency Dr Mohamed Irfaan Ali, has condemned a decree issued by Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro claiming sovereignty over Guyana’s territory as a “legal nullity” which will not be recognised by any state in the world.

The Venezuelan president on January 7 issued a decree claiming sovereignty and exclusive sovereign rights in the waters and seabed adjacent to Guyana’s coast, west of the Essequibo River.

In his address to the nation, president Ali said, “Guyana rejects entirely the decree issued by president Maduro.”

Guyana also maintains that the 1899 Arbitral Award is valid and legally binding.

“I remind that sovereignty over this coast, and the land territory to which it is attached, were awarded to Guyana (then British Guiana) in the 1899 Arbitral Award, whose validity and legally binding character Guyana is confident the International Court of Justice (ICJ) will uphold unequivocally,” president Ali said.

The president said by decreeing that the seas adjacent to Guyana’s territory belong to Venezuela, Maduro has violated at least two fundamental principles of international law.

“No State can unilaterally determine its international boundaries, whether they are land boundaries or maritime boundaries. The fixing of an international boundary under international law can only result from an agreement between neighbouring states, or a binding determination by an international court or arbitral tribunal. Therefore, this attempt by Venezuela to attempt to unilaterally fix both its land and maritime boundaries with Guyana is a legal nullity which cannot and will not be respected by any other state in the world, including Guyana.”

The second violation of fundamental international law is the principle that the land dominates the sea.

“This means that sovereignty and sovereign rights in the sea and seabed emanate from title to the land that forms the coast to which those sea or seabed are adjacent. Since Guyana is sovereign over the coast, west of the Essequibo River, as far as Punta Playa, it follows consequently that only Guyana can enjoy sovereignty and exclusive sovereign rights over the adjacent sea and seabed.”

The border controversy case between Guyana and Venezuela is currently before the ICJ where Guyana is seeking a final judgement to uphold the 1899 Arbitral Award.

The ICJ on December 18 ruled it had jurisdiction to hear the case and rule upon the Arbitral Award, made on October 3, 1899, including its validity and legal consequence on both States. Venezuela has since rejected the decision of the ICJ.

However, president Ali has said the ICJ has the competence to determine its own jurisdiction. All member states are obligated to comply with the decisions of the ICJ, he added.

“Venezuela does not have the right to reject the court’s binding decision. What is more, its legal advisors would know that to do so is a flagrant breach of its legal obligations and will not be accepted by the ICJ, the United Nations or any other body that upholds international law and its norms and practices.”

President Ali also expressed hope that the Venezuelan government would reconsider its decision and participate in the remainder of the legal proceedings before the ICJ.

He noted that Venezuela’s boycott of the proceedings would not deter nor delay the Court from settling the matter. The rule of the court provides that the “deliberate absence of one of the parties shall not prevent it from deciding a case.”

Nevertheless, president Ali said Guyana is drawing the international community’s attention to the threat posed by Venezuela’s action.

“We are alerting the International Community, including our sister-states in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and in the Americas of the danger to international peace and security that is being threatened by last Thursday’s Venezuela decree which violates fundamental principles of international law.”

Dr Ali stated that Guyana is confident the ICJ will resolve the border issue in its favour, settling also the maritime rights in the adjacent sea and seabed. The president also noted that Guyana has kept all official channels of communication open to the Venezuelan Government, even as it pursued its right to request the UN Secretary-General to refer to the ICJ, Venezuela’s debate over the border.

“Guyana will continue on the path of peaceful resolution of this matter in keeping with international law and the jurisdiction of the ICJ. We urge our neighbour Venezuela to do the same.”

President Ali said this message was relayed to the officer in charge of the Venezuelan embassy in Guyana by minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation, Hugh Todd.

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