In response to an application filed by the Guyana Government, the International Court of Justice has, on 1st of December, 2023, ordered Venezuela not to take any action or jurisdiction over the Essequibo county of Guyana until the ongoing trial to determine the validity of the 1899 Arbitrary Award has been concluded. The court rules as follows:
- There is a border dispute.
- The matter is currently before the court.
- The territory in dispute is currently administered by Guyana which exercises control over it.
- Neither parties (Guyana or Venezuela) may take any action or make any move that would alter the status quo.
The ruling also indirectly prohibits Guyana from entering into any direct negotiations with Venezuela where it concerns the Essequibo: “neither party” shall take any action that alters the status of the territory in dispute.
The Court stopped short of ordering Venezuela not to hold the December 3 referendum as Guyana had requested in its application. However, it has done enough to strongly discourage Venezuela from invading Guyana. Venezuela still has the option of ignoring the court’s ruling and annexing the Essequibo in direct violation of the ruling.
The referendum is an internal issue, and no one can stop Venezuela directly from annexing the Essequibo within the parameters of its own constitution and laws. However, if Venezuela attempts to occupy the territory, exercise control over it, or carry out a military invasion, it is directly violating the ruling of the International Court of Justice.
The United Nations Security Council will apply sanctions on Venezuela if it breaches the court’s order. The UNSC also has the power the approve military force to enforce the Court’s ruling.
The orders of the International Court of Justice has put Venezuela in a very bad spot regarding its ambition to annex and occupy the Essequibo. The Venezuelan military has already been activated to “defend the Essequibo.” They can still invade if they choose to, but will the Commander in Chief, Nicolas Maduro, be imprudent enough to run such a titanic risk? It is highly unlikely, but not impossible.