Guyana seeks ICJ intervention to block controversial Venezuela referendum on Essequibo

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Guyana has turned to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to block Venezuela’s December 3 referendum which seeks to garner support for the annexation of the Essequibo region – approximately two-thirds of Guyana’s territory. 

The official request was filed on October 30,  for provisional ICJ measures, in the case concerning the Arbitral Award of 3 October 1899 (Guyana v. Venezuela), as outlined in Article 41 of the Court’s Statute.

Guyana asserts that “[o]n 23 October 2023, the government of Venezuela, through its National Electoral Council, published a list of five questions that it plans to put before the Venezuelan people in a ‘Consultative Referendum’ on 3 December 2023.”

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The primary objective of the referendum, according to Guyana, is “to obtain responses that would support Venezuela’s decision to abandon the current proceedings before the Court and instead resort to unilateral measures to ‘resolve’ the controversy with Guyana. This would involve formally annexing and integrating into Venezuela all of the territory at issue in these proceedings, which comprises more than two-thirds of Guyana.”

Guyana has formally requested the ICJ to indicate the following provisional measures:

  1. Venezuela must not proceed with the consultative referendum planned for December 3, 2023, in its current form.
  1. Venezuela must refrain from including the first, third, or fifth questions in the consultative referendum.
  1. Venezuela should not include any question within the consultative referendum, or any other public referendum, that encroaches upon the legal issues that are to be determined by the Court in its judgment on the merits. This includes but is not limited to, matters concerning the legal validity and binding effect of the 1899 Award, sovereignty over the territory between the Essequibo River and the boundary established by the 1899 Award and the 1905 Agreement, as well as the purported creation of the State of ‘Guayana Esequiba’ and associated measures such as the granting of Venezuelan citizenship and national identity cards.
  1. Venezuela must refrain from any actions intended to prepare or allow the exercise of sovereignty or de facto control over any territory that was awarded to British Guiana in the 1899 Arbitral Award.
  1. Venezuela should avoid any actions that might exacerbate or extend the controversy before the Court or make it more challenging to resolve.
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