‘Back off, Venezuela’ – Jamaica repeats call for Guyana’s territory to be respected following ICJ ruling

(Jamaica Observer) – The Jamaican Government has reiterated its support for Guyana in the increasingly tense border [controversy] with Venezuela following Friday’s unanimous ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

The ICJ, the United Nations’ top court, ordered Venezuela not to take any action that would alter Guyana’s control over the disputed territory but did not specifically ban Venezuela from holding its planned referendum Sunday on the territory’s future.

Guyana had asked the ICJ to order a halt to parts of the vote, saying it was aimed at paving the way for Venezuela to annex the disputed Essequibo region, which makes up some two-thirds of Guyana.

Both countries interpreted Friday’s ruling as largely backing their own positions on the territory, which is larger than Greece and is rich in oil and minerals.

While the court order fell short of any explicit mention of the referendum, it said that Venezuela must “refrain from taking any action which would modify that situation that currently prevails” in Essequibo.

The legally binding ruling remains in place until a case brought by Guyana against Venezuela on the region’s future is considered by the court, which could take years.

But even as both states claimed victory, Jamaica’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, in a mid-afternoon media release, said that the court’s order strongly supports Guyana’s position, which is shared by Jamaica.

“Even as Jamaica supports the court’s order that both parties are to refrain from any action that aggravates the current situation, we note as well that the court has said more particularly that Venezuela should “refrain from taking any action which would modify the situation that currently prevails in the territory in dispute, whereby the Cooperative Republic of Guyana administers and exercises control over that area.

“This would have direct implications for the planned holding of a referendum by Venezuela on December 3,” said Johnson Smith.

“The order is also made pending the court’s final determination of the validity of the Arbitral Award that established the land boundary between the two states. In this regard, it is Jamaica’s hope, as we have expressed on previous occasions, that Venezuela will participate meaningfully in that adjudication process,” added Johnson Smith.

She said Jamaica expressly supports the statement issued on Friday by Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali, which welcomed the ruling and called on Venezuela to join Guyana in demonstrating respect for international law and the principles that govern peaceful co-existence.

“We, too, view the ICJ adjudication process as a positive signal towards a peaceful resolution of this issue, and one which will give validity to future outcomes.

“The Government of Jamaica remains firmly committed to the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity of states, as enshrined in the United Nations Charter. Jamaica fully supports the work of the ICJ and its ability to deliver justice where there is breach of the United Nations’ founding principles in an impartial, transparent, and independent manner,” declared Johnson Smith.

She added: “In this regard, Guyana can continue to count on Jamaica’s support of the Caricom position in defence of its sovereign rights and territorial integrity.”

In comments explaining the verdict, ICJ President Joan E Donoghue said the order was necessary because “Venezuela’s expressed readiness to take action” on the disputed territory “at any moment following the referendum” showed that there is “a real and imminent risk of irreparable prejudice to Guyana’s plausible right before the court gives its final decision.”

Venezuela has arranged a referendum to ask voters five questions Sunday, including whether to create a Venezuelan State in Essequibo and whether voters support granting Venezuelan citizenship to the region’s current and future residents.

Venezuela does not recognise the UN panel’s jurisdiction over the more-than-century-old dispute, but the country’s Vice-President Delcy Rodríguez nonetheless characterised the ruling as a “victory for Venezuela”, given that the UN did not order a halt to the referendum plans.

“Guyana went looking for wool and came out sheared,” Rodríguez told reporters in Caracas after the ruling was announced.