On Friday, December 18, 2020, the International Court of Justice issued its decision in Guyana v. Venezuela, on the question of its jurisdiction in the case. Guyana asked the Court “to confirm the legal validity and binding effect of the Award regarding the Boundary between the Colony of British Guiana and the United States of Venezuela, of 3 October 1899).” According to a press release from the Court, Guyana argued that the 1899 award was the final settlement on all questions relating to the boundary line between British Guyana and Venezuela. According to Guyana, the Court’s jurisdiction was based on the 1966 Agreement to Resolve the Controversy between Venezuela and the UK over the Frontier between Venezuela and British Guiana (the Geneva agreement), as well as the U.N. Secretary General’s decision in 2018 to choose the ICJ as the means to settle the dispute between the two parties. Venezuela opposed the Court’s jurisdiction and so the Court separated the question of jurisdiction from the merits of the case. By a judgment of twelve votes to four, the Court found that it has jurisdiction to hear the aspects of the application filed by Guyana that related to the validity of the 1899 award and the question of the definitive nature of the settlement of the land boundary dispute. It ruled that, pursuant to Article IV, paragraph 2, of the Geneva Agreement, the “‘controversy’ that the parties agreed to settle through the mechanism established under the Geneva Agreement concerns the question of the validity of the 1899 Award, as well as its legal implications for the boundary line between Guyana and Venezuela.” Moreover, the Court found that the parties agreed to give the U.N. Secretary General the authority to choose, by a binding legal decision, the means to settle their dispute and that the parties consented to the Secretary General’s choice of judicial settlement. This means, ultimately, that the parties consented to the jurisdiction of the ICJ.
Judge Abraham dissented on the point of consent, arguing that the parties did not give their consent in advance to judicial settlement. Judge Bennouna also dissented on that point, arguing against the conclusion by the majority that the Secretary General could consent to the jurisdiction of the Court in lieu of the parties.