Venezuela bound by World Court’s decision even without participating

The International Court of Justice has said that Venezuela is bound by its decisions even if it does not recognise the jurisdiction of that United Nations juridical body

“A judgment on jurisdiction, as on the merits, is final and binding on the parties under Articles 59 and 60 of the Statute,” the World Court said last Friday in deciding that it has jurisdiction to hear Guyana’s case on the validity of the 1899 Arbitral Tribunal Award of the land boundary between the neighbouring South American nations.

Venezuela, which has refused to participate in the hearings on jurisdiction, has since restated that the ICJ has no jurisdiction in Guyana’s case and that the border controversy ought to be settled through negotiations between the two countries based on Caracas’ interpretation of the 1966 Geneva Agreement.

The Nicolas Maduro has categorically “repudiated” the ICJ’s decision, but already the court notes that although a party might fail to participate in the proceedings, it enjoys the legitimate right to make a decision. “The Court emphasizes that the non-participation of a party in the proceedings at any stage of the case cannot, in any circumstances, affect the validity of its judgment,” the Court said in its decision. The judges also said while there is no question of a judgment automatically in favour of the party appearing, the party which declines to appear cannot be permitted to profit from its absence.”

At the same time, the ICJ judges, in their decision, severely criticised Venezuela for refusing to participate in the hearings on whether the court has jurisdiction.  “The Court wishes first of all to express its regret at the decision taken by Venezuela not to participate in the proceedings before it,” states the judges in their 37-page decision.

The ICJ Statute, which is an integral part of the United Nations Charter, states under Article 53 that whenever one of the parties does not appear before the Court, or fails to defend its case, the other party may call upon the Court to decide in favour of its claim” and that  the Court must, before doing so, satisfy itself, not only that it has jurisdiction in accordance with Articles 36 and 37, but also that the claim is well founded in fact and law.

Last Friday, the ICJ  judges remarked that the non-appearance of a party obviously has a negative impact on the sound administration of justice and in particular, the non-appearing party forfeits the opportunity to submit evidence and arguments in support of its own case and to counter the allegations of its opponent.

“For this reason, the Court does not have the assistance it might have derived from this information, yet it must nevertheless proceed and make any necessary findings in the case,” the ICJ said.

While Venezuela did not participate in the hearing on the ICJ’s jurisdiction, it had submitted a memorandum which was considered by the judges. The ICJ noted that the door still remained open to Venezuela to participate in the proceedings. “Should the examination of the present case extend beyond the current phase, Venezuela, which remains a Party to the proceedings, will be able, if it so wishes, to appear before the Court to present its arguments .

Venezuela believes that the 1899 Arbitral Tribunal is null and void. Guyana, however, continues to exercise its sovereign right to occupy the Essequibo Region.

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