President of Guyana rejects decree by Maduro to extend Venezuelan maritime boundary

Guyana President Irfaan Ali has rejected Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro’s unilateral extension of his country’s maritime boundary with Venezuela to take in the the Atlantic waters off the Essequibo Region. In his address to the nation, the Guyana President stated: “We have always chosen a path of peaceful resolution of the Venezuelan issue within international law. 

It is, therefore, deeply disturbing that, on January 7th, the President of Venezuela, Mr Nicolas Maduro, issued a decree claiming for Venezuela sovereignty and exclusive sovereign rights in the waters and seabed adjacent to Guyana’s coast, west of the Essequibo River.  

 I remind that sovereignty over this coast, and the land territory to which it is attached, were awarded to Guyana (then British Guiana) in the 1899 Arbitral Award, whose validity and legally binding character Guyana is confident the International Court of Justice (ICJ) will uphold unequivocally. 

 Regrettably, by decreeing that the seas adjacent to this territory belong to Venezuela, at least two fundamental principles of international law have been violated.  

 The first violation is that no State can unilaterally determine its international boundaries, whether they are land boundaries or maritime boundaries.  

The fixing of an international boundary under international law can only result from an agreement between neighbouring States, or a binding determination by an international court or arbitral tribunal.  

Therefore, this attempt by Venezuela to attempt, unilaterally, to fix both its land and maritime boundaries with Guyana is a legal nullity, which cannot, and will not, be respected by any other State in the world, including Guyana. 

The second violation of fundamental international law is based on the fact that, under well-established rules of international law, there is a fundamental principle that “the land dominates the sea”.  

This means that sovereignty, and sovereign rights in the sea and seabed, emanate from title to the land that forms the coast to which those seas and seabed are adjacent.” 

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