Judges at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Thursday ruled they had jurisdiction over a long-running border dispute between Guyana and Venezuela, which could determine which country has rights to territory rich in oil and gas.
Guyana in 2018 asked the ICJ, also known as the World Court, to confirm that the border was laid down in an 1899 arbitration between Venezuela and the then-colony of British Guiana.
Venezuela, while boycotting much of the procedure, tried to stop the case from moving forward by arguing the United Kingdom should be involved as Guyana was a British colony in 1899, but judges rejected that reasoning and said they have jurisdiction.
The court “by 14 votes to 1, rejects the preliminary objection raised by the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela,” said presiding judge Joan Donoghue, while reading the decision.
The next step is hearings on the merits of the case. A final ruling could be years away.
Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali welcomed the decision in a video statement quoted by local media, saying it means the court is moving forward with a final, binding determination.
The decision marks the second time the court has rejected Venezuela’s arguments, Ali said, adding he remains confident the court will help set up a “standing boundary” with Venezuela. Guyana is committed to a “peaceful resolution,” he added.
Venezuela has previously insisted on negotiations between the countries to determine which controls the Guyana Esequiba region.
Negotiations are the only way to reach a “practical and satisfactory” solution, Vice President Delcy Rodriguez said in a televised statement on Thursday.
President Nicolas Maduro and his government will exhaustively evaluate implications of the ruling, she added, and “adopt all the measures available for the defense of its legitimate rights and territorial integrity.”
Offshore oil discoveries in recent years have given Guyana, which has no history of oil production, the potential to become one of the largest producers in Latin America.
A consortium of U.S. oil company Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N), Hess Corp (HES.N) and CNOOC Ltd (0883.HK) of China produces crude in Guyana’s offshore Stabroek block, part of which is located in waters claimed by Venezuela.