LONDON, England – The Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland, KC has expressed deep concern at the 21 September decision of the Venezuelan National Assembly to undertake a referendum on the status of the Essequibo region, part of the sovereign territory of government of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana set for 3 December.
Speaking on the escalation the secretary-general said:
“The Commonwealth stands with the Government and people of Guyana and with our partners in CARICOM in expressing our concern over the questions in the planned referendum. And the Commonwealth continues to stand for the rule of law and, “reaffirms its firm and steadfast support for the maintenance and preservation of the sovereign and territorial integrity of Guyana, and the unobstructed exercise of its rights to develop the entirety of its territory for the benefit of its people.”
The five questions approved by the National Electoral Council to be included in the referendum undermine Guyana’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and their intent is contrary to international law. Question 5 proposes the creation of Venezuelan state of Guyana Essequibo and an accelerated plan for giving Venezuelan citizenship and identity cards to the Guyanese population.
International law prohibits the seizure and annexation by one country of the territory of another. The language in these questions contributes to heightened tension and is a threat to peace and stability in a member state of our Commonwealth family and indeed in the wider Caribbean region.
At the last meeting of the Commonwealth Ministerial Group on Guyana, held on 17 September 2023, the Group:
“Reaffirmed its unwavering support for the judicial process underway before the International Court of Justice, chosen by the secretary general of the United Nations under the 1966 Geneva Agreement and the Group continues to encourage Venezuela to participate in the said process.”
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) determined in April of this year that it had legal jurisdiction over this longstanding issue and the Commonwealth supports the use of the ICJ to adjudicate on the matter. The referendum, to be held one month before presidential elections in Venezuela goes against the spirit of peaceful dispute resolution.
The statement issued after the Commonwealth Ministerial Group on Guyana on 17 September 2023 can be found here.