Territorial Disputes Under International Law


The territory has always been the center of disputes. Back in history, the reason for all the wars fought among the rulers revolves around the seizure of territory. The mighty ones only focused on the expansion of territory. In modern times also territory is a dispute-related issue. A territorial dispute is a disagreement over the management or administration of land between two or more countries or any political entity. They are a major cause of wars and terrorism, as countries often try to consolidate their local sovereignty by attacking, and non-governmental organizations seek to influence the actions of politicians through terrorism. International law does not support the use of force by one state to consolidate the territory of another province. Territorial disputes have significant importance in the international societal aspects of both countries, both in regards to their relationship with the fundamental right of states, sovereignty, and because they are essential to international peace. International law has an important relationship with boundary-related disputes because territorial disputes deal with the basis of international law.

The benefits of having an expanded territory are enormous. The boundaries of the state must be clearly defined for the modern world to function. In most cases, however, these boundaries are subject to competing for international claims.

Causes of Territorial Disputes under International Law

Boundary-related conflicts lead to more frequent conflicts than any other type of political conflict, including maritime, river, ownership, economic, cultural, or other issues. Most of the world’s wars have been fought between nations that are involved in one or more of the world’s conflicts. Countries that share territories are more likely to wage war on one another outside the country, especially if there are disagreements over certain areas of the territory. The most important reason being natural resources, religious sites, or the land of history is said to create more violence. Territorial disputes can be successfully resolved through peaceful dispute resolution tools such as arbitration and adjudication by international courts. Successful resolution of border disputes promotes democracy and helps to ensure the stability of shared borders over time. The country’s borders have also become increasingly difficult to break in recent decades due to the emergence of a state of local integrity. The general decline in territorial conquests is due in part to the growing globalization of globalization. While traditional land disputes have diminished over time, other forms of territorial disputes have become commonplace, such as the competition for maritime resources in or near the islands or home areas including the Spratly Islands, the Diaoyu / Senkaku Islands, and the Bakassi Peninsula.

Evolution of Territorial Disputes under International Law

Minquiers And Ecrehos

According to a special agreement, France and the United Kingdom (UK) have agreed to the ICJ their dispute over the sovereignty of the Minquiers and Ecrehos archipelago, which is located in the English Channel between Jersey (UK) and the French colonists. The parties formulate disputes based on contract law, history, and applicable controls. The court denied all disputes based on feudal grants and fishing agreements, all of which escalated in 1648.

In addition to the application for a valid agreement, the court considered effective regulatory issues and found that the British government exercised administrative and local authority over Minquiers and Ecrehos for actions such as judicial procedures, local corporate governance regulations, taxation, licensing of commercial vessels, title deeds and real estate, census, and cultural census. Therefore, the court granted the territory to the United Kingdom.

Belgian V. Netherlands (Jurisdiction Over Frontier Land)

The Belgian and Dutch states brought the dispute to the ICJ’s by a special agreement demanding the court decide which party had power over certain border sites. The opposing border is marked by numerous areas around Baerle-Duc, a Belgian city, and Baarle-Nassau, a Dutch city. The parties make the claims based on agreements and effective governance.

The court held that the parties’ in 1843 the Boundary Convention established the border and that the disputed sites belonged to Belgium. The suspension stemmed from the emergence of two previous bilateral agreements between Belgium and the Netherlands. Another treaty was the 1842 Beltary Treaty, which charged the Mixed Boundary Commission for defining boundaries by maintaining a state or jurisdiction.

Burkina Faso V. Mali (Frontier Dispute)

According to a special agreement, Upper Volta (Burkina Faso) and Mali brought a border dispute to court to rule in 1983. The special agreement identified the disputed area as a piece of land containing a temporary waterway that was important for agriculture and the pastures of Dori in the region around the Béli River. The region that had previously been part of France West Africa led to opposition to land claims when the land was divided into independent provinces in 1960. The parties make the claims under the law of the treaty. The court overturned the strengthening of the monarchy and the control of the administration as illegal. Instead, the case opened the way for borders on various critical days under French colonial law.

The court reduced the opposing field by half, noting the inconsistencies in the records. In the event of such a dispute or gaps, the court proceeded fairly and equitably, splitting the opposing boundary in half.

Methods to Resolve Territorial Disputes under International Law

Territorial disputes are difficult to resolve peacefully and patiently. The outcome of cross-border disputes is unpredictable, and political leaders are often unwilling to accept the risk of losing the country. Mediation or arbitration (non-binding arbitration) provides a flexible and balanced approach to achieving a satisfactory outcome, but their results also shock politicians.

Other forms of territorial disputes – including reconciliation and other forms of assistance provided by third parties – can be very appealing, although they may also be opposed by states with weaker contention but have a stronger political interest. Coordinators, facilitators, and arbitrators often have a wide range of construction results that focus on reaching a conclusion that can satisfy both parties in a boundary dispute.

It is essential to establish a “no loss” solution. It is difficult for judges and arbitrators to achieve such an outcome because they are often required to take legal action to adhere to the terms of the case (judgment) or the jurisdiction of the parties. Arbitration and other methods have the potential to be more responsive, but it can still be difficult to find practical ways.

Analysis of Territorial Disputes By Courts

The existence of a previous boundary agreement or other document indicating an international agreement in respect of the boundaries (or the terms of their separation) is usually used possidetis (doctrine in which newly independent states inherit pre-independence administrative restrictions imposed by the former colonial government). This rule usually applies even when the agreement is unclear or incomplete. In cases where state approval is available, the court has begun and completed its legal analysis by agreement.

If no international agreement exists, the next basis for the verdict is uti possidetis, if any; it is unlikely that the decision will be based on uti possidetis alone because almost all colonial boundaries were somehow united. However, in the case of internal boundaries, there may be domestic understanding, accepted practices, or documents at the local level. For example, in the Frontier Dispute (Burkina Faso/Mali), the court relied on borders as they existed under French colonial law.

Factors Considered By ICJ In Deciding Disputes:

Under Article 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice, in deciding cases “following international law,” the court uses the following legal sources:

1. international conventions, whether general or specific, set out rules that are recognized by the opposing nations;

2. international culture, as evidence of a common practice accepted as law;

3. general legal principles recognized by civilized nations;

4. Under the provisions of Article 59, judicial decisions and the teachings of highly trained multinational corporations, such as subcontracting.

Hierarchy Evolution

1. The court upholds the rule to make a decision that ensures the stability, and the protection of the frontiers, to agree on the expectations of the Member States concerning the location of the boundaries.

2. The court can choose a justification based on the contract while property-based justifications are less preferable.

3. The International Court of justice is biased in favor of the treaties and the legal grounds, and against the political arguments.


Besides the long history of laws relating to local sovereignty and its unending value, and without the standard of norms and standards governing territorial disputes, it is no doubt surprising to find that much attention has been paid to the question of violations of those norms and consequences. There are no legal proceedings relating to claims of State liability in territorial disputes.

In international law, international relations, for the possession of the territory is of great importance because of the sovereignty of the country, deciding what’s going to represent the interests of the state. However, the benefits of having a large territory are fulfilled only when the boundaries are free from disputes. In many cases, these territories are subject to competing for international standards. The claims can be made under nine categories- the treaties, history, geography, economics, their culture, governance, uti possidetis, elitism, and social development or ideology.

What is the hierarchy of the international treaties, uti possidetis, and effective monitoring will lead to a broad scope? Perhaps, the principle of uti possidetis is more important at this stage in developing the principles of international law.

This article has been written by Aditi Vishnoi, B.A.LL.B.(H) student at The ICFAI University, Dehradun.

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