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CLIPPERTON ISLAND CASE

Clipperton Island is an uninhabited island coral atoll in the eastern Pacific Ocean, southwest of
Mexico, west of Costa Rica and northwest of Galapagos Islands, Equador. It was named after John
Clipperon, an English pirate who fought the Spanish during the 18
th
century who is said to have
passed by the island. It was discovered by French discovers Martin de Chassiron and Michel du
Bocade in 1711, commanding the French ships La Princesse and La Dcouverte. They drew up the
first map and annexed it to France. The first scientific expedition took place in 1725 under
Frenchman M. Bocage, who lived on the island for several months.

Other claimants included the United States, whose American Guano Mining Company claimed it
under Guano Islands Act of 1856. Mexico also claimed it due to activities undertaken therein as
early as 1848-1849. On November 17, 1858, Emperor Napoleon III annexed it as part of the
French colony of Tahiti. This did not settle the ownership question. After which, there were no
apparent acts of sovereignty on the part of France. The island remained without population. On
November 24, 1897, French naval authorities found three Americans working for the American
Guano Company, who had raised the American flag. U.S. authorities denounced their act, assuring
the French that they did not intend to assert American sovereignty.

Mexico reasserted its claim late in the 19th century, and on December 13, 1897 sent the gunboat La
Democrata to occupy and annex it. A colony was established, and a series of military governors was
posted, the last one being Ramn Arnaud (19061916). France insisted on its ownership, and a
lengthy diplomatic correspondence between the two nations led to the conclusion of a treaty on
March 2, 1909, to seek the arbitration of King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy, with each nation
promising to abide by his determination. All the inhabitants of the island sent by Mexico died in
1917.

On January 28, 1931, King Victor Emmanuel of Italy declared Clipperton to be a French possession.
It was ruled that Mexico was not able to prove historic right over the Island. Part of the decision
says:
When France proclaimed her sovereignty over Clipperton, the Island was in a legal situation of
terra nullius, and therefore susceptible to occupation. By the regularity of the act of France, it is
clear that it had the intention to consider the island as his territory.

It is beyond doubt that by immemorial usage having the force of law, besides the animus
occupandi, the actual, and not the nominal, taking of possession is a necessary condition of
occupation. This taking of possession consists in the act, or series of acts, by which the
occupying state reduces to its possession the territory in question and takes steps to exercise
exclusive authority there. Strictly speaking, and in ordinary cases, that only takes place when
the state establishes in the territory itself an organization capable of making its laws respected.
But this step is, properly speaking, but a means of procedure to the taking of possession, and,
therefore, is not identical with the latter. There may also be cases where it is unnecessary to
have recourse to this method. Thus, if a territory, by virtue of the fact that it was completely
uninhabited, is, from the first moment when the occupying state makes its appearance there, at
the absolute and undisputed disposition of that state, from that moment the taking of
possession must be considered as accomplished, and the occupation is thereby completed.