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Western Sahara Case

Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice, 16 October 1975

I. Facts
Morocco succeeded in getting Western Sahara to be listed on the list of territories to be
decolonized by Spain, and on December 20, 1966, the United Nations General Assembly
called on Spain to hold a referendum on self-determination in the region. Morocco and
Mauritania, however, insisted that Western Sahara be reintegrated into their territories, but
Spain refused the claims.
II. Issues
1. WON Western Sahara at the time of colonization by Spain a territory belonging to no one
(terra nullius)?
2. WON the legal ties between this territory and the Kingdom of Morocco and the
Mauritanian entity were indicative of territorial sovereignty?
III. Held
1. No. In law, "occupation" was a means of peaceably acquiring sovereignty over territory
otherwise than by cession or succession; it was a cardinal condition of a valid "occupation"
that the territory should be terra nullius. The Court found that at the time of colonization,
Western Sahara was inhabited by peoples which, if nomadic, were socially and politically
organized in tribes and under chiefs competent to represent them.
2. No. Morocco failed to display any effective and exclusive State activity in Western
Sahara. The tribes in the Sahara were bound to Morocco by mere legal ties of allegiance.
Also, the Court noted that at the time of colonization by Spain there did not exist between
the territory of Western Sahara and the Mauritanian entity any tie of sovereignty or of
allegiance of tribes, or of simple inclusion in the same legal entity. To establish territorial
sovereignty, there must be two elements: the intention and will to act as sovereign and the
actual exercise of authority.

Legal Status of Eastern Greenland

Denmark v. Norway
Permanent International Court of Justice, 5 September 1933
I. Facts
A suit was instituted before the Permanent Court of International Justice by the Royal
Danish Government against the Royal Norwegian Government over the legal status of
certain territories in Eastern Greenland. The cause of Action for the dispute arose when
Norwegian Government on July 10th, 1931 proclaimed that it proceeded to occupy certain
territories of Eastern Greenland which as contented by Denmark were subject to
sovereignty of Crown of Denmark.
II. Issue
WON Denmark established sovereignty over Greenland to render the subsequent
proclamation of occupation by Norway as unlawful
III. Held
Yes. Denmark had peaceful and continuous display of State authority over the island. Its
intention and will to exercise sovereignty over Greenland manifested in the treaties it
entered into concerning Greenland. Moreover, Denmark issued legislations for the
administration of Greenland, and granted concessions for the erection of telegraph lines
and delineation of limits on territorial waters within the region.
The Ilhen declaration, a statement of Norwegian Foreign Minister to the effect that Norway
would not intrude upon Denmarks authority over the region subject of the dispute, further
substantiated Denmarks claim over Greenland.