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Frontier Dispute Case (Burkina

Faso/Mali)
Brief Fact Summary. A declaration made by the Malian Head of State was
interpreted to be a unilateral act.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. States are bound by the terms of unilateral


declarations made by head of state only when the intention confers on the
declaration, the character of a legal undertaking.

Issue. Are states bound by the terms of unilateral declarations made by heads of
states, only when the intention confers on the declaration, the character of a legal
undertaking?

Held. Yes. States are bound by the terms of unilateral declarations made by
head of state only when the intention confers on the declaration, the character of
a legal undertaking. It is left for the court to “form its own view of the meaning
and scope intended by the author of a unilateral declaration which might create a
legal obligation.” In this case, nothing holds the parties back from entering into a
formal agreement. Hence, there is no basis to interpret the Mali Head of State’s
declaration as a unilateral act with legal implications since no such agreement
was entered into.

Discussion. The French government’s unilateral declaration was interpreted by


the Court in the Nuclear Test cases as effectively communicating the intent to
terminate atmospheric testing. The French government had no alternative but to
express its intentions by unilateral declarations. It is not so with this case
because the parties involved had the normal method of formal agreement
available.

Brief Fact Summary. A question pertaining to a border dispute was tabled


before the International Court of Justice by Burkina Faso and Mali.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. An obligation exists to respect pre-existing
international frontiers in the event of a state succession.

Issue. Does an obligation exist to respect pre-existing international frontiers in


the event of a state succession?

Held. Yes. An obligation exists to respect pre-existing international frontiers in


the event of a state succession, whether or not the rule is the rule is expressed in
the form of uti possidetis. The fact that the principle did not exist when the states
declared such independence in 1960 does not foreclose its present application.

Discussion. Yes. An obligation exists to respect pre-existing international


frontiers in the event of a state succession, whether or not the rule is the rule is
expressed in the form of uti possidetis. The fact that the principle did not exist
when the states declared such independence in 1960 does not foreclose its
present application.