Terra nullius

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Terra nullius (/ˈtɛrə.nʌˈləs/, plural terrae nullius) is a Latin expression meaning "nobody's land",[1] and is a principle sometimes used in international law to describe territory that may be acquired by a state's occupation of it.[2]

History

Terra nullius stems from the Roman law term res nullius, meaning nobody's thing. According to the Roman law ferae bestiae, things without an owner, such as wild animals, lost slaves and abandoned buildings, were res nullius and could be taken as property by anyone by seizure.

There is considerable debate among historians about how and when the terra nullius concept were used. The debate has been especially prevalent in Australia where it was ignited by the History wars caused by the Mabo case in 1992. The history wars caused Australian historians to reevaluate the country's history, the dispossession of Aborigines and whether the land best should be characterized as having been "settled" or "conquered." A part of this debate concerned whether terra nullius as a concept was ever used by England and other European powers to justify territorial conquest.

On one side of the debate are historians such as Alan Frost and Henry Reynolds who claims that in the 15th and 16th century, European writers adopted the res nullius concept for territorial conquest. Frost writes

By the mid–eighteenth century, the theoretical basis of a new convention of acquiring empire had emerged. If a European state (a Christian Prince) had already established an effective possession of a region, another might acquire title to it only by formal cession (which might or might not involve outright purchase). If the region was not already possessed by a rival, then a state might acquire it in one of three ways, viz.: – by persuading the indigenous inhabitants to submit themselves to its overlordship; – by purchasing from those inhabitants the right to settle part or parts of it; – by unilateral possession, on the basis of first discovery and effective occupation.[3]

Historians debate whether "first discovery and effective occupation" was applied to territory inhabited by indigenous people that European empires sought to acquire or not. According to Frost

However, if the indigenes had advanced beyond the state of nature only so far as to have developed language and the community of the family, but no further; if they had not yet mixed their labour with the earth in any permanent way; or if the region were literally uninhabited, then Europeans considered it to be terra nullius (ie, belonging to no one), to which they might gain permanent title by first discovery and effective occupation.[4]

On the other side of the debate are historians which claim that terra nullius is a much younger concept, which didn't become formalized before the end of the 19th century. Historian Merete Borch writes:

When the wealth of material relevant to this issue is surveyed it seems much more likely that there was no legal doctrine maintaining that inhabited land could be regarded as ownerless, nor was this the basis of official policy, in the eighteenth century or before. Rather it seems to have developed as a legal theory in the nineteenth century.[5]

These historians claim instead that territorial conquest was justified from natural law — that which has no owner can be taken by the first taker. Michael Connor in his book "The Invention of Terra Nullius" takes an even more extreme view and argues that no one in the 19th century thought of Australia as being terra nullius. He calls the concept a legal fiction, a straw man developed in the late 20th century:

By the time of Mabo in 1992, terra nullius was the only explanation for the British settlement of Australia. Historians, more interested in politics than archives, misled the legal profession into believing that a phrase no one had heard of a few years before was the very basis of our statehood, and Reynolds' version of our history, especially The Law of the Land, underpinned the Mabo judges' decision-making.[6]

First use of the term Terra Nullius

A part of the debate over the history of terra nullius is when the term itself was first used. According to professor Andrew Fitzmaurice, territorium nullius and terra nullius were two different, albeit related, legal terms. He claims that territorium nullius was first used in a meeting of the Institut de Droit International in 1888 where the legal principles of the Berlin conference discussed and that terra nullius was introduced twenty years later during legal disputes over the polar regions.[7]

Historian Michel Connor on the other hand, argues that territorium nullius and terra nullius is the same thing.[8] Both scholars are active in the Australian History wars debate.

Claims of terra nullius

Several territories have been claimed to be terra nullius. In a minority of those claims, international and domestic courts have ruled on whether the territory is or was terra nullius or not.

Bir Tawil

Simplified map showing Egypt's claim (yellow and green), Sudan's claim (blue and green) and Bir Tawil (white)

Bir Tawil is an example of a territory often claimed to be terra nullius.[9] Between Egypt and Sudan is the 2,060 km2 (800 sq mi) landlocked territory of Bir Tawil, which was created by a discrepancy between borders drawn in 1899 and 1902. One border placed Bir Tawil under Sudan's control and the Hala'ib Triangle under Egypt's; the other border did the reverse. Both countries assert the border that lets them claim Hala'ib, which is significantly larger and next to the Red Sea, with the side effect that Bir Tawil is unclaimed by either nation. The area is, however, under the de facto control of Egypt, although it is not shown on official Egyptian maps.[10] Bir Tawil has no settled population but the land is used by Bedouins who roam the area.[11]

In June 2014, Jeremiah Heaton planted a flag in Bir Tawil to claim the region as a new sovereign state, the Kingdom of North Sudan,[12][13][14][15] and subsequently announced the establishment of self-styled "embassies" elsewhere in the world.[16] However, no governmental entity has recognized this claim.

Antarctica

Territorial claims in Antarctica, with the unclaimed part of West Antarctica shown in off-white. In the purple Norwegian sector the area near the South Pole may be unclaimed because in 2015 Norway extended its claim to include it, a violation of the Antarctic Treaty.[17]

Another example of terra nullius is Antarctica. While several countries have made claims to parts of Antarctica in the first half of the 20th century, the remainder, including most of Marie Byrd Land (the portion east from 150°W to 90°W), has not been claimed by any sovereign nation. Signatories to the Antarctic Treaty of 1959 agreed not to make such claims, except the Soviet Union and the United States, who reserved the right to make a claim.

Australia

Australian Aborigines had inhabited Australia for over 50,000 years before European settlement, which commenced in 1788. Indigenous customs, rituals and laws were unwritten. It has been claimed that Australia were considered terra nullius at the time of settlement.

In 1971, in the controversial case of Milirrpum v Nabalco Pty Ltd, popularly known as the Gove land rights case, Justice Richard Blackburn ruled that Australia had been considered "desert and uncultivated" (a term which included territory in which resided "uncivilized inhabitants in a primitive state of society") before European settlement, and therefore, by the law that applied at the time, open to be claimed by right of occupancy, and that there was no such thing as native title in Australian law. The concept of terra nullius was not considered in this case, however.[18] Court cases in 1977, 1979, and 1982 – brought by or on behalf of Aboriginal activists – challenged Australian sovereignty on the grounds that terra nullius had been improperly applied, therefore Aboriginal sovereignty should still be regarded as being intact. The courts rejected these cases, but the Australian High Court left the door open for a reassessment of whether the continent should be considered "settled" or "conquered". Later, on 1 February 2014, the traditional owners of land on Badu Island received freehold title to 10,000 hectare in an act of the Queensland Government.[19]

In 1982, Eddie Mabo and four other Torres Strait Islanders from Mer (Murray Island) started legal proceedings to establish their traditional land ownership. This led to Mabo v Queensland (No 1). In 1992, after ten years of hearings before the Queensland Supreme Court and the High Court of Australia, the latter court found that the Mer people had owned their land prior to annexation by Queensland.[20] The ruling thus had far-reaching significance for the land claims of both Torres Strait Islanders and other Indigenous Australians.

The controversy over Australian land ownership erupted into the so-called "History wars."

Svalbard

Scotland or Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Denmark–Norway all claimed sovereignty over the region in the seventeenth century, but none permanently occupied the islands. Expeditions from each of these polities visited Svalbard principally during the summer for whaling, with the first two sending a few wintering parties in the 1620s and 1630s.[21]

During the 19th century, both Norway and Russia made strong claims to the archipelago. In 1909, Italian jurist Camille Piccioni described Spitzbergen, the main island in the archipelago, as terra nullius:

The issue would have been simpler if Spitzbergen, until now terra nullius, could have been attributed to a single state, for reasons of neighbouring or earlier occupation. But this is not the case and several powers can, for different reasons, make their claims to this territory which still has no master.[22]

The territorial dispute was eventually resolved by the Svalbard Treaty of 9 February 1920 which recognized Norwegian sovereignty over the islands.

Eastern Greenland

Norway occupied and claimed parts of (then uninhabited) Eastern Greenland in 1931, claiming that it constituted terra nullius. They called the territory Erik the Red's Land.[23] The matter was decided by the Permanent Court of International Justice against Norway. The Norwegians accepted the ruling and withdrew their claim.

Scarborough Shoal

The Philippines and the People's Republic of China both claim the Scarborough Shoal or Panatag Shoal or Huangyan Island (黄岩岛), nearest to the island of Luzon, located in the South China Sea. The Philippines claims it under the principles of terra nullius and EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone). China's claim refers to its discovery in the 13th century by Chinese fishermen. The former Nationalist government on the Chinese mainland had also claimed this territory after the founding of the Republic of China in 1911. However, despite China's position of non-participation based on the UNCLOS, the 2016 PCA denied the lawfulness of China's "Nine Dash Line" claim. Despite this, China continues to build artificial islands in the South China Sea and Scarborough Shoal is a prime location for another one. Chinese ships have been seen in the vicinity of the shoal. Observers of the photos have concluded that the ships lack dredging equipment and therefore represent no imminent threat of reclamation work.[24]

South Island of New Zealand

In 1840, Lieutenant William Hobson, following instructions of the British government, pronounced the southern island of New Zealand to be uninhabited by civilized peoples, which qualified the land to be terra nullius, and therefore fit for the Crown's political occupation. Hobson's decision was also influenced by a small party of French settlers heading towards Akaroa on Banks Peninsula to settle in 1840.[25]

Canada

Joseph Trutch, the first Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, insisted that First Nations had never owned land, and thus could safely be ignored. It is for this reason that most of British Columbia remains unceded land.[26]

In Guerin v. The Queen, a Supreme Court of Canada decision on aboriginal rights, the Court stated that the government has a fiduciary duty toward the First Nations of Canada and established aboriginal title to be a sui generis right. Since, there has been a more complicated debate and a general narrowing of the definition of "fiduciary duty".

Guano Islands

The Guano Islands Act of 18 August 1856 enabled citizens of the U.S. to take possession of islands containing guano deposits. The islands can be located anywhere, so long as they are not occupied and not within the jurisdiction of other governments. It also empowers the President of the United States to use the military to protect such interests, and establishes the criminal jurisdiction of the United States.

Pinnacle Islands (Senkaku/Diaoyu)

A disputed archipelago in the East China Sea, the uninhabited Senkaku Islands, are claimed by Japan to have become part of its territory as terra nullius in January 1895, following the First Sino-Japanese War. However, this interpretation is not accepted by the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (Taiwan), both of whom claim sovereignty over the islands.

Burkina Faso and Niger

A narrow strip of land adjacent to two territorial markers along the Burkina FasoNiger border was claimed by neither country until the International Court of Justice settled a more extensive territorial dispute in 2013. The former unclaimed territory was awarded to Niger.[27]

Clipperton Island

The sovereignty of Clipperton Island was settled by arbitration between France and Mexico. King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy rendered a decision in 1931 that " 'the sovereignty of Clipperton Island belongs to France from the date of November 17, 1858.' The Mexican claim was rejected for lack of proof of prior Spanish discovery and, in any event, no effective occupation by Mexico before 1858, when the island was therefore territorium nullius, and the French occupation then was sufficient and legally continuing."[28]

Rockall

According to Ian Mitchell, Rockall was terra nullius until it was claimed by the United Kingdom in 1955.[29] It was formally annexed in 1972.[29][30][31]

Sealand

One of the few micronations to control a physical location, the Principality of Sealand has existed de facto since 1967 on an abandoned British anti-aircraft gun tower in the North Sea. At the point when it was taken over, the tower had been abandoned by the Royal Navy and was outside British territorial waters.[32] Paddy Roy Bates, who styled himself Prince, claimed that it was terra nullius. Despite rejecting this claim on the basis that the tower is an artificial structure, the British government has never attempted to evict the Sealanders, and a court in 1968 confirmed that at that point, the tower was outside British jurisdiction.[33]

West Sahara

At the request of Morocco, the International Court of Justice in 1975 addressed whether West Sahara was terra nullius at the time of Spanish colonization in 1885. The court found in its advisory opinion that West Sahara was not terra nullius at that time.

Limits of national jurisdiction and sovereignty
Outer space (including Earth orbits; the Moon and other celestial bodies, and their orbits)
national airspace territorial waters airspace contiguous zone airspace[citation needed] international airspace
land territory surface internal waters surface territorial waters surface contiguous zone surface Exclusive Economic Zone surface international waters surface
internal waters territorial waters Exclusive Economic Zone international waters
land territory underground Continental Shelf surface extended continental shelf surface international seabed surface
Continental Shelf underground extended continental shelf underground international seabed underground
  full national jurisdiction and sovereignty
  restrictions on national jurisdiction and sovereignty
  international jurisdiction per common heritage of mankind

See also

References

Notes
  1. ^ "Definition of terra nullius- English Dictionary". Allwords.com. Retrieved 15 June 2010. 
  2. ^ "New Jersey v. New York, 523 US 767 (1998)". US Supreme Court. 26 May 1998. Retrieved 29 January 2010. Even as to terra nullius, like a volcanic island or territory abandoned by its former sovereign, a claimant by right as against all others has more to do than planting a flag or rearing a monument. From the 19th century the most generous settled view has been that discovery accompanied by symbolic acts give no more than "an inchoate title, an option, as against other states, to consolidate the first steps by proceeding to effective occupation within a reasonable time.8 I. Brownlie, Principles of Public International Law 146 (4th ed.1990); see also 1 C. Hyde, International Law 329 (rev.2d ed.1945); 1 L. Oppenheim International Law §§222-223, pp. 439–441 (H. Lauterpacht 5th ed.1937); Hall A Treatise on International Law, at 102–103; 1 J. Moore, International Law 258 (1906); R. Phillimore, International Law 273 (2d ed. 1871); E. Vattel, Law of Nations, §208, p. 99 (J. Chitty 6th Am. ed. 1844). 
  3. ^ http://samuelgriffith.org.au/docs/vol1/chap11.pdf
  4. ^ http://samuelgriffith.org.au/docs/vol1/chap11.pdf
  5. ^ http://www.kooriweb.org/foley/resources/pdfs/76.pdf
  6. ^ Michael Connor in The Bulletin (Sydney), 20 August 2003: (see further Connor 2005.)
  7. ^ http://surplusvalue.org.au/Misc%20Articles%20and%20Poems/terra%20nullius%20copy.pdf
  8. ^ http://www.sunray22b.net/truth_or_not_in_academic_accusations.htm
  9. ^ There is some disagreement of whether Bir Tawil is 'terra nullius or not. See f.e Chris Borgen, The Man Who Would Be King, Daddy’s Little Princess, and their Territorial Claim
  10. ^ Central Intelligence Agency. CIA World Factbook 2009 MobileReference, 2009. ISBN 1607783339
  11. ^ http://kdvr.com/2014/07/17/man-lays-claim-to-african-land-to-make-daughter-real-life-princess/
  12. ^ Gibson, Allie Robinson (10 July 2014). "Abingdon man claims African land to make good on promise to daughter". Bristol Herald Courier. Bristol, Virginia: Berkshire Hathaway. Retrieved 2015-04-23. 
  13. ^ Najarro, Ileana (12 July 2014). "Va. man plants flag, claims African country, calling it ‘Kingdom of North Sudan’". Washington Post. Washington, DC. Retrieved 2015-04-23. 
  14. ^ Ensor, Josie (14 July 2014). "US father takes unclaimed African kingdom so his daughter can be a princess". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 27 July 2014. 
  15. ^ "Mapping micronations". Al Jazeera. 14 August 2014. Retrieved 2015-04-23. Passports, currencies and flags: We discuss what it takes to create your own country. 
  16. ^ "Embassies – Kingdom of North Sudan". Retrieved 15 April 2015. 
  17. ^ Norge utvider Dronning Maud Land helt frem til Sydpolen
  18. ^ Milirrpum v Nabalco Pty Ltd, (1971) 17 FLR 141
  19. ^ Torres News, 10–16 February 2014
  20. ^ "Indigenous people still battle for land rights: activist". ABC News Online. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 3 June 2007. Retrieved 3 July 2011. 
  21. ^ http://surplusvalue.org.au/Misc%20Articles%20and%20Poems/terra%20nullius%20copy.pdf
  22. ^ Camille Piccioni, Revue generale de droit international public vol. XVI (1909)
  23. ^ http://bigthink.com/strange-maps/the-cold-war-that-wasnt-norway-annexes-greenland
  24. ^ Mollman, Steve. "The "strategic triangle" that would allow Beijing to control the South China Sea". Quartz. Retrieved 2016-10-27. 
  25. ^ Tipene O'regan, 'The Ngai Tahu Claim' in I H Kawharu
  26. ^ "A Short Commentary on Land Claims in BC". Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs. Retrieved 2010-06-08. 
  27. ^ "Reports of Judgments, Advisory Opinions and Orders: Frontier Dispute (Burkina Faso/Niger)". International Court of Justice. 2013-04-16. Retrieved 2017-08-04. 
  28. ^ Ireland, Gordon (1941). Boundaries, possessions, and conflicts in Central and North America and the Caribbean. New York: Octagon Books. p. 320. 
  29. ^ a b Ian Mitchell (2012). Isles of the North. Birlinn. p. 232. 
  30. ^ "1955: Britain claims Rockall". BBC. On This Day: 21 September. 
  31. ^ "Island Of Rockall Act 1972" (PDF). legislation.gov.uk. 10 February 1972. 
  32. ^ "History of Sealand". The Principality of Sealand. Archived from the original on 1 October 2015. 
  33. ^ Regina v. Paddy Roy Bates and Michael Roy Bates, The Shire Hall, Chelmsford, 25 October 1968. "Regina v. Paddy Roy Bates and Michael Roy Bates". The Shire Hall, Chelmsford. Archived from the original on 2 March 2007. Retrieved 29 May 2015. 
Bibliography
  • Connor, Michael. "The invention of terra nullius", Sydney: Macleay Press, 2005.
  • Culhane, Dara. The Pleasure of the Crown: Anthropology, Law, and the First Nations. Vancouver: Talon Books, 1998.
  • Lindqvist, Sven. Terra nullius. A Journey through No One's Land. Translated by Sarah Death. Granta, London 2007. Pbk 2008. The New Press, New York 2007. Details here
  • Rowse, Tim. "Terra nullius" – The Oxford Companion to Australian History. Ed. Graeme Davison, John Hirst and Stuart Macintyre. Oxford University Press, 2001.

External links

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Social Justice Reports, 1994–2009 http://www.humanrights.gov.au/social_justice/sj_report/ and Native Title Reports, 1994–2009 http://www.humanrights.gov.au/social_justice/nt_report/index.html
  • A History of the concept of "Terra Nullius" The University of Sydney
  • Governor Burke's 1835 Proclamation of terra nullius NSW Migration Heritage Centre – Statement of Significance
  • Veracini L, An analysis of Michael Conner's denial of terra nullius (The Invention of Terra Nullius)
  • Terror Nullius <http://www.wulfdhund.de/rassismusanalyse/?Ergaenzungen:Australien>
  • [1] High Court of Australia – MABO AND OTHERS v. QUEENSLAND (No. 2) (1992) 175 CLR 1 F.C. 92/014
  • [2] High Court of Australia – The Wik Peoples v The State of Queensland & Ors; The Thayorre People v The State of Queensland & Ors [1996] HCA 40 (23 December 1996)
  • [3] 1975 International Court of Justice – Advisory Opinion regarding Western Sahara
  • "History before European Settlement" Parliament of New South Wales
  • material on terra nullius – NSW Primary School curriculum
  • [4] R. v. Boatman or Jackass and Bulleye – Decisions of the Superior Courts of New South Wales, 1788–1899 (Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University)


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