Revisiting the Matthew and Hunter Islands Dispute in Light of the Recent Chagos Advisory Opinion and Some Other Relevant Cases: An Evaluation of Vanuatu’s Claims relating to the Right to Self-Determination, Territorial Integrity, Unlawful Occupation and State Responsibility Under International Law

Abstract

This article examines the legal implications of the Chagos Advisory Opinion and some other relevant cases on the Matthew and Hunter Islands dispute. In doing so, the piece attempts to evaluate Vanuatu’s claims relating to the right to self-determination of the people of New Hebrides (Ni-Vans since 1980), the territorial integrity of New Hebrides/Vanuatu and the alleged unlawful occupation of the Matthew and Hunter Islands by France. First, the article submits that by transferring the administration of these islands to New Caledonia in 1976 France may have violated the territorial integrity of Vanuatu and the right to self-determination of its people. The article then considers the competing claims of sovereignty over these Islands and argues that the right to self-determination is likely to prevail over France’s claims of, inter alia, effectivités. The article submits therefore that France may be under an obligation to cease its unlawful occupation of these Islands.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    For more on the Matthew and Hunter Islands, see Song and Mosses (2018), p. 768.

  2. 2.

    Stanley (1989), p. 632; Stanley (2004), p. 933; Vanuatu Daily Post, 11 March 2013, at http://www.pireport.org/articles/2013/03/12/vanuatu%C3%A2%C2%80%C2%99s-custom-claim-matthew-and-hunter-islands.

  3. 3.

    Legal Consequences of the Separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965 (Mauritius v. United Kingdom), Advisory Opinion, 25 February 2019, at http://www.icj-cij.org (Chagos Advisory Opinion).

  4. 4.

    Western Sahara, Advisory Opinion, 16 October 1975, ICJ Reports 1975, p. 12.

  5. 5.

    Legal Consequences for States of the Continued Presence of South Africa in Namibia (South West Africa) notwithstanding Security Council Resolution 276 (1970), Advisory Opinion, 21 June 1971, ICJ Reports 1971, p. 16; Western Sahara case, supra n. 4.

  6. 6.

    The protocol respecting the New Hebrides signed at London on 6 August 1914, by representatives of the British and French governments.

  7. 7.

    Stanley (1989), p. 632; Stanley (2004), p. 933; Vanuatu Daily Post, supra n. 2.

  8. 8.

    Radio New Zealand Pacific, 27 March 2017, at https://www.rnz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/327567/signs-of-movement-in-vanuatu's-boundary-dispute-with-france; Prescott (2014), p. 292.

  9. 9.

    Song and Mosses (2018), p. 768.

  10. 10.

    Stanley (1989), p. 632; Stanley (2004), p. 933; Vanuatu Daily Post, supra n. 2.

  11. 11.

    MSG is an intergovernmental organization composed of Melanesian states (Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands) and the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front of New Caledonia.

  12. 12.

    Flash d’Océanie, 30 November 2010, at https://www.tahiti-infos.com/Les-iles-Matthew-et-Hunter-n-en-finissent-pas-d-empoisonner-les-relations-franco-vanuatuanes_a13518.html; Fisher (2013), p. 146.

  13. 13.

    Fisher (2013), p. 146; Vanuatu Daily Post, 8 May 2014, at https://dailypost.vu/news/prime-minister-adamant-on-sovereignty-over-matthew-and-hunter/article_acbd76ea-0dde-5b7d-b5fb-c5602edfc357.html.

  14. 14.

    Radio New Zealand Pacific, 5 August 2017, at https://www.rnz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/336520/nz-research-ship-flares-vanuatu-france-border-dispute.

  15. 15.

    Vanuatu Daily Post, 15 February 2018, at https://dailypost.vu/news/matthew-and-hunter-negotiations-advance/article_05919a6a-c6d8-527b-b7f9-b8fe6366716d.html.

  16. 16.

    See Loop Pacific, 18 March 2019, at www.loopvanuatu.com/vanuatu-news/vanuatu-opposition-calls-expulsion-french-diplomats-over-disputed-islands-83114.

  17. 17.

    Vanuatu Daily Post, 16 March, 2019, at https://dailypost.vu/news/call-to-expel-french-diplomat-rejected/article_e03dd150-0c10-538c-bb17-604d4872449b.html.

  18. 18.

    Radio New Zealand International, 26 March 2019, at https://www.rnz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/385606/vanuatu-pm-hits-out-at-france-over-matthew-and-hunter-dispute.

  19. 19.

    See Legal Consequences of the Separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965 (Request for Advisory Opinion) (Mauritius v. United Kingdom), Written Statement of the Republic of Mauritius, 1 March 2018, p. 23.

  20. 20.

    GA Res. 2232 (XXI), adopted 20 December 1966; GA Res. 2357 (XXII), adopted 19 December 1967. These resolutions condemned the disruption of territorial integrity in a number of territories including Mauritius.

  21. 21.

    United Kingdom, Record of a Meeting Held in Lancaster House at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday 23rd of September: Mauritius Defence Matters, CO 1036/1253, 23 September 1965, cited in Written Statement of the Republic of Mauritius, supra n. 19, p. 98.

  22. 22.

    Legal Consequences of the Separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965 (Request for Advisory Opinion) (Mauritius v. United Kingdom), Oral statements of Vanuatu, United Nations Web TV, 6 September 2018, at http://webtv.un.org/watch/icj-holds-hearings-in-the-advisory-proceedings-concerning-the-legal-consequences-of-the-separation-of-the-chagos-archipelago-from-mauritius-in-1965-oral-statements-of-serbia-thailand-and-vanuatu-/5831550219001.

  23. 23.

    Chagos Advisory Opinion, supra n. 3, para. 160.

  24. 24.

    Chagos Advisory Opinion, supra n. 3, para. 160.

  25. 25.

    Chagos Advisory Opinion, supra n. 3, paras. 172–174; Allen (2019).

  26. 26.

    Western Sahara, supra n. 4, para. 162; also see Wrange (2019), pp. 5–6.

  27. 27.

    McCorquodale and Pangalangan (2001), p. 874.

  28. 28.

    See Case Concerning Maritime Delimitation and Territorial Questions Between Qatar and Bahrain (Quatar v. Bahrain), Judgment, ICJ Reports 2001, p. 40; Sovereignty over Palau Litigan and Pulau Sipadan (Indonesia v. Malaysia), Judgment, ICJ Reports 2002, p. 625; Territorial and Maritime Dispute between Nicaragua and Honduras in the Caribbean Sea (Nicaragua v. Honduras), Judgment, ICJ Reports 2007, p. 659; also see Schrijver and Prislan (2015), p. 282.

  29. 29.

    Oraison (1981), p. 489; Trinidad (2018a), p. 67.

  30. 30.

    GA Res. 34/91, adopted 12 December 1979.

  31. 31.

    During the IOC’s (International Oceanographic Commission) Second Summit of the Heads of State and Government in 1999, France proposed a co-management scheme for these islands involving itself and Madagascar. However, the islands remain outside of the IOC regional cooperation agenda and co-management is to be achieved through bilateral relations. See Bouchard and Crumplin (2011), p. 167.

  32. 32.

    Bouchard and Crumplin (2011), p. 167.

  33. 33.

    Law of 3 July 1975, JORF 4 July 1975, Art. 2, at 6764; also see the analysis of this case by Trinidad (2018a), p. 65; Trinidad (2018b), p. 74.

  34. 34.

    Trinidad (2018a), p. 65.

  35. 35.

    GA Res. 3161 (XXVIII), adopted 14 December 1973.

  36. 36.

    GA Res. 3385 (XXX), adopted 12 November 1975.

  37. 37.

    All of the relevant resolutions are listed in GA Res. 49/18, adopted 28 November 1994.

  38. 38.

    The Islands were listed as such in a 1946 resolution, pursuant to a submission by the United Kingdom. GA Res. 66 (I), adopted 14 December 1946.

  39. 39.

    GAOR (14th meeting) UN Doc. A/37/PV.14, 1982, pp. 106-107. Argentina argues that when it gained its independence from Spain in 1816 it succeeded to Spain’s rights over the former colonial territory. Therefore, the United Kingdom’s acquisition of the Islands by force in 1833 violated Argentina’s sovereignty, and Argentina has never accepted the legality of the United Kingdom’s occupation. See GAOR (2074th meeting) UN Doc. A/C.4/SR.2074, 1973, pp. 293–298. Also see the explanation by Schwed (1982), p. 444.

  40. 40.

    Letter from the Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the United Nations, UN Doc. S/15,007, 28 April 1982, pp. 1–2. ‘Self-determination is usually referred to these days […] not as a principle, but rather as an “inalienable right”: in other words, it is a right which cannot be taken away. This right derives principally from the Charter and the Covenants on Human Rights […]’.

  41. 41.

    Prescott (2014), p. 292.

  42. 42.

    Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, GA Res. 1514 (XV), adopted 14 December 1960, para. 2.

  43. 43.

    Ibid., para 6.

  44. 44.

    Before 1960, the General Assembly had affirmed the right to self-determination on many occasions: GA Res. 637 (VII), adopted 16 December 1952; GA Res. 738 (VIII), adopted 28 November 1953; and GA Res. 1188 (XII), adopted 11 December 1957. The result of that was that a number of non-self-governing territories had acceded to independence (see Chagos Advisory Opinion, supra n. 3, para. 150).

  45. 45.

    Chagos Advisory Opinion, supra n. 3, para. 150.

  46. 46.

    Chagos Advisory Opinion, supra n. 3, para. 153.

  47. 47.

    Art. 1 of both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (adopted 16 December 1966, entered into force 23 March 1976), 999 UNTS 171 (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (adopted 16 December 1966, entered into force 3 January 1976), 993 UNTS 3 (ICESCR).

  48. 48.

    Colombian-Peruvian asylum case (Colombia v. Peru), Judgment, ICJ Reports 1950, p. 50. Customary international law is formed by ‘constant and uniform usage, accepted as law’; also see North Sea Continental Shelf Cases (Germany v. Denmark; Germany v. Netherlands), Merits, ICJ Reports 1969, p. 3.

  49. 49.

    Chagos Advisory Opinion, supra n. 3, paras. 150-152.

  50. 50.

    Milanovic (2019).

  51. 51.

    ICCPR and ICESCR, supra n. 47.

  52. 52.

    Chagos Advisory Opinion, supra n. 3, paras. 146-148; Legal Consequences of the Separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965 (Request for Advisory Opinion) (Mauritius v. United Kingdom), Oral statements of Vanuatu, supra n. 22; Cassese (1995), p. 67; Summers (2014), pp. 70–86; McCorquodale (1994), p. 858.

  53. 53.

    Namibia case, supra n. 5, para. 52.

  54. 54.

    Ibid., para. 53.

  55. 55.

    Ibid., para. 53.

  56. 56.

    Western Sahara case, supra n. 4, para. 55.

  57. 57.

    Raic (2002), p. 217.

  58. 58.

    Shaw (1986), p. 84.

  59. 59.

    Crawford (2006), p. 114.

  60. 60.

    See Legal Consequences of the Separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965 (Request for Advisory Opinion) (Mauritus v. United Kingdom), Oral statements of Vanuatu, supra n. 22.

  61. 61.

    Quane (1998), p. 549.

  62. 62.

    See above Resolutions: GA Res. 34/91, supra n. 30; GA Res. 3161, supra n. 35; GA Res. 3385, supra n. 36.

  63. 63.

    Resolution 1514, supra n. 42, para. 7.

  64. 64.

    GA Res. 1541, 15 UN GAOR Supp. (No. 16), UN Doc. A/4684, 1960, p. 66; Schwed (1982), p. 451.

  65. 65.

    Principle VII of Resolution 1541, supra n. 64; also see Chagos Advisory Opinion, supra n. 3, para. 156.

  66. 66.

    Schwed (1982), p. 451; Western Sahara case, supra n. 4, p. 33; Roth (2010), p. 11.

  67. 67.

    See East Timor (Portugal v. Australia), Judgment, ICJ Reports 1995, p. 90, paras. 31–32; Western Sahara case, supra n. 4, paras. 54–55.

  68. 68.

    Crawford (2006), pp. 126–128.

  69. 69.

    Quane (1998), p. 550.

  70. 70.

    Quane (1998), p. 550.

  71. 71.

    See Chagos Advisory Opinion, supra n. 3, p. 41.

  72. 72.

    Western Sahara case, supra n. 4, para. 81.

  73. 73.

    Western Sahara case, supra n. 4, para. 80.

  74. 74.

    Van Trease (1995), pp. 3, 29 and following.

  75. 75.

    See Res. 34/91, supra n. 30.

  76. 76.

    Trinidad (2018b), p. 82.

  77. 77.

    See GA Res. 2065 (XX), adopted 16 December 1965; GA Res. 3160 (XXVIII), adopted 14 December 1973; GA Res. 31/49, adopted 1 December 1976; GA Res. 37/9, adopted 4 November 1982.

  78. 78.

    Prescott (2014), p. 292.

  79. 79.

    Maritime Zones Act, n° 6 of 2010.

  80. 80.

    Nations Unies, Division des affaires maritimes et du droit de la mer Bureau des affaires juridiques, Droit de la mer, Bulletin n° 75 (2011), p. 33, at https://www.un.org/Depts/los/doalos_publications/LOSBulletins/bulletinfr/bullfr75.pdf.

  81. 81.

    Milanovic (2019).

  82. 82.

    Milanovic (2019).

  83. 83.

    Receipt of the submission made by France to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, UN Doc. CLCS.08.2007.LOS, Continental Shelf Notification, 29 May 2007, at https://www.un.org/depts/los/clcs_new/submissions_files/submission_fra1.htm.

  84. 84.

    Vanuatu Daily Post, supra n. 2; Vanuatu Daily Post, 12 March 2015, at https://dailypost.vu/news/matthew-and-hunter-day/article_253d5ec4-47b1-5a5c-ac54-69a739cee733.html; Vanuatu Daily Post, 3 January 2017, at https://dailypost.vu/news/matthew-hunter-dialogue/article_74783f07-617a-5a1d-8f4c-455dcdd9f513.html.

  85. 85.

    Art. 2(a), Maritime Zones Act, supra n. 79.

  86. 86.

    Circular Notes from the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, UN Doc. M.Z.N.78.2010.LOS Maritime Zone Notifications, 21 July 2010, at https://www.un.org/Depts/los/LEGISLATIONANDTREATIES/PDFFILES/mzn_s/mzn79ef.pdf.

  87. 87.

    Macfarlane et al. (1988), p. 45; Robin et al. (1993), pp. 1 and 10; Vanuatu Daily Post, supra n. 2.

  88. 88.

    Macfarlane et al. (1988), p. 45; Robin et al. (1993), pp. 1 and 10.

  89. 89.

    See for instance, Cols Bleus Marine Nationale, Ministère de la Défense, ‘Mission de souveraineté pour le Vendemiaire’, 17 June 2015, at http://www.colsbleus.fr/articles/6742 (accessed 15 October 2019); Fonfreyde et al. (2013), p. 4; Borsa and Baudat-Franceschi (2009); Condamin (1978).

  90. 90.

    Décret n° 2002-827 du 3 Mai définissant les lignes de base droites et les lignes de fermeture des baies servant à la définition des lignes de base à partir desquelles est mesurée la largeur des eaux territoriales françaises adjacentes à la Nouvelle-Calédonie, JORF n° 0105 du 5 Mai 2002, at 8762.

  91. 91.

    Schrijver and Prislan (2015), pp. 283 and the following.

  92. 92.

    Island of Palmas case (USA v. Netherlands) (Awards) II RIAA 1928, p. 829; Territorial and Maritime Dispute (Nicaragua v. Colombia), Judgment, ICJ Reports 2012, p. 624; Sovereignty over Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh, Middle Rocks and South Ledge (Malaysia v. Singapore), Judgment, ICJ Reports 2008, p. 12; Territorial Sovereignty and Scope of the Dispute (Eritrea v. Yemen), Awards, XXII RIAA 1998, p. 211; Maritime Delimitation in the Area between Greenland and Jan Mayen (Denmark v. Norway), Judgment, ICJ Reports 1993, p. 38; and Clipperton Island Case (France v. Mexico), Awards, 2 RIAA 1931, p. 1105; also see Smith (1977), p. 151.

  93. 93.

    Abass (2014), pp. 206–207; Hall (1924), p. 167.

  94. 94.

    Sovereignty over Pulau Ligitan and Pulau Sipadan (Indonesia v. Malaysia), Merits, ICJ Reports 2002, p. 625, para. 135; Also see Nicaragua/Honduras case, supra n. 28, para. 117.

  95. 95.

    Palmas case, supra n. 92, p. 867; Harris (2010), p. 166.

  96. 96.

    Award regarding the Boundary between the Colony of British Guiana and the United States of Venezuela, XXVIII RIAA 1899, p. 335.

  97. 97.

    Agreement between the Government of the Republic of France and the Government of Fiji relating to the delimitation of their economic zone (with annex and maps, adopted 19 January 1983, entered into force 21 August 1984), PITSE 4.

  98. 98.

    Clipperton Island case, supra n. 92; also see Van Dyke (2009), pp. 39, 66.

  99. 99.

    See Palmas case, supra n. 92.

  100. 100.

    The Minquiers and Ecrehos case (France v. United Kingdom), Judgment, ICJ Reports 1953, p. 47.

  101. 101.

    A requirement in accordance with general practice is that a claimant state must not have peacefully and voluntarily surrendered its rights. See Crawford (2006), p. 383.

  102. 102.

    Western Sahara case, supra n. 4, p. 33; also see Schwed (1982), p. 468.

  103. 103.

    Trinidad (2018b), p. 57.

  104. 104.

    Trinidad (2018b), p. 57.

  105. 105.

    This view was articulated in the Spanish pleadings before the ICJ in the Western Sahara Advisory Proceedings: Western Sahara, ICJ Pleadings, Vol. I 1974, p. 207, para. 359. Also see Trinidad (2018b), p. 230; UNGOR 19th Sess. Annex 8, Agenda Item 21, Chap. X, p. 296.

  106. 106.

    Trinidad (2018b), p. 63; New York Bar Association, Committee on the United Nations (2012), p. 38.

  107. 107.

    Declaration by the Government of Spain and Morocco on the independence of Morocco (and Protocol), 7 April 1956, Royal Institute of International Affairs Documents on International Affairs, 1956, p. 694, cited by Trinidad (2018b), p. 40.

  108. 108.

    Statement of Mohammed V, 3 April 1956 cited in Gonzáles Campos (2004), p. 13. Also see Trinidad (2018b), p. 40.

  109. 109.

    Treaty of Angra de Cintra, 1 April 1958; Olson (1991), p. 586.

  110. 110.

    GA Res. 2072 (XX), adopted 16 December 1965; GA Res. 2229 (XXI), adopted 20 December 1966; GA Res. 2354 (XXII), adopted 19 December 1967.

  111. 111.

    Trinidad (2012), p. 971.

  112. 112.

    Trinidad (2012), p. 972.

  113. 113.

    Trinidad (2012), p. 972.

  114. 114.

    The then Ghanaian Ambassador to the UN explained: ‘The very fact that […] all African countries are behind the nationalists […] means a threat to international peace and security’: UN Doc. S/PV1042 (24 July 1963) cited by Trinidad (2012), p. 974.

  115. 115.

    Vanuatu Daily Post, supra n. 13; also see Arrêté n° 2014-1063/GNC du 23 avril 2014 créant le Parc naturel de la mer de Corail.

  116. 116.

    Nations Unies, Droit de la mer, supra n. 80, p. 33; Prescott (2014), p. 292.

  117. 117.

    Ratner (1996), p. 590; Sumner (2004), p. 1790.

  118. 118.

    Frontier Dispute (Burk Faso v. Mali), Judgment, ICJ Reports 1986, p. 554, para. 26; Nicaragua/Honduras case, supra n. 28, para. 151.

  119. 119.

    See North Sea Continental Shelf Cases, supra n. 48, where the ICJ noted that ‘the land is the legal source of the power which a State may exercise over the territorial extensions to seaward’, para. 96.

  120. 120.

    Qatar/Bahrain case, supra n. 28, para 185.

  121. 121.

    Nicaragua/Honduras case, supra n. 28, para. 156; also see Case Concerning Land, Island and Maritime Frontier Dispute, El Salvador/Honduras: Nicaragua Intervening (El Salvador v. Honduras), Judgment, ICJ Reports 1992, p. 351, para. 333.

  122. 122.

    Nicaragua/Honduras case, supra n. 28, para. 158.

  123. 123.

    Nicaragua/Honduras case, supra n. 28, para. 158.

  124. 124.

    Emerson (1971), p. 459; Cassese (1995), p. 315.

  125. 125.

    Frontier Dispute case, supra n. 118.

  126. 126.

    Frontier Dispute case, supra n. 118, paras. 25–26; Ratner (1996), p. 612; Also see Naldi (1987), p. 893; Klabbers and Lefeber (1993), p. 37.

  127. 127.

    Stanley (2004), p. 933; Vanuatu Daily Post, supra n. 2; Outremers 360°, 15 February 2018, at http://outremers360.com/politique/pacifique-la-france-et-le-vanuatu-regleront-ils-leur-differend-concernant-les-iles-matthew-et-hunter/.

  128. 128.

    Vanuatu Daily Post, supra n. 2.

  129. 129.

    Van Trease (1995), p. 29.

  130. 130.

    See, inter alia, the cases of British Cameroons and Ruanda-Urundi: Trinidad (2018b), pp. 92 and 93.

  131. 131.

    Trinidad (2018b), p. 95; McIntyre (2012), p. 140.

  132. 132.

    ‘Report on UN Visiting Mission to Gilbert and Ellice Islands’, FCO 32/984, Aug.–Sept. 1974, cited by McIntyre (2012), p. 143; Trinidad (2018b), p. 96. The result was 92 percent voting in favour of and 8 percent against independence.

  133. 133.

    Chagos Advisory Opinion, supra n. 3, paras. 178 and 182.

  134. 134.

    International Law Commission, Draft articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts, UN Doc. A/56/10, Art. 1 (2001).

  135. 135.

    Ibid., Art. 28.

  136. 136.

    Ibid., Art. 30.

  137. 137.

    See Corfu Channel (United Kingdom v. Albania), Judgment, ICJ Reports 1949, p. 4, at p. 23; Gabčíkovo-Nagymaros Project (Hungary v. Slovakia), Judgment, ICJ Reports 1949, p. 7, para. 47; Reparation for Injuries Suffered in the Service of the United Nations, Advisory Opinion, ICJ Reports 1949, p. 174, at p. 184; Case concerning the difference between New Zealand and France concerning the interpretation or application of two agreements concluded on 9 July 1986 between the two States and which related to the problems arising from the Rainbow Warrior affair, Awards, XX UNRIAA 1990, p. 215; and Draft Articles on State Responsibility, supra n. 134, Art. 1.

  138. 138.

    Chagos Advisory Opinion, supra n. 3, para. 177.

  139. 139.

    United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, adopted 10 December 1982, entered into force 1 November 1994, 1833 UNTS 397, Art. 56.

  140. 140.

    Fisher (2013), p. 145; for instance, in 2004, France detained a Taiwanese fishing vessel for illegal fishing in the MHIs waters.

  141. 141.

    Chagos Advisory Opinion, supra n. 3, paras. 178 and 182.

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Mosses, M. Revisiting the Matthew and Hunter Islands Dispute in Light of the Recent Chagos Advisory Opinion and Some Other Relevant Cases: An Evaluation of Vanuatu’s Claims relating to the Right to Self-Determination, Territorial Integrity, Unlawful Occupation and State Responsibility Under International Law. Neth Int Law Rev 66, 475–506 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40802-019-00148-0

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Keywords

  • Right to self-determination
  • Territorial integrity
  • Effectivités
  • Wrongful act
  • State responsibility
  • Matthew and Hunter