Friday, April 11, 2014

North Sea Continental Shelf Cases (Federal Republic of Germany/Denmark and Netherlands) case brief summary

North Sea Continental Shelf Cases
(Federal Republic of Germany/Denmark and Netherlands)

Citation:  1969 I.C.J. 3 (Feb 20)
Link to Case Text (in French):

Case Facts
  • Article 6 of the Convention on the Continental Shelf (516 U.S.T.S. 205 (1958)) states that if there are two countries that are separated by a sea, the boundary between those countries should be calculated as the point equidistant from both coastlines.
  • This principle known as the equidistance principle.
  • It is important to know where the boundary exists because a country can drill for oil and minerals in the seabed that is within their territory.
  • The North Sea is surrounded by The United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Norway, Germany, Denmark, and Belgium.
  • A lot of oil exists between those countries.
  • Germany felt that they were getting a bad deal due to their coastline being concave, while Denmark and the Netherlands had convex coastlines.  This can be seen when looking at a map.
  • Therefore, based on the equidistance principle, Germany would get less seabed than they would get if the coastlines were all straight.
The countries went to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and asked for a ruling on how to draw the boundary.

Denmark and the Netherlands argued that the equidistance principle should be followed.  This was due to it not only being codified in the Convention of the Continental Shelf, but that it was already 'crystallized' into customary international law.

The ICJ ruled that the boundary should be redrawn on the basis of equitable principles.
  • The ICJ agreed that the equidistance principle gives a country with a convex coastline more seabed than what a country with a concave coastline would receive.
  • The ICJ found that the equidistance principle was still relatively new, and so it wasn't exactly customary international law just yet.
  • Furthermore, there is a clause in Article 6 allowing for different boundary lines to be drawn when it is "justified by special circumstances."
  • The ICJ told the parties to go back and work out a boundary that was equitable to everybody.
  • This case states that countries didn't need to follow the equidistance principle if it was inequitable.
  • Later, this theory of equity was codified in Article 83 of the Convention on the Law of the Sea (1833 U.N.T.S. 3 (1982)).

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