Terra nullius

Terra nullius (/ˈtɛrə.nʌˈlaɪəs/, 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]


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

A part of the debate over the history of terra nullius is when the term itself was first used. According to historian of ideas 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.[3] Historian Michael Connor on the other hand, argues that territorium nullius and terra nullius are the same thing.[4] Both scholars are active in the Australian history wars debate.

There is considerable debate among historians about how and when the terra nullius concepts 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 should best 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.[5]

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 (i.e., belonging to no one), to which they might gain permanent title by first discovery and effective occupation.[5]

On the other side of the debate are historians which claim that terra nullius is a much younger concept, which did not 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.[6]

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.[7]

Current claims of terra nullius

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

Few territories are currently considered terra nullius.

Bir Tawil

Bir Tawil is an example of a territory often claimed to be terra nullius.[8] 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 1903. 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.[9] Bir Tawil has no settled population but the land is used by Bedouins who roam the area.[10]

Gornja Siga and other pockets

Croatia Serbia border Backa Baranja
Portions in yellow are claimed by both Serbia and Croatia. Croatia asserts that the green portions, the largest being Gornja Siga (shown as just Siga on the map), belong to Serbia, but Serbia does not claim them.

Serbia and Croatia dispute several small areas on the east bank of the Danube. However, some pockets on the west bank, of which Gornja Siga is the largest, are not claimed by either country since Croatia recognizes that they belong to Serbia but Serbia doesn't claim them.

On 13 April 2015, Vít Jedlička from the Czech Party of Free Citizens proclaimed the right-libertarian micronation of Liberland on Gornja Siga.[11][12] Shortly after Liberland, another micronation project, the Kingdom of Enclava, was declared,[13] eventually claiming part of the second largest pocket as their territory.[14] The Confederation of Autia has claimed all the other pockets. The Croatian Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs has rejected these claims, stating that the differing border claims between Serbia and Croatia do not involve terra nullius, and are not subject to occupation by a third party.[15] However, the Serbian Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated on 24 April 2015 that while Serbia does not consider "Liberland" to be an important matter, the "new state" does not impinge upon the Serbian border, which is delineated by the Danube River.[16]


Antarctica, unclaimed
The unclaimed area of 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.

Historical 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.


Australian Aborigines had inhabited Australia for over 65,000 years before European settlement, which commenced in 1788. Indigenous customs, rituals and laws were unwritten. It has been claimed that Australia was 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.[17] 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.[18]

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.[19] 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". The 1992 Mabo decision overturned the doctrine of terra nullius in Australia.[20]


Scotland or Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Denmark–Norway all claimed sovereignty over the archipelago of Svalbard in the seventeenth century, but none permanently occupied it. 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.[3]

During the 19th century, both Norway and Russia made strong claims to the archipelago. In 1909, Italian jurist Camille Piccioni described Spitzbergen, as it was then known, 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.[21]

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 and calling the territory Erik the Red's Land.[22] The Permanent Court of International Justice ruled against the Norwegian claim. 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.[23]

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.[24]


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.[25]

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.[26]

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."[27]


According to Ian Mitchell, Rockall was terra nullius until it was claimed by the United Kingdom in 1955.[28] It was formally annexed in 1972.[28][29][30]


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.[31] 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.[32]

Western Sahara

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

Limits of national jurisdiction and sovereignty

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 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 Continental Shelf surface extended continental shelf surface international seabed surface
Continental Shelf underground extended continental shelf underground international seabed underground

See also


  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. ^ a b http://surplusvalue.org.au/Misc%20Articles%20and%20Poems/terra%20nullius%20copy.pdf
  4. ^ "Null truth to academic accusations". www.sunray22b.net. Retrieved 30 March 2018.
  5. ^ a b http://samuelgriffith.org.au/docs/vol1/chap11.pdf
  6. ^ http://www.kooriweb.org/foley/resources/pdfs/76.pdf
  7. ^ Michael Connor in The Bulletin (Sydney), 20 August 2003: (see further Connor 2005.)
  8. ^ 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
  9. ^ Central Intelligence Agency. CIA World Factbook 2009 MobileReference, 2009. ISBN 1607783339
  10. ^ "Man lays claim to African land to make daughter real life 'princess'". kdvr.com. 17 July 2014. Retrieved 30 March 2018.
  11. ^ "Liberland". liberland.cz. Retrieved 15 April 2015.
  12. ^ Martínek, Jan (15 April 2015). "Člen Svobodných vyhlásil na území bývalé Jugoslávie vlastní stát" (in Czech). Novinky.cz. Právo. Retrieved 15 April 2015.
  13. ^ "Polish tourists proclaim 'Kingdom of Enclava'". Agence France-Presse. 15 May 2015. Archived from the original on May 18, 2015.
  14. ^ "About Enclava". Enclava. Archived from the original on July 29, 2015.
  15. ^ "On Virtual Narratives at Croatia's Borders". Hungarian Embassy of the Republic of Croatia. Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of the Republic of Croatia. Retrieved 6 August 2015.
  16. ^ McKirdy, Euan (25 April 2015). "Liberland: Could the world's newest micronation get off the ground?". CNN. Retrieved 9 March 2016.
  17. ^ Milirrpum v Nabalco Pty Ltd (1971) 17 FLR 141 (27 April 1971) Supreme Court (NT).
  18. ^ Torres News, 10–16 February 2014
  19. ^ "Indigenous people still battle for land rights: activist". ABC News Online. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 3 June 2007. Retrieved 3 July 2011.
  20. ^ https://aiatsis.gov.au/sites/default/files/docs/research-and-guides/native-title-research/overturning-doctrine-terra%20nullius-the-mabo-case.pdf
  21. ^ Camille Piccioni, Revue generale de droit international public vol. XVI (1909)
  22. ^ Jacobs, Frank. "The Cold War that Wasn't: Norway Annexes Greenland". bigthink.com. Retrieved 30 March 2018.
  23. ^ Mollman, Steve. "The "strategic triangle" that would allow Beijing to control the South China Sea". Quartz. Retrieved 2016-10-27.
  24. ^ Tipene O'regan, 'The Ngai Tahu Claim' in I H Kawharu
  25. ^ "A Short Commentary on Land Claims in BC". Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs. Retrieved 2010-06-08.
  26. ^ "Reports of Judgments, Advisory Opinions and Orders: Frontier Dispute (Burkina Faso/Niger)". International Court of Justice. 2013-04-16. Retrieved 2017-08-04.
  27. ^ Ireland, Gordon (1941). Boundaries, possessions, and conflicts in Central and North America and the Caribbean. New York: Octagon Books. p. 320.
  28. ^ a b Ian Mitchell (2012). Isles of the North. Birlinn. p. 232.
  29. ^ "1955: Britain claims Rockall". BBC. On This Day: 21 September.
  30. ^ "Island Of Rockall Act 1972" (PDF). legislation.gov.uk. 10 February 1972.
  31. ^ "History of Sealand". The Principality of Sealand. Archived from the original on 1 October 2015.
  32. ^ 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.
  • 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

1835 in Australia

The following lists events that happened during 1835 in Australia.

Bir Tawil

Bir Tawil or Bi'r Tawīl (Egyptian Arabic: بير طويل‎ Bīr Ṭawīl [biːɾ tˤɑˈwiːl] or بئر طويل Bi’r Ṭawīl, meaning "tall water well") is a 2,060 km2 (800 sq mi) area along the border between Egypt and Sudan, which is uninhabited and claimed by neither country. When spoken of in association with the neighbouring Hala'ib Triangle, it is sometimes referred to as the Bir Tawil Triangle, despite the area's quadrilateral shape; the two "triangles" border at a quadripoint.

Its terra nullius status results from a discrepancy between the straight political boundary between Egypt and Sudan established in 1899, and the irregular administrative boundary established in 1902. Egypt asserts the political boundary, and Sudan asserts the administrative boundary, with the result that the Hala'ib Triangle is claimed by both, and Bir Tawil by neither. In 2014, author Alastair Bonnett described Bir Tawil as the only place on Earth that was habitable but was not claimed by any recognised government.

Cannabis in Svalbard

Cannabis in Svalbard is illegal. Practically functioning as ungoverned terra nullius prior to the Svalbard Treaty of 1920, the Arctic Ocean archipelago dominated by glaciers and barren rock, is part of Norway, and hence Norwegian law applies. Under it, there is a sliding scale approach to cannabis legislation. Possession for personal use, defined as up to 15 grams, is punished with a fine of between roughly 1,500 and 15,000 Norwegian kroner.

Possession of amounts larger than that is punished by jail, ranging from 6 months all the way up to 21 years. These laws are enforced by the Norwegian Police Service, the small Svalbard district of which is run by the Governor of Svalbard.

Claire G. Coleman

Claire G. Coleman is a Wirlomin-Noongar-Australian writer and poet, whose 2017 debut novel, Terra Nullius won the Norma K Hemming Award. The first draft of resulted in Coleman being awarded the State Library of Queensland's 2016 black&write! Indigenous Writing Fellowship.She gave the Loris Williams Memorial Lecture at the 2018 Australian Society of Archivists conference. Coleman's essay, After the Grog War, was shortlisted for the 2018 Horne Prize.

Clunies-Ross family

The Clunies-Ross family were the original settlers of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, a small archipelago in the Indian Ocean. From 1827 to 1978, the family ruled the previously uninhabited islands as a private fiefdom, initially as terra nullius and then later under British (1857–1955) and Australian (1955–1978) sovereignty. The head of the family was usually recognised as the resident magistrate, and was sometimes styled as the "King of the Cocos Islands" – a title given by the press.


Colonization (or colonisation) is a process by which a central system of power dominates the surrounding land and its components.

The term is derived from the Latin words colere ("to cultivate, to till"), colonia ("a landed estate", "a farm"), colonus ("a tiller of the soil", "a farmer"), then by extension "to inhabit". Also, colonization refers strictly to migration, for example, to settler colonies in America or Australia, trading posts, and plantations, while colonialism to the existing indigenous peoples of styled "new territories".

Colonization was linked to the spread of tens of millions from Western European states all over the world. In many settled colonies, Western European settlers eventually formed a large majority of the population after killing or driving away indigenous peoples. Examples include the Americas, Australia and New Zealand. These colonies were occasionally called 'neo-Europes'. In other places, Western European settlers formed minority groups, which often used more advanced weaponry to dominate the people initially living in their places of settlement.When Britain started to settle in Australia, New Zealand and various other smaller islands, they often regarded the landmasses as terra nullius, meaning 'empty land' in Latin. Due to the absence of European farming techniques, the land was deemed unaltered by man and therefore treated as uninhabited, despite the presence of indigenous populations. In the 19th century, laws and ideas such as Mexico's general Colonization Law and the United States' Manifest destiny encouraged further colonization of the Americas, already started in the 15th century.

Eddie Mabo

Eddie Mabo (c. 29 June 1936 – 21 January 1992) was an Indigenous Australian man from the Torres Strait Islands known for his role in campaigning for Indigenous land rights and for his role in a landmark decision of the High Court of Australia which overturned the legal doctrine of terra nullius ("nobody's land") which characterised Australian law with regard to land and title.

First possession theory of property

The "first possession" theory of property holds that ownership of something is justified simply by someone seizing it before someone else does. This contrasts with the labor theory of property where something may become property only by applying productive labor to it, i.e. by making something out of the materials of nature.

Indigenous Land Corporation

The Indigenous Land Corporation (ILC) is an Australian Commonwealth statutory authority with national responsibilities to assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to acquire land and to manage assets to achieve cultural, social, environmental and economic benefits for indigenous peoples and future generations.

The ILC has a seven-member board, appointed by the Minister for Indigenous Affairs. The Chairperson and at least four other members of the Board must be indigenous. The ILC Board makes all policy and land acquisition decisions. The ILC was formed following the Mabo decision which first recognised native title in Australia and the prior ownership of land by indigenous people, rejecting the doctrine of terra nullius.

International waters

The terms international waters or trans-boundary waters apply where any of the following types of bodies of water (or their drainage basins) transcend international boundaries: oceans, large marine ecosystems, enclosed or semi-enclosed regional seas and estuaries, rivers, lakes, groundwater systems (aquifers), and wetlands.International waters have no sovereignty, ergo is "Terra nullius" as no state controls it. All states have the freedom of: fishing, navigation, overflight, laying cables and pipelines, as well as research.

Oceans, seas, and waters outside national jurisdiction are also referred to as the high seas or, in Latin, mare liberum (meaning free sea). The Convention on the High Seas, signed in 1958, which has 63 signatories, defined "high seas" to mean "all parts of the sea that are not included in the territorial sea or in the internal waters of a State" and where "no State may validly purport to

subject any part of them to its sovereignty." The Convention on the High Seas was used as a foundation for the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, signed in 1982, which recognized Exclusive Economic Zones extending 200 nautical miles from the baseline, where coastal States have sovereign rights to the water column and sea floor as well as the natural resources found there.The high seas make up 50% of the surface area of the planet and cover over two thirds of the ocean.Ships sailing the high seas are generally under the jurisdiction of the flag state (if there is one); however, when a ship is involved in certain criminal acts, such as piracy, any nation can exercise jurisdiction under the doctrine of universal jurisdiction. International waters can be contrasted with internal waters, territorial waters and exclusive economic zones.

Mabo Day

Mabo Day occurs annually on 3 June. It commemorates Eddie Koiki Mabo (c. 29 June 1936–21 January 1992) a Torres Strait Islander whose campaign for Indigenous land rights led to a landmark decision of the High Court of Australia that, on 3 June 1992, overturned the legal fiction of terra nullius which had characterised Australian law with regards to land and title since the voyage of James Cook in 1770.

In 2010 a campaign was launched to make it a national holiday in Australia In 2002, on the tenth anniversary of the High Court decision, Mabo's widow, Bonita Mabo, called for a national public holiday on 3 June. On the eleventh anniversary, in 2003, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) launched a petition to make 3 June an Australian Public Holiday. Eddie Mabo Jnr, for the Mabo family, said:

We believe that a public holiday would be fitting to honour and recognise the contribution to the High Court decision of not only my father and his co-plaintiffs, James Rice, Father Dave Passi, Sam Passi and Celuia Salee, but also to acknowledge all Indigenous Australians who have empowered and inspired each other.

To date we have not had a public holiday that acknowledges Indigenous people and which recognises our contribution, achievements and survival in Australia.

A public holiday would be a celebration all Australians can share in with pride – a celebration of truth that unites Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians and a celebration of justice that overturned the legal myth of terra nullius - Mabo symbolises truth and justice and is a cornerstone of Reconciliation.

Mabo v Queensland (No 2)

Mabo v Queensland (No 2) (commonly known as Mabo) was a landmark High Court of Australia decision in 1992 recognising native title in Australia for the first time.

The High Court held that the doctrine of terra nullius, which imported all laws of England to a new land, did not apply in circumstances where there were already inhabitants present – even if those inhabitants had been regarded at the time as "uncivilized". Consequently, the Court held that the rules of reception of English law that applied were not those applicable where the land was barren and uninhabited, but rather the rules that applied where an existing people were settled. The result was that existing customary laws which were present at the time of settlement survived the reception of English law to the extent not modified or excluded by subsequent inconsistent laws and acts of the sovereign. Relevantly, that existing law included indigenous land title. As such, any indigenous land rights which had not been extinguished by subsequent grants by the Crown continued to exist in Australia.

In so ruling, the High Court overturned Milirrpum v Nabalco Pty Ltd, a contrary decision of the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory.

Milirrpum v Nabalco Pty Ltd

Milirrpum v Nabalco Pty Ltd (the "Gove land rights case") was the first litigation on native title in Australia. The decision of Justice Richard Blackburn ruled against the claimants on a number of issues of law and fact, rejecting the doctrine of Aboriginal title recognizing that in the law of the time of British colonisation of Australia there was a distinction between settled colonies, where the land, being "desert and uncultivated", was claimed by right of occupancy, and conquered or ceded colonies. The term "desert and uncultivated" included territory in which resided "uncivilized inhabitants in a primitive state of society". The decision noted that the Crown had the power to extinguish native title, if it existed. The issue of terra nullius, later raised in Mabo v Queensland (No 2)(1992), was not contemplated in this decision.

Although Milirrpum was not appealed beyond the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory, it was overruled by the High Court of Australia two decades later in Mabo v Queensland (No 2) after his death.Blackburn, in a confidential memorandum to the government and opposition, opined that a system of Aboriginal land rights was "morally right and socially expedient". The judgement concludes: "I cannot help being specially conscious that for the plaintiffs it is a matter in which their personal feelings are involved."


Moosylvania is a fictional island and micronation located in the Lake of the Woods along the Canada–United States border that served as a plot device in The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.The island has no permanent population, and conditions are said to be harsh and unpleasant. The island is in a state of terra nullius, since neither Canada nor the United States wants to claim the land and each country says it belongs to the other. (See Bir Tawil for a similar real-life example of this.) Bullwinkle J. Moose serves as Moosylvania's presumed namesake and its governor but only stays two weeks at a time, since (according to Bullwinkle) "after two weeks here, anyplace else in the world feels like Heaven!"

In the series-ending story arc "Moosylvania Saved," Fearless Leader, the head of state of the Eastern European state of Pottsylvania, attempts to destroy Moosylvania. The plot is foiled when Bullwinkle, who was going to go down with his sinking country, asked Rocky for a stick of gum, which inspired Rocky the Flying Squirrel to raise up Moosylvania with bubble gum balloons. The plan worked and Moosylvania was saved, giving the series a happy ending.

In the fall of 1962, Jay Ward, producer of the Rocky and Bullwinkle show, decided to campaign for statehood for Moosylvania. Ward sent Skip Craig to Minnesota to buy an island in the Lake of the Woods. Craig wasn't able to find one for sale on the U.S. side of the lake (most of the islands in that lake are claimed by Canada), but managed to lease one for three years. Ward and publicist Howard Brandy conducted a west-to-east cross-country tour in a decorated van, gathering signatures on a petition for statehood for Moosylvania. While in Washington, D.C., they sought an audience with President John F. Kennedy. However, they arrived at the White House on the very day the Cuban Missile Crisis broke, and were ordered to leave.A national anthem for Moosylvania was included on the mini-album A Salute to Moosylvania!! Recorded Live at the Moosylvania Jazz Festival, self-released by Jay Ward in 1962.

Politics of Svalbard

Svalbard lies under the sovereignty of Norway, but the Svalbard Treaty places several restrictions. Norway cannot use the archipelago for warlike purposes, cannot discriminate economic activity based on nationality and is required to conserve the natural environment. Uniquely, Svalbard is an entirely visa-free zone. Everybody may live and work in Svalbard indefinitely regardless of country of citizenship. Svalbard Treaty grants treaty nationals equal right of abode as Norwegian nationals. Non-treaty nationals may live and work indefinitely visa-free as well. "Regulations concerning rejection and expulsion from Svalbard" is in force on non-discriminatory basis.

Public administration of the archipelago is the responsibility of the Governor of Svalbard, who acts as county governor and chief of police. The institution was established by and is regulated by the Svalbard Act, which also limits which Norwegian laws apply to the islands. Longyearbyen Community Council is the only elected local government and is organized similar to a mainland municipality. Other Norwegian government agencies with a presence are the Directorate of Mining and the Tax Administration. The only diplomatic mission is the Consulate of Russia in Barentsburg.

The archipelago was spotted in 1596, and soon companies from England, the Netherlands, Denmark–Norway and France were whaling and hunting. Both England and Denmark–Norway claimed the land, while the Dutch and France claimed the mare liberum principle, resulting in Svalbard becoming terra nullius—land without sovereignty. Work on establishing a public administration started in the 1870s, but did not progress until the 1900s, when the establishment of coal mining communities created a more urgent need. The Svalbard Treaty was signed following the Paris Peace Conference in 1920, and the governor and act came into effect in 1925. By then only Norwegian and Russian communities remained.

After the Second World War and the outbreak of the Cold War, Svalbard became polarized with Norwegian and Soviet communities isolated from each other. Norway carried out a more defensive foreign policy on Svalbard compared to on the mainland, and foreign activity was held at a minimum. The Soviet Union issued protests against virtually all new Norwegian activity. At the time there were twice as many Soviet citizens as Norwegians on the islands. More than half the archipelago was conserved in 1973. Since the 1990s Longyearbyen has become "normalized", abandoned the company town structure and seen its population doubled. On the other hand, the Soviet communities have dwindled, with only a few hundred residents remaining in Barentsburg.

Proclamation of Governor Bourke

The Proclamation of Governor Bourke was a document written by Sir Richard Bourke, KCB, the Governor of New South Wales, and issued by the British Colonial Office on 26 August 1835.

The proclamation was prompted by the actions of John Batman, who when establishing a settlement at what is now Melbourne and would become the colony of Victoria, agreed to a treaty with the local Aboriginal inhabitants. Bourke's proclamation effectively declared Batman's treaty null and void, and implemented the concept of terra nullius—that the colonies belonged to no-one prior to settlement by the British Crown.

Res communis

Res communis is a Latin term derived from Roman law that preceded today’s concepts of the commons and common heritage of mankind. It has relevance in international law and common law.

In sixth century C.E., the Institutes of Justinian codified the relevant Roman law as: “By the law of nature these things are common to mankind - the air, running water, the sea, and consequently the shores of the sea.” Biological examples of res communis include fish and mammals in high seas. Rules for use of the continent Antarctica were based on res communis as was development of space law.

The term can be contrasted with res nullius, the concept of ownerless property, associated for example with terra nullius, the concept of unowned territory by which British settlement in Australia was arguably based, despite being home to indigenous peoples.

Ron Castan

Aaron Ronald "Ron" Castan AM QC (29 October 1939 – 21 October 1999) was a barrister and human rights advocate. He played a leading role in some of Australia's more important cases, such as the Gove land rights case, Koowarta v Bjelke-Petersen and the Franklin Dam case. One of his most celebrated roles was that of senior counsel in the Mabo case, which abolished the doctrine of terra nullius and recognised Aboriginal land rights in Australian law for the first time. Castan spent 10 years preparing and arguing the case on behalf of Eddie Mabo, for which he received widespread acclaim.In 1985 Castan, along with Uncle Jim Berg, and Ron Merkel, sued the University of Melbourne and the Museum of Victoria for the return of their collections of Indigenous cultural material and through this act created the Koorie Heritage Trust.He also played a leading role in the legislative discussions on Australian Native Title law throughout the 1990s, having devised the solution to the standoff in the Australian Senate over the Wik settlement. Additionally, he was a founder of the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service.Although he is most famous for his work in constitutional and human rights law, Castan was an expert in many areas of law. The Castan Centre for Human Rights Law at Monash University is named after him, where his daughter, Melissa Castan (herself a human rights scholar), is Deputy Director.He died suddenly at age 59 due to a complication following surgery. After his death, tributes flowed from the legal and political community. Famously, after his death, he was described by Senator Aden Ridgeway as "the great white warrior against racism".Ron is survived by his wife, Nellie; children Melissa, Lindy and Steven; and grandchildren Samuel, Ricky, Madeline, Joshua, Isabelle, Theodore, Remy and Milan.

Uti possidetis juris

Uti possidetis juris or uti possidetis iuris (Latin for "as you possess under law") is a principle of international law which provides that newly formed sovereign states should have the same borders that their preceding dependent area had before their independence.

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