Frontier Dispute
(Burkina Faso/Republic of Mali)

On 14 October 1983 Burkina Faso (then known as Upper Volta) and Mali notified to the Court a special agreement referring to a Chamber of the Court the question of the delimitation of part of the land frontier between the two States. This Chamber was constituted by an Order of 3 April 1985. Following grave incidents between the armed forces of the two countries at the very end of 1985, both Parties submitted parallel requests to the Chamber for the indication of interim measures of protection. The Chamber indicated such measures by an Order of 10 January 1986. In its Judgment delivered on 22 December 1986, the Chamber began by ascertaining the source of the rights claimed by the Parties. It noted that, in that case, the principles that ought to be applied were the principle of the intangibility of frontiers inherited from colonization and the principle of uti possidetis juris, which accords pre-eminence to legal title over effective possession as a basis of sovereignty, and whose primary aim is to secure respect for the territorial boundaries which existed at the time when independence was achieved. The Chamber specified that, when those boundaries were no more than delimitations between different administrative divisions or colonies all subject to the same sovereign, the application of the principle of uti possidetis juris resulted in their being transformed into international frontiers, as in the instant case. It also indicated that it would have regard to equity infra legem, that is, that form of equity which constitutes a method of interpretation of the law and which is based on law. The Parties also relied upon various types of evidence to give support to their arguments, including French legislative and regulative texts or administrative documents, maps and "colonial effectivit├ęs" or, in other words, the conduct of the administrative authorities as proof of the effective exercise of territorial jurisdiction in the region during the colonial period. Having considered those various kinds of evidence, the Chamber defined the course of the boundary between the Parties in the disputed area. The Chamber likewise took the opportunity to point out, with respect to the tripoint Niger-Mali-Burkina Faso, that its jurisdiction was not restricted simply because the end point of the frontier lay on the frontier of a third State not a party to the proceedings. It further pointed out that the rights of Niger were in any event safeguarded by the operation of Article 59 of the Statute of the Court.