Reconciling Uti Possidetis and Self Determination: The Concept of Interstate Boundary Disputes

9 Pages Posted: 24 Oct 2007

See all articles by Patrick K. Muwanguzi

Patrick K. Muwanguzi

Suffolk University Law School; University of Leicester

Date Written: June 2007


More often than not has the principle of self determination been considered as neither a non derrogable nor inalienable right. Although taken from the decolonization perspective self determination refers to the exercise of the people's free will to determine and pursue their political, economic, social and cultural development without external interference.

Suffice it to say that the subjection of people to alien subjugation, domination and exploitation would amount to a violation of the principle as was noted in the Declaration of Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations. Thus far, a number of United Nations and declarations have discussed the relevance of the principle justifying the use of force, where reasonable means they are out of reach. Essentially, the International Law Commission suggested that the principal of self determination was of universal application. These and more of the dynamics of the principle will be discussed later on.

Although non derogable and inalienable, the right to self determination; whether exercised by aggression or peaceful Measures, is not to override, nor meant to derogate from territorial integrity. Essentially, this norm serves to protect boundary or territorial integrity and framework of sovereign states under what is referred to as the principle of Uti Possidetis Juris. This is achieved by freezing the territorial boundaries as at the time of independence, unless altered upon the mutual consent of the state parties concerned. Such boundaries as were in existence at the time of independence cannot be altered lest relevant parties consent to the change.

Although the two principles have some similarity in their application, in essence, the two are infact distinct. The relationship and meaning of the two principles is the main focus of this essay, making reference to the circumstances under which the principles may apply and may be disregarded, yet also discussing the effect of decided cases. The differences and efficacy of both principles will also be considered herein, before drawing any conclusions as to whether any one of the principles overrides the other, and if so under what circumstances.

In the last part of this essay, I maintain that although provided for as a universal right; the principle of self determination, indeed is somewhat restricted to a specific category of persons, and thus far, fails to achieve its universal applicability.

Keywords: Public International Law, Uti Possidetis, Self determination, International Law, Boundary Disputes, Inter state disputes, UN Principle Friendly relations, Decolonisation, Peaceful measures, Dispute resolution

JEL Classification: K30, K33, K10, K39, K19

Suggested Citation

Muwanguzi, Patrick, Reconciling Uti Possidetis and Self Determination: The Concept of Interstate Boundary Disputes (June 2007). Available at SSRN: or

Patrick Muwanguzi (Contact Author)

Suffolk University Law School ( email )

120 Tremont Street
Boston, MA 02108-4977
United States

University of Leicester ( email )

University Road
Leicester, LE1 7RH
United Kingdom
0116 252 2362 (Phone)


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