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Permanent Court of International Justice

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Français

Frontier Dispute (Benin/Niger)

Overview of the case

On 3 May 2002, Benin and Niger, by joint notification of a Special Agreement signed on 15 June 2001 at Cotonou and which entered into force on 11 April 2002, seised the Court of a dispute concerning “the definitive delimitation of the whole boundary between them”. Under the terms of Article 1 of that Special Agreement, the Parties agreed to submit their frontier dispute to a Chamber of the Court, formed pursuant to Article 26, paragraph 2, of the Statute, and each to choose a judge ad hoc. By an Order of 27 November 2002, the Court unanimously decided to accede to the request of the two Parties for a special Chamber of five judges to be formed to deal with the case. It formed a Chamber composed as follows : President Guillaume ; Judges Ranjeva, Kooijmans ; Judges ad hoc Bedjaoui (chosen by Niger) and Bennouna (chosen by Benin). In the same Order, the Court also fixed 27 August 2003 as the time-limit for the filing of a Memorial by each Party. Those pleadings were filed within the time-limit thus prescribed. The Parties filed their Counter-Memorials within the time-limit fixed by the Order of the President of the Chamber of 11 September 2003. By an Order of 9 July 2004, the President of the Chamber authorized the filing of a Reply by each of the Parties and fixed 17 December 2004 as the time-limit for those filings. The Replies were filed within the time-limit thus prescribed.

By an Order of 16 February 2005, the Court declared that, on 16 February 2005, Judge Ronny Abraham had been elected a member of the Chamber to fill the vacancy which had arisen following the resignation from the Court of Judge Guillaume, the former President of that Chamber. The Court also declared that, as a result of Judge Guillaume’s resignation, the Vice-President of the Court, Judge Raymond Ranjeva, had become the new President of the Chamber, which was consequently composed as follows : President Ranjeva ; Judges Kooijmans, Abraham ; Judges ad hoc Bedjaoui and Bennouna.

Following public hearings held in March 2005, the Chamber delivered its Judgment on 12 July 2005. After briefly recalling the geographical and historical context of the dispute between these two former colonies, which had been part of French West Africa (FWA) until their accession to independence in August 1960, the Chamber considered the question of the law applicable to the dispute. It stated that this included the principle of the intangibility of the boundaries inherited from colonization, or the principle of uti possidetis juris, whose “primary aim is . . . securing respect for the territorial boundaries at the moment when independence is achieved”. The Chamber found that, on the basis of this principle, it had to determine in the case the boundary that had been inherited from the French administration. It noted that “the Parties agreed that the dates to be taken into account for this purpose were those of their respective independence, namely 1 and 3 August 1960”.

The Chamber then considered the course of the boundary in the River Niger sector. It first examined the various regulative or administrative acts invoked by the Parties in support of their respective claims and concluded that “neither of the Parties has succeeded in providing evidence of title on the basis of [those] acts during the colonial period”. In accordance with the principle that, where no legal title exists, the effectivités “must invariably be taken into consideration”, the Chamber then proceeded to examine the evidence presented by the Parties regarding the effective exercise of authority on the ground during the colonial period, in order to determine the course of the boundary in the River Niger sector and to indicate to which of the two States each of the islands in the river belonged, in particular the island of Lété.

On the basis of this evidence in respect of the period 1914-1954, the Chamber concluded that there was a modus vivendi between the local authorities of Dahomey and Niger in the region concerned, whereby both Parties regarded the main navigable channel of the river as constituting the intercolonial boundary. The Chamber observed that, pursuant to this modus vivendi, Niger exercised its administrative authority over the islands located to the left of the main navigable channel (including the island of Lété) and Dahomey over those located to the right of that channel. The Chamber noted that “the entitlement of Niger to administer the island of Lété was sporadically called into question for practical reasons but was neither legally nor factually contested”. With respect to the islands located opposite the town of Gaya (Niger), the Chamber noted that, on the basis of the modus vivendi, these islands were considered to fall under the jurisdiction of Dahomey. According to the Chamber, it therefore followed that, in that sector of the river, the boundary was regarded as passing to the left of these three islands.

The Chamber found that “[t]he situation is less clear in the period between 1954 and 1960”. However, on the basis of the evidence submitted by the Parties, it “cannot conclude that the administration of the island of Lété, which before 1954 was undoubtedly carried out by Niger, was effectively transferred to or taken over by Dahomey”.

The Chamber concluded from the foregoing that the boundary between Benin and Niger in that sector follows the main navigable channel of the River Niger as it existed at the dates of independence, it being understood that, in the vicinity of the three islands opposite Gaya, the boundary passes to the left of those islands. Consequently, Benin has title to the islands situated between the boundary thus defined and the right bank of the river and Niger had title to the islands between that boundary and the left bank of the river.

In order to determine the precise location of the boundary line in the main navigable channel, namely the line of deepest soundings, as it existed at the dates of independence, the Chamber relied on a report prepared in 1970, at the request of the Governments of Dahomey, Mali, Niger and Nigeria, by the firm Netherlands Engineering Consultants (NEDECO). In its Judgment, the Chamber specified the co-ordinates of 154 points through which the boundary between Benin and Niger passes in that sector. It stated inter alia that Lété Goungou belongs to Niger. Finally, the Chamber concluded that the Special Agreement also conferred jurisdiction upon it to determine the boundary line on the bridges between Gaya and Malanville. It found that the boundary on those structures follows the course of the boundary in the River Niger.

In the second part of its Judgment, dealing with the western section of the boundary between Benin and Niger, in the sector of the River Mekrou, the Chamber proceeded to examine the various documents invoked by the Parties in support of their respective arguments. It concluded that, notwithstanding the existence of a legal title of 1907 relied on by Niger in support of its claimed boundary, it was clear that,

“at least from 1927 onwards, the competent administrative authorities regarded the course of the Mekrou as the intercolonial boundary separating Dahomey from Niger, that those authorities reflected that boundary in the successive instruments promulgated by them after 1927, some of which expressly indicated that boundary, whilst others necessarily implied it, and that this was the state of the law at the dates of independence in August 1960”.

The Chamber concluded that, in the River Mekrou sector, the boundary between Benin and Niger was constituted by the median line of that river.


This overview is provided for information only and in no way involves the responsibility of the Court.

Institution of proceedings

Special Agreement
(French version only)

3 May 2002
Available in:
French

Written proceedings

Reply of the Republic of Niger
(French version only)

alert
Available in:
French

Memorial of the Republic of Niger
(French version only)

alert
Available in:
French

Memorial of the Republic of Benin
(French version only)

27 August 2003
Available in:
French

Counter-Memorial of the Republic of Benin
(French version only)

28 May 2004
Available in:
French

Counter-Memorial of the Republic of Niger
(French version only)

28 May 2004
Available in:
French

Reply of the Republic of Benin
(French version only)

17 December 2004
Available in:
French

Oral proceedings

Verbatim record 2003/1

Public sitting of the Chamber held on Thursday 20 November 2003, at 10 a.m.
Available in:
Original Language

Verbatim record 2005/1

Public sitting held on Monday 7 March 2005, at 10 a.m.
Available in:
Original Language

Verbatim record 2005/2

Public sitting held on Monday 7 March 2005, at 3 p.m.
Available in:
Original Language

Verbatim record 2005/3

Public sitting held on Tuesday 8 March 2005, at 10 a.m.
Available in:
Original Language

Verbatim record 2005/4

Public sitting held on Tuesday 8 March 2005, at 3 p.m.
Available in:
Original Language

Verbatim record 2005/5

Public sitting held on Thursday 10 March 2005, at 10 a.m.
Available in:
Original Language

Verbatim record 2005/6

Public sitting held on Friday 11 March 2005, at 3 p.m.
Available in:
Original Language

Other documents

Orders

Order of 11 September 2003

Fixing of time-limit: Counter-Memorials
Available in:
English French Bilingual

Order of 9 July 2004

Decision regarding submission of Replies; fixing of time-limit: Replies
Available in:
English French Bilingual

Judgments

Summaries of Judgments and Orders

Summary 2005/2

Summary of the Judgment of 12 July 2005
Available in:
English French

Press releases

Press release 2002/13

3 May 2002
Benin and Niger jointly submit a boundary dispute to the International Court of Justice
Available in:
English French

Press release 2002/41

20 December 2002
Frontier Dispute (Benin/Niger) - The Court forms a special Chamber to deal with the case
Available in:
English French

Press release 2003/31

16 September 2003
Frontier Dispute (Benin/Niger) - Fixing of the time-limit for the filing of a Counter-Memorial by each of the Parties
Available in:
English French

Press release 2003/35

27 October 2003
Frontier Dispute (Benin/Niger) - Special Chamber to hold its first public sitting on Thursday 20 November 2003
Available in:
English French

Press release 2004/29

13 July 2004
Frontier Dispute (Benin/Niger) - Authorization of the filing of a Reply by each of the Parties and fixing of the time-limit therefor
Available in:
English French

Press release 2005/6

21 February 2005
Frontier Dispute (Benin/Niger) - Changes in the composition of the Chamber - The Chamber will hold public hearings from 7 to 11 March 2005
Available in:
English French

Press release 2005/7

11 March 2005
Frontier Dispute (Benin/Niger) - Conclusion of the public hearings - Chamber ready to begin its deliberation
Available in:
English French

Press release 2005/14

5 July 2005
Frontier Dispute (Benin/Niger) - Chamber of the Court to deliver its Judgment on Tuesday 12 July 2005 at 3 p.m.
Available in:
English French

Press release 2005/16

12 July 2005
Frontier Dispute (Benin/Niger) - The Chamber of the Court determines the course of the whole boundary between the two States - The Chamber determines, on the basis of the course of the boundary, which of the islands located in the River Niger belong to Benin and which to Niger; it finds that the island of Lété Goungou belongs to Niger
Available in:
English French