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Permanent Court of International Justice

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Français

Arbitral Award of 31 July 1989 (Guinea-Bissau v. Senegal)

Overview of the case

On 23 August 1989, Guinea-Bissau instituted proceedings against Senegal, on the basis of the declarations made by both States under Article 36, paragraph 2, of the Statute. Guinea-Bissau explained that, notwithstanding the negotiations pursued from 1977 onwards, the two States had been unable to reach a settlement of a dispute concerning the maritime delimitation to be effected between them. Consequently they had jointly consented, by an Arbitration Agreement dated 12 March 1985, to submit that dispute to an Arbitration Tribunal composed of three members. Guinea-Bissau indicated that, according to the terms of Article 2 of that Agreement, the Tribunal had been asked to rule on the following twofold question :

“1. Does the Agreement concluded by an exchange of letters [between France and Portugal] on 26 April 1960, and which relates to the maritime boundary, have the force of law in the relations between the Republic of Guinea-Bissau and the Republic of Senegal ?

2. In the event of a negative answer to the first question, what is the course of the line delimiting the maritime territories appertaining to the Republic of Guinea-Bissau and the Republic of Senegal respectively ?”

Guinea-Bissau added that it had been specified, in Article 9 of the Agreement, that the Tribunal would inform the two Governments of its decision regarding the questions set forth in Article 2, and that that decision should include the drawing of the frontier line on a map. According to the Application, the Tribunal communicated to the Parties on 31 July 1989 a “text that was supposed to serve as an award” but did not in fact amount to one. Guinea-Bissau asserted that the decision was inexistent as the majority of two arbitrators (against one) that had voted in favour of the text was no more than apparent given that one of the two arbitrators — in fact the President of the Tribunal — was said to have “expressed a view in contradiction with the one apparently adopted by the vote”, in a declaration appended thereto. Subsidiarily, Guinea-Bissau maintained that the Award was null and void, as the Tribunal had failed, in various ways (see explanation below) to accomplish the task assigned to it by the Agreement. By an Order dated 12 February 1990, the Court dismissed a request for the indication of provisional measures presented by Guinea-Bissau.

It delivered its Judgment on 12 November 1991. The Court first considered its jurisdiction, and, in particular, found that Guinea-Bissau’s declaration contained no reservation, but that the declaration of Senegal, which replaced a previous declaration of 3 May 1985, provided among other things that it was applicable only to “all legal disputes arising after the present declaration . . .”. As the Parties agreed that only the dispute relating to the Award rendered by the Tribunal (which arose after the Senegalese declaration) was the subject of the proceedings before the Court and that it should not be seen as an appeal from the Award, or as an application for revision of it, the Court accordingly regarded its jurisdiction as established. It then rejected, inter alia, Senegal’s contention that Guinea-Bissau’s Application, or the arguments used in support of it, amounted to an abuse of process. With regard to Guinea-Bissau’s contention that the Award was inexistent, the Court considered that the view expressed by the President of the Tribunal in his declaration constituted only an indication of what he considered would have been a better course. His position therefore could not be regarded as standing in contradiction with the position adopted by the Award. The Court accordingly dismissed the contention of Guinea-Bissau that the Award was inexistent for lack of a real majority.

The Court then examined the question of the nullity of the Award, as Guinea-Bissau had observed that the Tribunal had not replied to the second question put in Article 2 of the Arbitration Agreement and had not appended to the Award the map provided for in Article 9 of that Agreement. According to Guinea-Bissau, those two omissions constituted an excès de pouvoir. It was further asserted that no reasons had been given by the Tribunal for its decision. With regard to the absence of a reply to the second question, the Court recognized that the structure of the Award was, in that respect, open to criticism, but concluded that the Award was not flawed by any failure to decide. The Court then observed that the Tribunal’s statement of reasoning, while succinct, was clear and precise, and concluded that the second contention of Guinea-Bissau must also be dismissed. With regard to the validity of the reasoning adopted by the Tribunal on the issue of whether it was required to answer the second question, the Court recalled that an international tribunal normally had the right to decide as to its own jurisdiction and the power to interpret for that purpose the instruments which governed that jurisdiction. It observed that Guinea-Bissau was in fact criticizing the interpretation in the Award of the provisions of the Arbitration Agreement which determine the Tribunal’s jurisdiction, and proposing another interpretation. Further to a detailed consideration of Article 2 of the Arbitration Agreement, it concluded that the Tribunal had not acted in manifest breach of its competence to determine its own jurisdiction by deciding that it was not required to answer the second question except in the event of a negative answer to the first. Then, with respect to the argument of Guinea-Bissau that the answer given by the Tribunal to the first question was a partially negative answer and that this sufficed to satisfy the prescribed condition for entering into the second question, the Court found that the answer given achieved a partial delimitation, and that the Tribunal had thus been able to find, without manifest breach of its competence, that its answer to the first question was not a negative one. The Court concluded that, in this respect also, the contention of Guinea-Bissau that the entire Award was a nullity must be rejected. It considered moreover that the absence of a map could not in this case constitute such an irregularity as would render the Award invalid.


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

Institution of proceedings

Written proceedings

Request for the indication of Provisional Measures
(French version only)

18 January 1990
Procedure(s): Provisional measures
Available in:
French

Memorial of the Government of Guinea-Bissau
(French version only)

2 May 1990
Available in:
French

Counter-Memorial of the Government of Senegal
(French version only)

31 October 1990
Available in:
French

Oral proceedings

Verbatim record 1990/1

Minute of the public sitting held on Monday 12 February 1990, at 10 a.m., at the Peace Palace, President Ruda presiding
Procedure(s): Provisional measures
Available in:
Original Language

Verbatim record 1990/2

Minute of the public sitting held on Monday 12 February 1990, at 3 p.m., at the Peace Palace, President Ruda presiding
Procedure(s): Provisional measures
Available in:
Original Language

Verbatim record 1991/2

Minute of the public sitting held on Wednesday 3 April 1991, at 10 a.m., at the Peace Palace, President Sir Robert Jennings presiding
Available in:
Original Language

Verbatim record 1991/3

Public sitting held on Wednesday 4 April 1991, at 10 a.m., at the Peace Palace, President Sir Robert Jennings presiding
Available in:
Original Language

Verbatim record 1991/4

Public sitting held on Friday 5 April 1991, at 10 a.m., at the Peace Palace, President Sir Robert Jennings presiding
Available in:
Original Language

Verbatim record 1991/5

Public sitting held on Monday 8 April 1991, at 10 a.m., at the Peace Palace, President Sir Robert Jennings presiding
Available in:
Original Language

Verbatim record 1991/7

Public sitting held on Tuesday 9 April 1991, at 3 p.m., at the Peace Palace, President Sir Robert Jennings presiding
Available in:
Original Language

Verbatim record 1991/8

Public sitting held on Thursday 11 April 1991, at 10 a.m., at the Peace Palace, President Sir Robert Jennings presiding
Available in:
Original Language

Other documents

Letter from the Agent of Guinea-Bissau and his answers to judges' questions

14 February 1990
Procedure(s): Provisional measures
Available in:
English French

Replies of Senegal to questions put during the hearings (translation)

21 February 1990
Procedure(s): Provisional measures
Available in:
English French

Orders

Order of 1 November 1989

Fixing of time-limits: Memorial and Counter-Memorial
Available in:
English French Bilingual

Judgments

Summaries of Judgments and Orders

Summary 1990/1

Summary of the Order of 2 March 1990
Available in:
English French

Summary 1991/2

Summary of the Judgment of 12 November 1991
Available in:
English French

Press releases

Press release 1989/17

24 August 1989
Guinea-Bissau brings a case against Senegal
Available in:
English French

Press release 1989/22

3 November 1989
Arbitral Award of 31 July 1989 (Guinea-Bissau v. Senegal) - Fixing of the time-limits for the filing of the initial written pleadings
Available in:
English French

Press release 1990/2

5 February 1990
Arbitral Award of 31 July 1989 (Guinea-Bissau v. Senegal) - Request for indication of provisional measures
Available in:
English French

Press release 1990/3

14 February 1990
Arbitral Award of 31 July 1989 (Guinea-Bissau v. Senegal) - Request for the indication of provisional measures - Conclusion of the public sittings
Available in:
English French

Press release 1990/4

28 February 1990
Arbitral Award of 31 July 1989 (Guinea-Bissau v. Senegal) - Request for the indication of provisional measures - Court to deliver its decision on 2 March 1990
Available in:
English French

Press release 1990/5

2 March 1990
Arbitral Award of 31 July 1989 (Guinea-Bissau v. Senegal) - The Court dismisses the request for the indication of provisional measures
Available in:
English French

Press release 1991/3

7 February 1991
Arbitral Award of 31 July 1989 (Guinea-Bissau v. Senegal) - Public sittings will open on 3 April 1991
Available in:
English French

Press release 1991/4

7 February 1991
Arbitral Award of 31 July 1989 (Guinea-Bissau v. Senegal) - Public sittings will open on 15 April 1991
Available in:
English French

Press release 1991/8

13 March 1991
Guinea-Bissau brings a new case against Senegal
Available in:
English French

Press release 1991/9

3 April 1991
Arbitral Award of 31 July 1989 (Guinea-Bissau v. Senegal) - Solemn declaration of Judge ad hoc Kéba Mbaye
Available in:
English French

Press release 1991/12

11 April 1991
Arbitral Award of 31 July 1989 (Guinea-Bissau v. Senegal) - Progress and conclusion of public hearings
Available in:
English French

Press release 1991/31

4 November 1991
Arbitral Award of 31 July 1989 (Guinea-Bissau v. Senegal) - Judgment to be delivered on Tuesday 12 November 1991, at 2.30 p.m.
Available in:
English French

Press release 1991/32

12 November 1991
Arbitral Award of 31 July 1989 (Guinea-Bissau v. Senegal) - Judgment of the Court
Available in:
English French

Press release 1992/24

9 October 1992
Arbitral Award of 31 July 1989 (Guinea-Bissau v. Senegal) - Fixing of time-limits for pleadings postponed pending negotiations for possible settlement of the dispute
Available in:
English French

Press release 1995/36

14 November 1995
Arbitral Award of 31 July 1989 (Guinea-Bissau v. Senegal) - Discontinuance
Available in:
English French