Compliance with ICJ/PCIJ Decisions on Territorial, River, and Maritime Issues

This is a Web appendix for Sara Mitchell and Paul Hensel's 2007 American Journal of Political Science article "International Institutions and Compliance with Agreements." It lists every territorial, river, or maritime issue that has been submitted to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) or Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ), as of May 2007. The purpose is to analyze the parties' compliance with judicial awards.

Qualifying cases are identified using the following sections of the ICJ web site:

Compliance with each decision is determined based on news sources such as the New York Times, Facts on File, Keesing's Contemporary Archives, Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe, diplomatic histories of the involved countries or regions, and reference works such as the Encyclopedia of International Boundaries (Biger 1995) and Jane's Exclusive Economic Zones of the World (Pratt 2000). The claimants are coded as complying with a decision when both sides accept and implement the terms of the decision, which typically involve the end of the territorial, river, or maritime claim in question. The results are as follows:

Did Both Claimants
Comply with Decision?
Yes 15 (93.8%) 2 (66.7%) 8 (80.0%) 25 (86.2%)
Yes (appeal) 1 (6.3) 0 (0.0) 2 (20.0) 3 (10.3)
No 0 (0.0) 1 (33.3) 0 (0.0) 1 (3.4)
Total 16 3 10 29

As this table indicates, the ICJ and PCIJ have been very effective at issuing decisions that both sides carry out. Of the 29 awards that had been handed down as of May 2007, only one (3.4%) -- the 1997 decision over the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros dam project, which is still the subject of negotiations intended to produce compliance -- has not been complied with by both parties. Three other cases (10.3%) saw a subsequent appeal to the court, but were ultimately complied with by both sides, and the remaining 25 (86.2%) were accepted by both parties without any further litigation.

It should also be noted that the ICJ and PCIJ have not been used exclusively by Western democracies, which might account for this observed success if most or all cases were submitted by democratic states (which are widely known to be unlikely to fight each other, and to share norms of peaceful conflict management). These 29 completed cases, along with the six cases that are still pending as of May 2007, come from a wide range of geographic settings and political systems. This includes the following geographic breakdown:

Barely one-third of these cases involved disagreements in Europe, and many of these involve such claimants as Albania, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and the Ukraine. These cases also include a variety of non-democratic actors, using the widely accepted measurement of democracy as states with values of 6/10 or higher on the Polity IV index of institutionalized democracy, and compliance is still the dominant approach whether a given dyad has no, one, or two democracies:

Did Both Claimants
Comply with Decision?
Yes 7 (77.8%) 5 (100%) 13 (86.7%) 25 (86.2%)
Yes (appeal) 2 (22.2) 0 (0.0) 1 (6.7) 3 (10.3)
No 0 (0.0) 0 (0.0) 1 (6.7) 1 (3.4)
Total 9 5 15 29

In short, it seems clear that these international institutions have been used by a wide variety of states to settle contentious issues. Furthermore, once an award has been made, it is very likely to be carried out, even if one or both claimants are not advanced Western democracies. We believe that this global analysis of compliance with decisions from the most prominent international court is consistent with our article's argument that the involvement of international institutional increases compliance, and that this supplements our article's more in-depth empirical analysis of compliance with agreements over territorial, river, and maritime issues in a smaller spatial-temporal domain.

List of Cases

Territorial Issues (including mixed territorial/maritime)
Award Date Claimants Subject Did Both Comply?
07/2005 Benin / Niger Frontier Dispute Yes
12/2002 Indonesia / Malaysia Sovereignty over Pulau Ligitan and Pulau Sipadan Yes
10/2002 Nigeria / Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea intervening Land and Maritime Boundary between Cameroon and Nigeria (see also 03/1999 judgment on Request for Interpretation of 1998 judgment on preliminary objections) Yes
03/2001 Qatar / Bahrain Maritime Delimitation and Territorial Questions between Qatar and Bahrain Yes
12/1999 Botswana / Namibia Kasikili / Sedudu Island Yes
02/1994 Libya / Chad Territorial Dispute [Aozou Strip] Yes
09/1992 El Salvador / Honduras, Nicaragua intervening Land, Island and Maritime Frontier Dispute (subsequent Application for Revision of the Judgment... rejected 12/2003) Yes (appeal)1
12/1986 Burkina Faso / Mali Frontier Dispute Yes
06/1962 Cambodia / Thailand Temple of Preah Vihear Yes
11/1960 Honduras / Nicaragua Arbitral Award Made by the King of Spain on 23 December 1906 Yes
06/1959 Belgium / Netherlands Sovereignty over Certain Frontier Land [Zondereygen] Yes
11/1953 France / United Kingdom Minquiers and Ecrehos Yes
04/1933 Norway / Denmark Legal Status of Eastern Greenland (see also Legal Status of the South-Eastern Territory of Greenland) Yes
11/1925 UK / Turkey Interpretation of Article 3, Paragraph 2, of the Treaty of Lausanne [Mosul] Yes
09/1924 Yugoslavia / Albania Monastery of Saint-Naoum Yes
12/1923 Poland / Czechoslovakia Jaworzina Yes
River Issues
Award Date Claimants Subject Did Both Comply?
09/1997 Hungary / Slovakia Gabcikovo-Nagymaros Project No2
06/1937 Belgium / Netherlands Diversion of Water from the Meuse Yes
09/1929 Germany et al. / Poland Territorial Jurisdiction of the International Commission of the River Oder Yes
Maritime Issues (mixed territorial/maritime listed above)
Award Date Claimants Subject Did Both Comply?
06/1993 Denmark / Norway Maritime Delimitation in the Area between Greenland and Jan Mayen Yes
11/1991 Guinea-Bissau / Senegal Maritime Award (subsequent Maritime Delimitation between Guinea-Bissau and Senegal case ended by 11/1995 discontinuance of proceeedings) Yes (appeal)3
06/1985 Libya / Malta Continental Shelf Yes
10/1984 Canada / United States Delimitation of the Maritime Boundary in the Gulf of Maine Area Yes
02/1982 Tunisia / Libya Continental Shelf (subsequent Application for Revision and Interpretation rejected in 12/1985) Yes (appeal)4
07/1974 UK / Iceland Fisheries Jurisdiction Yes
07/1974 West Germany / Iceland Fisheries Jurisdiction Yes
02/1969 West Germany / Denmark North Sea Continental Shelf Yes
02/1969 West Germany / Netherlands North Sea Continental Shelf Yes
12/1951 UK / Norway Fisheries Yes
Currently Pending Cases
Award Date Claimants Subject Did Both Comply?
(Pending) Nicaragua / Honduras Maritime Delimitation between Nicaragua and Honduras in the Caribbean Sea N/A
(Pending) Nicaragua / Colombia Territorial and Maritime dispute N/A
(Pending) Malaysia / Singapore Sovereignty over Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh, Middle Rocks and South Ledge N/A
(Pending) Romania / Ukraine Maritime Delimitation in the Black Sea N/A
(Pending) Costa Rica / Nicaragua Dispute regarding Navigational and Related Rights N/A
(Pending) Argentina / Uruguay Pulp Mills on the River Uruguay N/A


1 The 1992 ICJ decision in the El Salvador-Honduras case has generally been accepted and carried out by both sides. A decade after the award, El Salvador appealed to the ICJ on the basis of newly discovered documents that might have affected a small portion of the overall award, but the ICJ rejected this appeal in December 2003 and upheld the original award.

2 The 1997 ICJ ruling in the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros case found both Hungary and Slovakia at fault, as both Hungary's unilateral withdrawal from the 1977 agreement over the dam project and Slovakia's unilateral decision to go ahead with Variant C of the project were ruled illegal. Compliance is coded as no rather than pending because it has been more than five years since the award was issued, although talks have occurred between the claimants over a mutually satisfactory way to execute the ICJ ruling.

3 Guinea-Bissau initially pressed its case over the maritime question following the November 1991 ICJ decision, through both bilateral negotiations and a further ICJ case. Both sides are considered to have complied with this decision, though, as Guinea-Bissau withdrew its objections and successfully requested the discontinuance of further ICJ proceedings in 1985.

4 The 1982 ICJ decision in the Libya-Tunisia case is considered to be complied with by both sides. A Tunisian request for revision and interpretation was addressed by a followup ICJ ruling in December 1985, which rejected the request for revision and issued the requested interpretation and clarification, and the matter has subsequently been considered resolved.

Excluded Cases

This table excludes the following cases, which involved advisory opinions rather than decisions over contentious cases:

This table excludes the following cases where the Court granted a request for discontinuance of proceedings in the case:

This table excludes the following cases where the Court decided that it did not have jurisdiction or otherwise could not hear the case:

This table excludes the following cases, which did not directly address territorial, river, or maritime claims (although they may have been related to such claims):
Last updated: 30 July 2018
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