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Maritime Delimitation and Territorial Questions (Qatar v. Bahrain)

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    Bloomberg Law

    Citation. I.C.J., 1994 I.C.J. 112

    Brief Fact Summary. A claim to settle a dispute involving sovereignty over certain islands, sovereign rights over certain shoals and delimitation of a maritime boundary was filed by Qatar (P) in the International Court of Justice against Bahrain (D). The Court’s jurisdiction was however disputed by Bahrain (D).


    Synopsis of Rule of Law. An international agreement creating rights and obligations can be constituted by the signatories to the minutes of meetings and letters exchanged.


    Facts. A dispute concerning sovereignty over certain islands and shoals, including the delimitation of a maritime boundary were issues upon which Qatar (P) and Bahrain (D) sought to resolve for 20 years. During this period of time, letters were exchanged and acknowledged by both parties heads of state. A Tripartite Committee “for the purpose of approaching the International Court of Justice…..” was formed by representatives of Qatar (P), Bahrain (D) and Saudi Arabia. Though the committee met several time, it failed to produce an agreement on the specific terms for submitting the dispute to the Court. Eventually, the meetings culminated in “Minutes”, which reaffirmed the process and stipulated that the parties “may” submit the dispute to the I.C.J. after giving the Saudi King six months to resolve the dispute. The Court’s jurisdiction was disputed by Bahrain (D) when Qatar (P) filed a claim in the I.C.J.


    Issue. Yes. An international agreement creating rights and obligations can be constituted by the signatories to the minutes of meetings and letters exchanged. Though Bahrain (D) argued that the Minutes were only a record of negotiation and could not serve as a basis for the I.C.J.’s jurisdiction, both parties agreed that the letters constituted an international agreement with binding force.
    International agreements do not take a single form under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, and the Court has enforced this rule in the past. In this case, the Minutes not only contain the record of the meetings between the parties, it also contained the reaffirmation of obligations previously agreed to and agreement to allow the King of Saudi Arabia to try to find a solution to the dispute during a six-month period, and indicated the possibility of the involvement of the I.C.J. The Minutes stipulated commitments to which the parties agreed, thereby creating rights and obligations in international law. This is the basis therefore of the existence of international agreement.
    On the part of the Bahrain’s (D) Foreign Minister, he argued that no agreement existed because he never intended to enter an agreement fails on the grounds that he signed documents creating rights and obligations for his country. Also, Qatar’s (P) delay in applying to the United Nations Secretariat does not indicate that Qatar (P) never considered the Minutes to be an international agreement as Bahrain (D) argued. However, the registration and non-registration with the Secretariat does not have any effect on the validity of the agreement.


    Held. Yes. An international agreement creating rights and obligations can be constituted by the signatories to the minutes of meetings and letters exchanged. Though Bahrain (D) argued that the Minutes were only a record of negotiation and could not serve as a basis for the I.C.J.’s jurisdiction, both parties agreed that the letters constituted an international agreement with binding force.


    Discussion. There is no doubt that language plays a vital role in influencing a court’s decision as to whether an agreement has been entered into and in this particular case, the language was the main focus of the I.C.J and it was the contents of the Minutes that persuaded the I.C.J. to reject the Bahrain foreign minister’s (D) claim that he did not intend to enter into an agreement. Where this is compared to general U.S. contract law, where a claim by one of the parties that no contract existed because there was no meeting of the minds might be the ground upon which a U.S. court would consider whether a contract did exist with more care and thought than the I.C.J. gave the foreign minister of Bahrain’s (D) claims.



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