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Frontier Dispute Case (Burkina Faso/Mali)

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    Bloomberg Law

    Citation. I.C.J., 1986 I.C.J. 554.

    Brief Fact Summary. A declaration made by the Malian Head of State was interpreted to be a unilateral act.


    Synopsis of Rule of Law. States are bound by the terms of unilateral declarations made by head of state only when the intention confers on the declaration, the character of a legal undertaking.


    Issue. Are states bound by the terms of unilateral declarations made by heads of states, only when the intention confers on the declaration, the character of a legal undertaking?


    Held. Yes. States are bound by the terms of unilateral declarations made by head of state only when the intention confers on the declaration, the character of a legal undertaking. It is left for the court to “form its own view of the meaning and scope intended by the author of a unilateral declaration which might create a legal obligation.” In this case, nothing holds the parties back from entering into a formal agreement. Hence, there is no basis to interpret the Mali Head of State’s declaration as a unilateral act with legal implications since no such agreement was entered into.


    Discussion. The French government’s unilateral declaration was interpreted by the Court in the Nuclear Test cases as effectively communicating the intent to terminate atmospheric testing. The French government had no alternative but to express its intentions by unilateral declarations. It is not so with this case because the parties involved had the normal method of formal agreement available.



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