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International Court of Justice in its Advisory Opinion on Western Sahara
International Court of Justice, Advisory Opinion on Western Sahara [1975] ICJR. The ICJ Opinion on Western Sahara is taken to be an authoritative rejection of the notion that land occupied by Indigenous peoples at the time a European power asserted sovereignty could be considered legally empty, or 'terra nullius'.

The majority, at p 39, stated that:

'Whatever differences of opinion there may have been among jurists, the State practice of the relevant period indicates that territories inhabited by tribes or peoples having a social and political organisation were not regarded as terra nullius. It shows that in the case of such territories the acquisition of sovereignty was not generally considered as effected unilaterally through 'occupation' of terra nullius by original title but through agreements concluded with local rulers.'

Judge Ammoun, Vice-President of the Court, gave a separate opinion and
concluded, at p 86, that:

'the concept of terra nullius, employed at all periods, to the brink of the twentieth century, to justify conquest and colonisation, stands condemned.'
Keywords: Africa, indigenous people, International Court of Justice, terra nullius, Western Sahara case, 1975

Author: Strelein, Lisa