North Sea continental shelf cases

North Sea continental shelf cases

Simple Music Player
Track Name
Track Artist


 North Sea Continental Shelf Cases ( Federal Republic of Germany v Denmark; Fedral Republic of Germany v Netherlands.)

Citation North Sea Continental Shelf Cases (Federal Republic of Germany v. Denmark; Federal Republic of Germany v. Netherlands) , I.C.J. Reports 1969, p.3, International Court of Justice (ICJ), 20 February 1969.

Jurisdiction – ICJ


  • The present case covers claims of three parties with regard to a Continental Shelf in North Sea, wherein both Denmark and Netherlands submitted individual disputes with Germany to the International Court of Justice. This was done via two Special Agreements to decide the applicable principles and rules of international law. The ICJ clubbed both the claims and gave a single judgment.
  • The problem pertains to the geographical location of these three countries. The boundary of the Federal Republic is concave in nature as opposed to the convex boundaries of Denmark and Netherlands. Denmark and Netherlands contended that the equidistance method should be followed, which is also provided in the Geneva Convention on Continental Shelf. They argued that this equidistance principle was a rule of customary international law, an a priori rule and a general rule of conventional practicality.
  • The Federal Republic of Germany denied its obligatory character as it was only a signatory to the Geneva Convention and had not ratified it. It claimed that the equidistance method was unfair to it, since it had a concave coastline and this method would lead to it having a lesser area in the Continental Shelf. The Federal Republic further argued for apportionment of the shelf in proportion of its coastline or sea-frontage


  • Is the Geneva Convention binding on a State that has not ratified it?
  • Is the equidistance rule international law? 

Judgement –

  • The Court found that the Geneva Convention is not binding on German, as it did not ratify it. 
  • While the Geneva Convention does call for the rule of equidistance, the Court found that the Geneva Convention was not binding upon Germany. 
  • Moreover, the stipulations outlined in the Geneva Convention would have allowed Germany to opt out in this area, so its membership in the treaty is a moot point. 
  • Upon inspection of the language of both the Geneva Convention and the Truman Proclamation, equidistance was found to be a last resort rather than an a priori rule.Also looking to these sources, the Court rejected claims which included equidistance in customary international law. 
  • Theses texts which originally included the rule of equidistance only did so for secondary purposes, and the utilization of it was insufficient to prove it to be either customary international law, or a general law of practicality.
  • The Court also pointed out mathematical problems of contradiction under the rule. 
  • The Court rejected Germany’s claim of proportional apportionment because doing so would intrude upon the natural claims due to States based on natural prolongations of land. Also, the Court’s role was to outline a mechanism of delimitation only. 
  • The Court found, therefore, that the two parties must draw up an agreement taking both the maximization of area and proportionality into account. These were to be based upon “equitable principles.” 
  • The holding here is somewhat inconclusive, but the opinion is significant to international law, regardless. 
  • Principles 
  • The international law elements of the case are the power of treaties, customary international law, and the principle of equidistance in claims to sea territory. 
  • The rule of law upheld in this case is the Geneva Convention. 
  • There are several principles in this case manifested in the Geneva Convention. 
  • The court rejected the principle of equidistance. It upheld, rather, the idea of “equitable principles,” which is only defined as those which maximizes land claims based on several cooperative factors. 
  • The Court also upholds the principle of customary international law by using the text of the Geneva Convention and its purpose to exclude the mechanism of equidistance. Conclusions The Court’s ruling has a terminal impact on the principle of equidistance and its utilization through the Geneva Convention. 
  • The Court does not proscribe its use, but eliminates its legal credibility. This, of course, has no impact on the rest of the Geneva Convention. 
  • As the holding does not prescribe any specific remedy, this case does not significantly aid in any future decisions, other than for the purpose of denying the equidistance principle legal weight.

For more info:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *