25 April, 2013

Niger and Burkina Faso Resolve Territorial Dispute

Update: In May 2015, Niger and Burkina Faso formally agreed to implement this ICJ ruling, with the practical aspects of exchanging territories to be completed by the end of the following year.

Map of the disputed territory between Niger and Burkina Faso, which was divided between the two countries in an April 2013 ruling by the International Court of Justice
Map by Evan Centanni. Sources: ICJ, Natural Earth. Africa inset based on this map by TUBS/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA).
By Evan Centanni
Border Dispute Settled
Last week, a territorial dispute between the West African countries of Niger and Burkina Faso was resolved peacefully with a ruling from the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Both countries' governments agreed to respect the court's ruling on where their border should lie, a question which had persisted ever since they both achieved independence in 1960.

In the ruling, the court drew an official border based on a careful analysis of a 1927 document establishing the pre-independence boundary between the two former French colonies, also turning to a 1960 French map which both countries had agreed to use as a secondary reference. The new border splits the disputed area between Burkina Faso and Niger, and will help put an end to confusion regarding policing and tax collection in the border area.

The ICJ, or World Court, is a part of the U.N., and is tasked mainly with arbitrating disagreements between U.N. member countries. It should not be confused with the International Criminal Court (ICC), which prosecutes individuals for war crimes. Niger and Burkina Faso had agreed by treaty to send the case of their disputed border to the ICJ for settlement, and both have expressed satisfaction with the result.

Further Reading: Full Text of ICJ ruling on Burkina Faso/Niger Frontier Dispute (PDF)

Unclaimed Land
An interesting curiosity noted in this case is that Burkina Faso and Niger's respective border claims left a small strip of land claimed by neither country. The area, stretching between two locations referred to as the Tong-Tong and Tao astronomic markers, was left unclaimed because Burkina Faso considered the border to be a straight line running between the two markers, while Niger also respected a third marker placed a bit east of the line.

The third marker had originally been intended to lie exactly along the line between Tong-Tong and Tao, but was placed inaccurately. It is not entirely clear why Niger would choose to define its border in a way that would give it less territory than did Burkina Faso's definition, but in any case the court discounted the third marker, giving the strip of land to Niger in the final ruling. A more famous (and still outstanding) case of a territory not claimed by any country is the Bir Tawil "triangle" between Egypt and Sudan.

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