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Clipperton Island Case (France v Mexico) (1932)

FACTS: France claimed to have occupied an island but Mexico also claimed that Spain
discovered it and that it was the successor.

Clipperton Island is an uninhabited island coral atoll in the eastern Pacific Ocean, southwest
of Mexico, west of Costa Rica and northwest of Galapagos Islands, Equador. The island was
discovered by French.

They drew up the first map and annexed it to France. The first scientific expedition took
place in 1725 under Frenchman M. Bocage, who lived on the island for several months.

Mexico also claimed it due to activities undertaken therein as early as 1848-1849. On


November 17, 1858, Emperor Napoleon III annexed it as part of the French colony of
Tahiti. This did not settle the ownership question. After which, there were no apparent acts
of sovereignty on the part of France. The island remained without population. On November
24, 1897, French naval authorities found three Americans working for the American Guano
Company, who had raised the American flag. U.S. authorities denounced their act, assuring
the French that they did not intend to assert American sovereignty.

Mexico and France signed a compromise in 1909, agreeing to submit the dispute over
sovereignty over Clipperton Island to binding arbitration by King Victor Emanuel of Italy.

Issue:

The issue is who, between the France and Mexico, has the sovereignty over the Clipperton
Island.

HELD: For occupation you also need to possess the land which France did. (Arbitrator: King
Victor Emmanuel III of Italy) that island was in the legal situation of terratorium nullius,
and, therefore, susceptible of occupation. The question remains whether France proceeded
to an effective occupation, satisfying the conditions required by international law for the
validity of this kind of territorial acquisition.

It is beyond doubt that by immemorial usage having the force of law, besides the animus
occupandi, the actual, and not the nominal, taking of possession is a necessary condition of
occupation. This taking of possession consists in the act, or series of acts, by which the
occupying state reduces to its possession the territory in question and takes steps to
exercise exclusive authority there. Strictly speaking, and in ordinary cases, that only takes
place when the state establishes in the territory itself an organization capable of making its
laws respected. But this step is, properly speaking, but a means of procedure to the taking
of possession, and, therefore, is not identical with the latter. There may also be cases where
it is unnecessary to have recourse to this method. Thus, if a territory, by virtue of the fact
that it was completely uninhabited, is, from the first moment when the occupying state
makes its appearance there, at the absolute and undisputed disposition of that state, from
that moment the taking of possession must be considered as accomplished, and the
occupation is thereby completed.
There is no reason to suppose that France has subsequently lost her right by derelictio,
since she never had the animus of abandoning the island, and the fact that she has not
exercised her authority there in a positive manner does not imply the forfeiture of an
acquisition already definitively perfected.3

In 1931 Victor Emanuel issued his arbitral decision in the Clipperton Island Case, declaring
Clipperton to be a French possession.[23][24][25] The French rebuilt the lighthouse and
settled a military outpost, which remained for seven years before being abandoned.