Acquisition and Loss of State Territory by Pranav K @Lexcliq


Acquisition of a territory means the acquisition of a sovereignty over such territory. An existing State which may acquire a territory may already be under the sovereignty of another state or may not belong to any state at all i.e. res nullis (Latin term which means ‘nobody’s’ land) . While the former is called derivative mode wherein acquisition incurs in loss for an another state the latter is called original mode where there is acquisition but no loss of territory. Following are the different modes of acquiring a territory :

(1) Occupation: The term ‘occupation’ has been derived from the Roman word occupatio which means acquisition of res nullis. Occupation in International Law means an act of appropriation by a State over a territory which does not belong to any State. Such territory may be uninhabited like an Island or may be inhabited by people whose community is not considered as a State. As soon as a territory is Occupied by a State it becomes subject to rules of International law likewise no other State can lawfully acquire the territory thereafter.

(2) Annexation: The term ‘annexation’ means forceful acquisition of territory by one State at the expense of the other. When a state annexes a territory either the entire territory or a part of the territory it establishes its sovereignty over the annexed territory. An annexation can only be said to have taken place when not the territory has been occupied but also the intention to occupy the territory permanently. It should be noted that as long as intention to annex the territory is not indicated, the territory acquired is termed as “military occupation”. Annexation can take place in two ways, Firstly, By an Unilateral Decision and Secondly, By the Treaty

(3) Accretion: Accretion is when the increase of land through new formations such new formations can be only made by a modification of the existing state territory, for instance, where an island rises within a river or part of a river itself. Which is completely within the territory of one and the same State and in such a case there is no increase of territory to correspond with the increase of land. Accretions may be Natural or Artificial. It is natural when it occurs through the operation of nature and It is artificial when it is the outcome of Human work.

(4) Prescription: Prescription means the acquisition of territory by an adverse holding continued for a certain length of time peacefully. IF a state holds control over a territory for a long period of time without any interruption and possesses it de facto that concerned territory becomes a part of a State. This mode is known as Prescription. Before acquisition of a territory could be made through prescription, three conditions must be satisfied. Firstly, possession of territory should be peaceful and without any interruption. Secondly, it should be continuous and Thirdly, possession should be held fairly for a long time.

(5) Cession: Cession is the transfer of sovereignty over a definite territory by one State to another State. Oppenheim defines cession as the transfer of sovereignty over State territory by the Owner state to another state. The State which allows a transfer to take place is called the ceding State. A treaty for ceding a territory may be concluded in two ways. Firstly, it may be the outcome of peaceful negotiations such as sale, exchange or Secondly, gift or it may be the result of war culmination in the peace treaty.

(6) Award: Territory may also be acquired through adjudication by a judicial organ such as International Court of Justice, ad hoc arbitrary tribunals or conciliation commissions. If a given territory which is a part of one State and later after an Objection is raised by another state which is submitted to the judicial organ for settlement which gives an award in favor of the latter such title is regarded to have been passes through award.

(7) Plebiscite: A State may also acquire territory if the inhabitants of a given territory wishes to merge itself with another State. It may be noted that the question of ascertaining the wishes of the people arise when there is a dispute as to the status of a given Territory.


Acquisition of one State territory by a State, except in cases of occupation is a loss of State territory of another state. Thus, a State may lose territory by (a) Secession, (b) Grant of Independence by the Metropolitan State, (c) Dereliction (or Abandonment), (d) Vanishment

(a) Secession: In the case of secession a State loses a part of its territory to which there is no corresponding acquisition of territory by another state. In such cases, losing part after severance, acquires new and separate international personality. Secession may either take place peacefully or by revolt. Secession may also take place by the unilateral declaration of independence by a part of the territory of an existing State.

(b) Grant Of Independence by the Metropolitan State: Grant of Independence by the Metropolitan State to its colonies is another mode of losing territory, where a State loses the territory but without acquisition of another State.

(c) Dereliction (or Abandonment): Dereliction frees a territory from the sovereignty of the present owner State. It is effected when the owner of a State completely abandons the territory with the intention of withdrawing from it forever and relinquishes sovereignty over it. Dereliction requires first actual abandonment of a territory and Secondly, the intention of giving up sovereignty over it.

(d) Vanishment: A State may lose its territory generally when islands vanishes due to volcanic eruptions, land subsistence, soil erosion and other natural calamities. An earthquake may also result in the Vanishment of an island


By- Pranav K @Lexcliq


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