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Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law [MPEPIL]

Condominium and Coimperium

Fred L Morrison

Sovereignty — Jurisdiction of states, territoriality principle — Territory, non-self-governing — Governments

Published under the auspices of the Max Planck Foundation for International Peace and the Rule of Law under the direction of Rüdiger Wolfrum.

A.  Definition

A condominium is a territory over which two or more States jointly exercise governmental authority. (see also Governments). The word coimperium is also sometimes used in this context. There is no formal distinction between the two words.

Traditional condominiums involved the joint exercise of sovereign authority (see also Sovereignty); modern instances frequently involve joint exercise of more limited authority. The States exercising the condominium may administer the territory jointly or they may retain common authority only over major decisions, allowing each to exercise jurisdiction over part of the territory in other matters (see also Jurisdiction of States). In some cases they may leave routine administration to some local authority.

B.  Examples

1.  European Condominiums

In Europe, condominiums were sometimes created to deal the status of some border or port city (see also Ports) or other disputed area. If each of two neighbouring States wished to control a territory—or, at the very least, one wished to assure itself that the other State would not have exclusive control over that territory—they would enter into an agreement under which they jointly exercised condominium or control over the territory. Such agreements could allow citizens of either country to have free access to the condominium and to be protected against discrimination based on their nationality. They could limit the stationing of troops or building of fortifications by either party in the area. Usually the two sovereign powers would jointly control the international relations of the condominium area, requiring the assent of both to any treaties or other agreements. They might also jointly control internal affairs, but they could also leave those matters to local authorities.

Examples of earlier European condominiums include the joint control of Moresnet by Prussia and the United Netherlands (later Belgium) from 1816 until 1920. The Final Act of the Vienna Congress (1815) gave this tiny territory of less than 4 square kilometres and fewer than 3,000 residents neutral status. It was governed by royal commissioners from the two countries, assisted by a local mayor, whom they appointed, and a locally chosen council. Products of the territory, primarily zinc from a mine located there, could be sent to either country free of customs duties (see also Customs Law, International).

In other circumstances neighbouring States have created joint regimes for border rivers or other watercourses (see also International Watercourses).

The highly complex arrangements in the Treaty of Peace between Denmark, Austria and Prussia for the governance of Schleswig-Holstein and Lauenburg by Denmark, Austria and Prussia during the 19th century may provide another example. These arrangements primarily related to succession to the throne of the duchies and their inseparability, not to the immediate governance of the territories.

Other condominiums had feudal origins. Andorra, a small territory in the mountains between France and Spain, is sometimes identified as a condominium. Since feudal times, suzerainty over the territory has been shared by certain French nobility, later by the French Head of State (see also Heads of State), and the Roman Catholic bishop of Urgel, in Spain. The President of France no longer exercises significant control over the area and the Bishop of Urgel is clearly not a sovereign State, so the territory does not qualify as an international condominium. Andorra is now recognized as a sovereign State and is a member of the United Nations (UN).

2.  Colonial Condominiums

France and Great Britain gradually established a condominium over the New Hebrides Islands (now Vanuatu; New Hebrides [Vanuatu]) in the course of the 19th century. In 1847 they concluded a treaty under which both of them agreed not to colonize the islands (see also Colonialism), but they gradually found it in their mutual interest to exercise increasing colonial authority and to exclude other countries. By 1906 the Convention between the United Kingdom and France concerning the New Hebrides had established a common regime for the government of the territory, under which the citizens of each of the signatories would be governed by their own authorities, but the indigenous inhabitants would be subject to joint control (see also Indigenous Peoples). The condominium ended when Vanuatu became independent in 1980 (see also Decolonization: British Territories; Decolonization: French Territories). Territorial Integrity and Political Independence).

Egypt and Great Britain governed the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan as another condominium from 1899 to 1955, based on the Agreement relative to the future Administration of the Sudan. The Khedive of Egypt claimed authority over the Sudan, but was unable successfully to assert control. With the aid of the British, he subdued local forces. The two States then exercised joint sovereignty over the Sudan. The government of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan was headed by a governor-general who was appointed by Egypt on the nomination of the British government and could only be removed by joint agreement of the two countries. The British had a predominant role. As decolonization began, the Sudan became independent in 1956.

3.  Joint Administration in Post-War Situations

10  In other circumstances two or more States have jointly exercised jurisdiction and control, but not asserted sovereignty, over territories.

11  In the peace treaties after World War I, a number of territories were made subject to international control or other special regimes. These included Danzig (Danzig, Free City of), Memel (see also Memel Territory Statute, Interpretation of, Case), eastern Galicia, and western Thrace. These arrangements did not assert sovereignty over the territory. For example, the special regime for Danzig established by the Treaty of Peace with Germany (see also Versailles Peace Treaty [1919]) provided that the territory would become a free city, but granted Poland and the League of Nations certain specified rights.

12  In the first half of the 20th century, European States also created special multinational arrangements to exercise control of some small areas outside Europe. There was, for example, a special arrangement for the governance of Tangier (see the Convention Regarding the Organization of the Tangier Zone), and an international zone in Shanghai. Each was governed in a condominium-like fashion by international authorities in accordance with treaties with the local sovereign.

13  The systems of mandates under the League of Nations and of trust territories under the UN had similar characteristics (United Nations Trusteeship System). The administering States did not have sovereignty over the territories, but were acting on behalf of the entire international community, guided by specific international objectives and subject to review by the competent international bodies.

14  In the aftermath of World War II, military occupations were imposed by the Allied Powers in some parts of Europe and Asia (see also Germany, Occupation after World War II). In post-war Germany, the Allied Control Council, consisting of the four major Allied Powers, was the nominal occupying authority over all of Berlin and made some regulations for its government, but with the emergence of the Cold War (1947–91), this institution had little practical effect. Further south, Trieste was administered jointly by the United Kingdom and the United States of America for nearly a decade (see the Permanent Statute of the Free Territory of Trieste as embodied in Arts 21 and 22 and Annexes VI to X of the Treaty of Peace with Italy of 1947), before it was divided between Italy and Yugoslavia. These military occupations were not sovereign condominiums but did give extensive powers to the States controlling them (see also Occupation, Belligerent; Occupation, Pacific).

C.  Recent Developments

15  There are a number of more recent condominium-like situations. The governance of Antarctica and of the deep seabed provide examples (International Seabed Area). Other cases involve the international administration of territories in post-conflict situations by the UN or by groups of States that have engaged in humanitarian or other interventions (see also Humanitarian Intervention). Intervention on Invitation

1.  Antarctica and the Deep Seabed

16  A number of States have asserted sovereignty over parts of Antarctica. By the Antarctic Treaty they have suspended, but not renounced, those claims and have established an international organization that provides common standards for certain aspects of the use of the continent. Only a limited number of States, primarily those with activities in Antarctica, have voting rights in the organization (see also International Organizations or Institutions, Voting Rules and Procedures). The agreements create a kind of non-sovereign condominium of the members of the organization to determine major issues for the continent. Immediate administration of individual scientific bases and other activities on the continent is, however, carried out by the individual States in the light of those common standards.

17  The International Seabed Authority (ISA) established under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea also exercises a kind of condominium over mineral resources of the deep seabed. It, however, has broader membership. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea declares that these resources are part of the common heritage of mankind (Para. 6 Preamble and Art. 136 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea). It then gives its institutions, which are representative of the States Parties to the agreement, the right to allocate exploration rights and to regulate various aspects of the exploitation of the seabed. It is thus not an assertion of sovereignty over the deep seabed in the traditional sense of that term, but it is an exercise of an extensive control of the area by the collective action of the States adhering to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

2.  Post-Conflict Governance

18  The UN has created governmental institutions and exercised control in a number of post-conflict situations, including Bosnia-Herzegovina (see the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina), East Timor (see UN Security Council [‘UNSC’] Resolution 1272 [1999] of 25 October 1999), and Kosovo (see UNSC Res 1244 [1999] of 10 June 1999). In these cases authority over the territory is exercised by the UN on behalf of the entire international community. It is usually exercised through a Special Representative designated by the Secretary-General of the United Nations. This international authority is only intended to function for a limited period of time, and is not exercised by individual States.

19  In other situations in which States engaged in humanitarian or other intervention have wrested control of a territory from a previous government or have intervened to end a chaotic civil war (see also Armed Conflict, Non-International), the intervening States face the problem of governing it. The coalition of States that engaged in the military intervention in Iraq in 2003 created a Coalition Provisional Authority the following year that governed the country for more than a year (Iraq, Invasion of [2003]). Since the previous government of Iraq had collapsed, the Coalition Provision Authority acted beyond the scope of a traditional occupying force to provide a broad range of governmental services.

20  While both of these kinds of situations have some similarities to the traditional condominium, there are also important differences, especially the temporary nature of the exercise of authority and the absence of a claim to permanent sovereignty.

D.  Evaluation

21  Condominiums are of decreasing importance in the modern world. Several factors account for this. First, decolonization and self-determination dictate that there will be no further colonial condominiums. Secondly, changes in communication and transportation have made it much more difficult for a small territory to remain isolated from its surroundings. Practical considerations, such as labour mobility and social State issues, will almost necessitate consolidation with one of the neighbouring larger States. So traditional condominiums are either being absorbed into one neighbouring State—as in the case of Moresnet and Trieste—or becoming independent States—as in the case of Andorra, Sudan, and Vanuatu.

22  Condominium-like arrangements may have a role, however, in post-conflict situations in which some States keep the peace and supervise government operations as the territory seeks a new governmental beginning. These arrangements have the greatest prospect of success if they are endorsed by the UN. Unlike traditional condominiums, however, they are not designed to be permanent institutions, but rather transitional steps to a new decision on sovereignty. They may also have a role in the regulation of areas beyond traditional national jurisdiction, such as the deep seabed and the polar regions. The primary issue here will be the crafting of the institutions to exercise that joint jurisdiction.

Select Bibliography

  • A Coret Le condominium (Pichon Paris 1960).
  • A Watts International Law and the Antarctic Treaty System (Grotius Cambridge 1992).
  • VP Bantz ‘The International Legal Status of Condominia’ (1998) 12 FlaJIntlL 77–152.

Select Documents

  • Act of the Congress of Vienna (signed and entered into force 9 June 1815) (1815) 64 CTS 453.
  • Agreement between Egypt and Great Britain relative to the Future Administration of the Sudan (signed 19 January 1899) (1898–99) 187 CTS 155.
  • Antarctic Treaty (signed 1 December 1959, entered into force 23 June 1961) 402 UNTS 71.
  • Convention between Poland and the Free City of Danzig (signed 9 November 1920, entered into force 12 December 1921) 6 LNTS 189.
  • Convention between the United Kingdom and France concerning the New Hebrides (adopted 20 October 1906, entered into force 9 January 1907) (1907) 1 AJIL Supp 179–200.
  • Convention regarding the Organization of the Tangier Zone (adopted 18 December 1923, entered into force 14 May 1924) 28 LNTS 541.
  • General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina (signed and entered into force 14 December 1995) (1996) 35 ILM 89.
  • Treaty of Peace between Austria, Prussia and Denmark (adopted and entered into force 30 October 1864) 54 British and Foreign State Papers 522.
  • Treaty of Peace with Germany (signed 28 June 1919, entered into force 10 January 1920) 225 CTS 188.
  • Treaty of Peace with Italy (adopted 10 February 1947, entered into force 15 September 1947) 49 UNTS 3.
  • United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (concluded 10 December 1982, entered into force 16 November 1994) 1833 UNTS 3.
  • UNSC Res 1244 (1999) (10 June 1999) SCOR 54th year 32.
  • UNSC Res 1272 (1999) (25 October 1999) SCOR 54th year 130.