Published online by Cambridge University Press: 12 September 2012
In the Case Concerning a Frontier Dispute (Burkina Faso and the Republic of Mali) the International Court of Justice noted that, given the acceptance of the principle of uti possidetis juris (reliance upon former colonial administrative boundaries) in the case by both parties it was not necessary to show that the principle was firmly established in international law where decolonization was involved. Nevertheless, the Court insisted that uti possidetis juris is a general principle of international law which exists to prevent the stability of new states being endangered by fratricidal struggles, themselves provoked by the challenging of frontiers following the withdrawal of the administering, colonial power. This is not just an administrative procedure in Africa but a rule of general scope. One might note the oblique way the issue of self-determination of peoples is side-stepped by such turns of phrases as that African states have been induced ‘judiciously to consent to the respecting of colonial frontiers and to take account of it in the interpretation of the principle of self-determination of peoples …’ This is a euphemism for the suppression of secessionist movements in African states.
This African decision has been applied by Europe's international lawyers in the context of the break-up of Yugoslavia. The Conference on Yugoslavia's Arbitration Commission, in its Opinion No. 3 (January 11, 1992), had to answer the question whether the internal boundaries between Croatia and Serbia and between Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia should be regarded as frontiers in terms of public international law – a question put by the Republic of Serbia.