uti possidetis juris

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Uti possidetis juris (UPJ) is a principle of customary international law that serves to preserve the boundaries of colonies emerging as States. Originally applied to establish the boundaries of decolonized territories in Latin America, UPJ has become a rule of wider application, notably in Africa. The policy behind the principle has been explained by the International Court of Justice in the Burkina Faso / Mali Frontier Dispute

“[UPJ is a] general principle, which is logically connected with the phenomenon of the obtaining of independence, wherever it occurs. It's obvious purpose is to prevent the independence and stability of new States being endangered by fratricidal struggles provoked by the challenging of frontiers following the withdrawal of the administering power…Its purpose, at the time of the achievement of independence by the former Spanish colonies of America, was to scotch any designs which non-American colonizing powers might have on regions which had been assigned by the former metropolitan State to one division or another, but which were still uninhabited or unexplored.”

Frontier Dispute ICJ Judgment, 22 December 1986, ¶20

See also: Principle of Self Determination, colonialism, settler colonialism

[Last updated in July of 2024 by the Wex Definitions Team]