North Sea Continental Shelf Cases (Federal Republic of Germany v Denmark; Federal Republic of Germany v Netherlands): ICJ 20 Feb 1969

ICJ The dispute related to the delimitation of the continental shelf between the Federal Republic of Germany and Denmark on the one hand, and between the Federal Republic of Germany and the Netherlands on the other. The Parties asked the Court to state the principles and rules of international law applicable, and undertook thereafter to carry out the delimitations on that basis. The Court rejected the contention of Denmark and the Netherlands to the effect that the delimitations in question had to be carried out in accordance with the principle of equidistance as defined in Article 6 of the 1958 Geneva Convention on the Continental Shelf, holding: – that the Federal Republic, which had not ratified the Convention, was not legally bound by the provisions of Article 6; – that the equidistance principle was not a necessary consequence of the general concept of continental shelf rights, and was not a rule of customary international law.
The court gave guidance on the approach to be taken where a treaty made between certain parties is said to have become binding on other states not party to the treaty: ‘The Court must now proceed to the last stage in the argument put forward on behalf of Denmark and the Netherlands. This is to the effect that even if there was at the date of the Geneva Convention [on the Continental Shelf, 1958] no rule of customary international law in favour of the equidistance principle, and no such rule was crystallized in Article 6 of the Convention, nevertheless such a rule has come into being since the Convention, partly because of its own impact, partly on the basis of subsequent State practice, – and that this rule, being now a rule of customary international law binding on all States, including therefore the Federal Republic, should be declared applicable to the delimitation of the boundaries between the Parties’ respective continental shelf areas in the North Sea.
In so far as this contention is based on the view that Article 6 of the Convention has had the influence, and has produced the effect, described, it clearly involves treating that Article as a norm-creating provision which has constituted the foundation of, or has generated a rule which, while only conventional or contractual in its origin, has since passed into the general corpus of international law, and is now accepted as such by the opinio juris, so as to have become binding even for countries which have never, and do not, become parties to the Convention. There is no doubt that this process is a perfectly possible one and does from time to time occur: it constitutes indeed one of the recognized methods by which new rules of customary international law may be formed. At the same time this result is not lightly to be regarded as having been attained.’

[1969] ICJ Rep 3
Cited by:
CitedRegina v Immigration Officer at Prague Airport and another, ex parte European Roma Rights Centre and others HL 9-Dec-2004
Extension oh Human Rights Beyond Borders
The appellants complained that the system set up by the respondent where Home Office officers were placed in Prague airport to pre-vet applicants for asylum from Romania were dsicriminatory in that substantially more gypsies were refused entry than . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.


Updated: 27 December 2021; Ref: scu.220673