Antarctica - Legal regimeSome points on the legal regime in Antarctica:
- Antarctica has no permanent human populations, so there is no natural sovereignty over the land of the continent.
- By 1920, seven countries had claims to territory based on right of discovery and display of authority. Australia claimed 42% of the continent, because of the work of Sir Douglas Mawson. France claimed Terre Adélie within the Australian claimed area based on the explorations of Dumont d'Urville. Whaling activities, exploration and other activities also gave rise to claims. The Antarctic Peninsula is the focus for the greatest number of conflicting claims. The US adoped the Hughes Doctrine in 1924, which stated that mere discovery is not sufficient grounds for territorial claim. It did not recognize the claims of any other nation.
- A period of base building during and after World War II by
Britain, Chile and Argentina led to conflicting claims and a suggestion
that the matter be taken to the International Court for resolution.
Chile and Argentina proposed an international conference instead. The
US proposed that Antarctica should fall under the protection of the
United Nations and the land held in "condominium" or joint sovereignty.
Some interested nations would have been excluded and therefore
objected. In 1948, Professor Julio Escudero of Chile proposed a freeze
on all claims as a way to avoid conflict. This became the basis for the
Antarctic treaty arrangement.
- Claims of sovereignty are thus held in abeyance for the duration of the Antarctic Treaty.
- The consultative countries establish the rules, based on the 1959 Antarctic treaty, for the area south of 60°S. The adhering nations also agree to abide by these rules.
- Each country that has ratified the Antarctic Treaty agrees to these rules. However, the individual countries have jurisdiction over their citizens and national law is applied.
- A ship at sea is subject to the laws of the country of the ship's registration. Passengers may also be regulated by laws of several other countries, including their own.
McGonigal, D. and Woodworth, L. (2001). The complete encyclopedia of Antarctica and the Arctic. Willowdale, ON: Firefly Books, p. 520-21.
Antarctic Treaty Secretariat. Documents. http://www.ats.aq/docarch.htm