Different processes through which states acquire their territories

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The processes through which states acquire territories are derived from the Roman Laws governing possession and ownership. Acquiring a territory implies that a state can exercise its sovereign authority over it. A territory can be acquired by claiming land that had no previous owner (original acquisition) or transferring ownership from one state to another (derivative acquisition). Processes of original acquisition are occupation, accretion, and prescription. Processes of derivative acquisition are cession, annexation, and conquest.

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Occupation

Occupation is the declaration of sovereignty over territory that is not under the control of another state. Under the international law, a state must show its presence and control over the particular territory for the title acquired through occupation to be valid (Abass 202). The effectiveness of control requires the claimant state to fulfill two elements. First, it should show the intention to occupy permanently and have the will to act as sovereign. Second, the state should display continuous and peaceful authority. The physical assumption of control is manifested by establishing administrative and legislative structures and signing treaties with other states recognizing the occupation by the claimant state (Abass 202).

Prescription

Prescription refers to the process through which a state acquires sovereignty through the continued occupation of a territory for a long period.  The territory may have been previously owned by another state, but the new acquisition should be peaceful, made public, and should be for an extended duration (Lazo 27). Under the U.N. charter and international law, prescription that is effected using force is illegal. When there are signs of objection or protest by the losing sate, the acquisition is nullified.

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Accretion

Accretion refers to geographical processes where new land is created through natural causes and is attached to any existing land. For example, an island can be created in the mouth of a river, a river can dry, or the emergence of islands after the occurrence under-sea volcanoes (Lazo 27). When the new land emerges within the boundaries of a state, it becomes part of its territory. When any new territory is added through accretion, there is no need for formal acts from the acquiring state.

Cession

Cession refers to the transfer of a territory from one state to the other. Cession can occur voluntarily or be the aftermath of a war. It can also be in form of a gift, sale, lease, exchange, or a merger (Lazo 27). A perfect example of cession is in 1803 when France gave Louisiana to the U.S. or when Russia sold Alaska to the U.S. in 1867. Cession is realized through treaties and states may have to consult their citizens or inhabitants of a territory before ceding its sovereignty.

Conquest and annexation

Conquest is the acquiring of a territory using force. In the conquest process, a state defeats its opponent in war and occupies its entire or part of the land. The traditional international law recognized it as an acceptable process of acquiring a territory, but it is no longer acceptable. After a state conquered another with the help of the military, what followed was annexation. Annexation involves the inclusion of a territory into the realm of another state (Lazo 27). Unlike cession, annexation does not involve the signing of agreements and treaties between the concerned parties or the international community.

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  1. Abass, A. (2014). International law: Text, cases, and materials.
  2. Lazo, R. S. (2009). Philippine governance and the 1987 constitution. Manila, Philippines: Published & distributed by Rex Book Store.
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