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State Succession in International Law

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As per international law state succession is “the replacement of one state by another in responsibility for the international relations of territory.” In simple words, state succession means the transfer of a territory from one state to another state, meaning thereby from the predecessor state to the successor state.

Forms of State Succession

State succession can occur in different forms:

  • When states breakups or disappear which led to the emergence of two or more new states.
  • When a part of a territory of state breaks and become a new state.
  • When a colony becomes independent this led to the emergence of a new state.
  • When two or more different states merge and create a new single state.
  • When a state is taken over by another state.
  • When a particular portion of a territory of a state is transferred to other states employing cession.

Codification of the Rules Governing State Succession

The concept of state succession is quite uncertain and dynamic. But despite that The International Law Commission has attempted to codify the rules of state succession in three areas:

  1. Succession with respect to treaties
  2. Succession with respect to public property, debts, and archives
  3. The succession of states and nationality of natural persons

The succession of State With Respect to Treaties

The practice of state succession relating to treaties is inconsistent. In some cases, the treaty obligations are transferred from the predecessor state to the successor state. For example- Breakup of Yugoslavia, USSR break up and continuation of Russia, Austro- Hungarian break up and the emergence of Austria and Hungry, etc. In other cases, treaty obligations are not transferred from predecessor to successor state. For example Separation of Belgium from the Netherlands, the Succession of Panama from Columbia, and Succession of Finland from the USSR, etc. This practice relates to treaties also depends on the distinction between real and personal treaties. Personal treaties are a kind of contract that can only remain in force by the continued existence of the parties contracting. Real treaties create real rights and real obligations with respect to the territory. The personal treaties are more likely to be affected by state succession than the real treaties.

The succession of States With respect To State Property, Debts and Public Archives

On this matter, the Vienna Convention was adopted in 1983. In case of the total succession, the common rule is that the successor state would inherit all the property owned and the debts due by the predecessor state. In the case of Partial succession, the rule is that the property and debts go with the territory. So the property associated with the transferred territory would pass to the successor state. Similarly, the debts incurred by the government on the territory which would pass to the successor state will also be discharged by it only. In the case of public achieves, the rule reflected by the Vienna Convention in 1983 was that all the documents necessary for the administration of the transferred area would be given to the successor state.

The succession of States and Its Impact on the Nationality of Natural Persons

The general rule in case of the nationality of natural persons in case of state succession is that each state has the sovereign right to decide that who qualifies as one of its nationals. This sovereign right to all States is mitigated from the rule developed by the International Court of Justice in the Nottebohm Case. This rule explains that the nationality of a state can be invoked against the other state if it reflects a genuine link between the individual and its national state. The general rule in case of succession of stats is that the habitual residence of an individual is a relevant contributing factor to decide whether that person loses the nationality of the predecessor state and acquires that of a successor state.


Written by Yashika Jindal

Yashika is a second-year law student at UILS, Panjab University Chandigarh. She wants to a Judge so that she can serve society and bring a revolutionary change in the legal framework. She is a passionate and hard-working person who loves to learn new and innovative things. Apart from the law, she has a great interest in social work and music. She is always on the hunt for great opportunities that can help to develop her personality and legal skills.

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