United Kingdom of Great Britain v. People’s Republic of Albania (Corfu Channel Case)

The first public international law case was the Corfu Channel case, considered the responsibility of States with respect to shared marine area and the doctrine of self help. The United Kingdom was held to have done no harm to Albania.
CITATIONICJ GL No. 1
COURTInternational Court of Justice
JUDGES/CORAMN.A.
DATE OF JUDGEMENT09.04.1949

Introduction

Whenever there is a dispute between two nations, and conflicting municipal laws cannot coincide, the nations resolve their disputed relations with the aid of the International Law. International Law expressly levies duty on all states to maintain the area of water controlled by them in such a manner that free maritime communication is there among other states and there is no threat, danger, or fear to other coastal states in the context of such routes. The present case can be credited with the beginning of the rich and diverse role that is played by the International Court of Justice in making International Law true and real law by giving legal sanction and binding force to it. The whole case revolves around the binding force and duty to obey the General Principles of International Law and Humanity.

Facts

The facts of the case are as follows: The case revolves around the damage caused to the territory of the United Kingdom due to the explosions that were alleged to be caused by Albania.

The dispute started when Albanian mines, on 02.10.1946 caused damage to British voyage ships:  Mauritius, Leander, Volage and Saumerez that were sent to the waters and in Albanian Territories. There was of Volage and Saumerez leading to the death and injuries of 44 British officers and personal injuries to 42 men. The existence of said mines was not notified to British Government in accordance with the general principles of International Law and Humanity. Three weeks later, on November 13th, the North Corfu Channel was swept by British minesweepers and 22 moored mines were cut. Two mines were taken to Malta for expert examination. This was a unilateral examination on part of United Kingdom. On 09.04.1947, on the recommendation of Security Council, United Kingdom unilaterally proceeded with the case before International Court of Justice even though Albania was not a member of United Nations. After Albania’s protest to the jurisdiction of Hon’ble Court, both the parties ended into the compromise and the court was left with crucial issues that were to be decided. The compromise formed the basis and damage phases of the proceedings.

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Issues

The main issues in the case were:

  1. Whether or not the two explosions that occurred on 02.10.1946 were caused by mines belonging to the minefield discovered on 13.11, which made Albania responsible for the explosion.
  2. Whether or not the United Kingdom’s unilateral examination of mines lead to the violation of Albania’s sovereignty.         

Contentions of the parties

His Majesty from United Kingdom claimed that Albania was liable for contravention of General Principles of International Law and Humanity under Hague Convention, aggravation of conduct of damaging British Ships at Corfu Channels in their territory by their mines without giving any notice or warning which they were duty bound to give. They were responsible for breach of British ship’s right to innocent passage and also for the damages caused to both ship as well as the officers. Petitioners held Albanian government liable for the reparation and claimed damages of 8,75,000 dollars for destruction of Volage and Saumerez and injuries caused to men.

In their counter argument, Albania claimed that the destruction caused to British Voyages by Albanian mines has not been proved. Additionally, Albania argued that whether the damage has been caused by any third party acting on behalf of Albania has also not been proved. Albania pleaded that it was not aware of the fact that its territorial waters had existence of such mines and henceforth, it cannot be made liable. Moreover, the Albanian government argued that the mines might be floating mines or magnetic ground mines or even German mines.

With regards to the Special Agreement that was concluded between the parties, the Albanian Government argued that Unilateral examination on part of United Kingdom Government had intruded with the Sovereignty of Albania and hadled to breach of International Law as prior sanction and authorization was required on part of United Kingdom.

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Summary of court decision and judgment

In the present case, the Court ruled partly in favour of Albania and partly in favour of the United Kingdom. It was held that the United Kingdom did not violate Albania’s territorial waters and had a right to innocent passage. The ICJ ordered Albania to pay the UK 843,947 pounds.

Analysis

Clearly, Albania omitted to take all the necessary steps that were mandatorily required to be taken on its behalf for maintaining the safety and security of its territory. The mines even if assumed were not laid by Albanian Government had be to be maintained by them which would have ultimately evaded the disaster. Negligence on part of Albania for not informing United Kingdom about the mines lead to environmental damages, loss of life, injuries and international damages which should have to be borne by Albania only.

On the question of intrusion of Sovereignty, the Doctrine of Self Help comes to hand. At the very instance of destruction, United Kingdom and Albania came in a state of war where Albania’s non co-operation made UK entitled to self-help and support to gather the evidence. In line with the above analysis and doctrine, the Court rightly held Albania responsible for all the damage caused due to the mines.

Conclusion

International Law is the law of nations and this judgment became a well-established that all nations are supposed to abide by relevant international laws, treaties, and customary law because International Laws also do have legal sanction. Primary responsibility and duty of a state towards another cannot be pleaded with the excuse of ignorance, negligence, or omission. Court rightly decided the whole issue and came to appropriate conclusion as Albania was liable to be held responsible for the severe damages caused to the UK. Imagining a scenario where each and every nation would just resort to pleading of ignorance and will not abide by International Law will lead to an era where all States will be each other’s enemy making the situation to be a profit and loss statement. The most developed will win and rule the whole nation while rest will keep on resorting to violence. Henceforth, balancer in the form of the U.N. governs the world and countries to maintain peace and security all over the world.

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