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North Sea Continental Shelf Cases

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Table of contents

  1. Facts
  2. Issue
  3. Rationale


Denmark, Netherlands, and Germany are positioned adjacently to the North Sea. Denmark and Netherlands, as members of the Geneva Convention of 1958, had adopted the equidistance principle to draw partial boundary lines. With the wish to make the partial boundaries concrete, Denmark and Netherlands agreed to adhere to the equidistance method as their basis again. This resulted as to delimiting Germany’s continental shelf in an unjust and unequitable manner due to its concave coastline.

Denmark and Netherlands were parties to the Geneva Convention of 1958, while Germany has only signed but has not yet ratified the convention. The parties agreed to submit the case to the International Court of Justice with the agreements that the latter would not apportion the continental shelf, but would just provide pointers as to which internationally accepted rules and methods would be applicable to the parties.


Whether the countries, Germany, Denmark and Netherlands, should adhere to the equidistance principle as a treaty law (Article 6, paragraph2 of the Geneva Convention of 1958 on the Continental Shelf) or customary international law as an acceptable method to delimit the North Sea Continental Shelf amongst the said parties.

No. The court held that the equidistance principle should not be considered as an acceptable and of binding method to delimit the North Sea Continental Shelf.


The equidistance method as being held by Denmark and Netherlands as a binding rule with Germany cannot be recognized as the same under treaty law and customary international law. Denmark and Netherlands were parties of the Geneva Convention making the equidistance method binding to them, but the same is not applicable to Germany as even if it has signed the convention, it hasn’t ratified the convention yet.

Denmark and Netherlands are bound to follow the treaty law: Article 6, paragraph 2 of the Geneva Convention of 1958 states that when there are states adjacently positioned to a continental shelf, the method to be follow should be the one that has been agreed upon by the parties. Without an agreement, the parties should apply the equidistance method in order to achieve a just and equitable apportionment or each party.

But due to the geographical feature of Germany’s coastline, it wouldn’t result to a just delimitation. In addition, although Germany is a third party to the convention, she has the right to make reservations of such rules indicated in the articles of the convention except the first three articles. Taking note of these, Germany, although part of the signees of the convention, is not bound to adhere to the equidistance method.

The same principle has also not crystallized yet as a customary international law as it didn’t meet the criteria (generality, uniformity, and opinion juris). In conclusion, Germany is not obligated to adhere to the equidistance method since it would not bring about a just and equitable share of the continental shelf.

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North Sea Continental Shelf Cases. (2019, February 27). GradesFixer. Retrieved November 27, 2022, from
“North Sea Continental Shelf Cases.” GradesFixer, 27 Feb. 2019,
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