Terra nullius, Inuit Habitation and Norse Occupation with Special Emphasis on the 1933 East Greenland Case
AuthorØrebech, Peter Thomas
Sovereignty acquired by occupation entails “recognize[d] title based on discovery,” “a reasonable period [of] … effective occupation of the region claimed to be discovered” and “the continuous and peaceful display of State authority.” Only terra nullius is subject to occupation. A territory inhabited by indigenous groups that sustain social and political organization may impede an occupying power because the terra nullius requirement fails. While sovereignty over thinly populated areas are often lax, case law requires less public involvement in these sparsely inhabited areas. This study reveals that the Dano-Norwegian Kings regarded the Inuit as “our subjects.” The Kings’ pretention of absolutum dominium and jurisdiction involved both the Norse and Inuit ethnic groups and “bygð ok ubygð” (settled and unsettled) land. The exodus of the Norse peoples in 1450 AD for 200 years did not undermine the acquired sovereignty of the Dano-Norwegian Crown, which as a result, spoiled the 1931 Norwegian pretentions to legally occupy East-Greenland. Denmark’s triumph in the 1933-East Greenland case resulted from a “zero-sum principle.” More than a 100 years earlier, the Danish Kingdom lost a succession of countries and dependencies. The 1814 Kiel Treaty transferred mainland Norway to Sweden, but explicitly states that none of the ancient Norwegian dependencies, Greenland, Iceland and Faroe Islands would follow suit. Thus, these territories remained part of the Kingdom of Denmark.