Occupied territory

Occupied territory

Occupied territory is territory under military occupation. Occupation is a term of art in international law; in accordance with Article 42 of the Laws and Customs of War on Land (Fourth Hague Convention); October 18, 1907,[1] territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army. The occupation extends only to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised. At the end of a war, usually the victorious side is in possession of territory previously possessed by another state. This territory is known as occupied territory. Acquisition of occupied territory is incidental to a war, where the military forces of the occupying power come into the possession of territory previously held by another state. Occupation is usually temporary; and under the subsequent articles of the Hague convention (articles 43, 44, etc.), and the Fourth Geneva Convention the status quo must be maintained pending the signing of a peace treaty, the resolution of specific conditions outlined in a peace treaty, or the formation of a new civilian government.[2]

Examples of occupied territory include Germany and Japan by the Allies in the aftermath of World War II; Cambodia by Vietnam from 1979 until 1989; and Iraq by the United States and its allies after the 2003 invasion.

During World War II, the use of annexation deprived whole populations of the safeguards provided by international laws governing military occupations. Changes were introduced to international law through the Fourth Geneva Convention that makes it much more difficult for a state to bypass international law through the use of annexation.[2] GCIV Article 47, the first paragraph in Section III: Occupied territories, restricted the territorial gains which could be made through war,[2] and Article 49 prohibits mass movement of people out of or into occupied territory.[3] If a state unilaterally declares a territory that has been under military occupation to be annexed, bodies such as the United Nations Security Council frequently describe such territory as "occupied" when that annexation is in breach of international law or not accepted by the United Nations General Assembly, even if the territory is governed through the civil rather than military laws of the state that has integrated the occupied territory into their own territory.[4][5][6][7]


History and definitions

Generally, any disputed territory can be seen as occupied by the party that lacks control over it at that moment. Thus, the Germanic tribes displaced the Celts of central Europe, and Egypt was conquered and absorbed in the 7th century by Arabs who were not its original population. This is particularly true of the region between Egypt and Turkey where repeated population movements and military conquests have occurred during the past several thousand years.[citation needed]

Regarding the West Bank, Gaza Strip (whose land and sea access is blockaded by Israel) and Israel proper, the use of this expression is often controversial and hotly disputed due to the fact that both territories were not under the recognized permanent sovereignty of any other country and are not claimed by any other existing sovereign state. The United Nations, the ICRC, the EU, and other international and multi-national organizations consider the Palestinian territories, defined as the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, to be held under Israeli-occupation.

Additionally, occupation has two distinct meanings:

  1. The state of being lived in (as in: "Isle of Man is occupied by the Manx", or this house is occupied by the Smith family);[citation needed]
  2. The state of military control following conquest by war but prior to annexation.

Although (1) and (2) are obviously distinct, they are sometimes intermingled.[citation needed] Under (1), the territory in question is under normal civilian law; under (2) the territory is usually under military law within the terms of the Laws of war, such as the Fourth Geneva Convention (according to the UN).

Occupied territories since 1907

For a list of occupied territories since the Hague Convention of 1907 Laws and Customs of War on Land (Hague IV); October 18, 1907 first clarified and supplemented the customary laws of belligerent military occupation see the list of military occupations and the list of territorial disputes.

Jammu and Kashmir

The Himalayan Kashmir region is a disputed and occupied territory since 1947, claimed by India as part of its country, while both the Peoples' Republic of China and Pakistan, dispute India's claims and Pakistan claims most of Kashmir as their territory. The former Princely state of Jammu and Kashmir is currently divided between India, Pakistan and Peoples' Republic of China. Kashmir under Indian illegal military occupation is called as Maqboza Kashmir or Occupied Kashmir where as Kashmiri areas under Pakistani administration is called P.A.K.[8] and Northern Areas[9][10] by India, and Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan[9][10][11] by Pakistan, Chinese administered Kashmiri regions are called Aksai Chin,[12] Trans-Karakoram Tract[11] and Demchok by India while Peoples' Republic of China administer it as parts of Kashgar Prefecture[11] and Hotan Prefecture of Xinjiang,[11][12] and Dêmqog of Tibet Autonomous Region.[12] The United Nations[13] and other local entities use the designation Jammu and Kashmir to geographically denote said area.

Israeli-occupied territories

After the Six-day War in 1967, the Israel Defence Forces took control of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank including East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. The situation in these territories has been described by almost the entire international community as occupation.[14]

The West Bank

Israeli position

The use of the terms "occupied" for these territories has been disputed. Paul S. Riebenfeld, an international lawyer, who represented Jewish interests at the League of Nations, argued that the West Bank and the Gaza Strip do not belong to any other sovereign state, are part of former Mandate Palestine, and therefore fall legitimately within Israel's jurisdiction.

Whether or not Israel still occupies the Gaza Strip, following its unilateral disengagement from there, assuming it can even be considered that it "occupied" it in the first place, is disputed.[15][16][17][18][19][20][21][22][23] For more information see also Palestinian National Authority.

Palestinian position

Palestinians generally view Israeli presence in the West Bank as illegal occupation. The presence and establishment of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and the construction of a barrier dividing parts of the territory are major bones of contention in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The Palestine Liberation Organization has repeatedly called on the international community to enforce ICJ's rulings on the West Bank.[24]

International Court of Justice Opinion

In July 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) delivered an Advisory Opinion on the 'Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory'. The Court observed that under customary international law as reflected in Article 42 of the Regulations Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land Annexed in the Fourth Hague Convention of 18 October 1907, territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army, and the occupation extends only to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised.

The State of Israel raised a number of exceptions and objections,[25] but the Court found them unpersuasive. The Court ruled that territories had been occupied by the Israeli Defense Forces in 1967, during the conflict between Israel and Jordan, and that subsequent events in those territories had done nothing to alter the situation. 'All these territories (including East Jerusalem) remain occupied territories and Israel has continued to have the status of occupying Power.'

Golan Heights

The United Nations,[26] the United States,[27] the European Union,[28] the United Kingdom,[29] the Arab League,[30] the International Committee of the Red Cross,[31] Amnesty International,[32] and Human Rights Watch[33] consider the Golan Heights to be Syrian territory occupied by Israel.

Western Sahara

Western Sahara

Western Sahara is considered an occupied territory by the POLISARIO (Sahrawi national liberation movement), the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) (government in exile in Algeria), the United Nations,[34] the African Union and some other countries and human rights groups. International bodies[35][36] and some other states as a policy of deliberate ambiguity see Morocco as the de facto administrative power pending a solution to the conflict.[35][36] The referendum that the UN wants to hold has been effectively blocked, and many of the incidents reported to have occurred in the territory[37] are consistent with an unaccountable military occupation.

Most of the territory claimed by the SADR in Western Sahara is currently under the unrecognized but effective sovereignty of Morocco. They do not recognize the SADR, though dozens of countries do.[38]


Divided Cyprus

The northern part of the Mediterranean island of Cyprus has been occupied by the Turkish military since 1974[39][40][41] and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus which has declared independence on the island has not been recognized except by Turkey.[42][43][44][45] The Turkish invasion caused a massive exodus of Greek Cypriots from the north, followed by a similar movement of Turkish Cypriots from the south. The Turkish government has initiated a policy of colonisation by settlers from various parts of Turkey,[46] leading to a demographic alteration of the occupied territories.[47][48][49][50][51][52][53][54][55][56][57][58][59][60][61][62][63][64][65][66]

Abkhazia and South Ossetia

Following the 2008 South Ossetia war in early August 2008, Russia recognised Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states on 26 August 2008.[67] In response, on 28 August 2008, the Georgian parliament passed a non-binding resolution calling on the Georgian government to sever diplomatic relations with Russia, because of the recognition of what the Georgian parliament deemed to be occupied territories.[68] This culminated on 29 August 2008 with Georgia severing diplomatic relations with Russia.[69]

On 23 October 2008, Georgia endorsed "The Law on Occupied Territories" defining "the status of territories occupied as a result of the military aggression of the Russian Federation" and envisaging "a special legal regime" on these territories.[70] In March 2009, the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe's advisory body on constitutional and legal issues, asked by Georgia to opine on the law, said that the criminalisation of entry into the occupied territories without making explicit exceptions for emergency situations or humanitarian aid was a matter of concern.[71][vague]


The approximate borders (Line of Contact) depicting the Armenian occupied territories of Azerbaijan after the 1994 ceasefire was signed. The total area of Azerbaijani lands under the Armenian military control is 16%,[72] of which almost 9% of Azerbaijan's territory currently occupied is outside the former Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO).[73]Azerbaijan continues to control portions of Nagorno-Karabakh such as the eastern parts of Martakert and Martuni districts.

Some 30,000 people died in the Nagorno-Karabakh war,[73][74] which erupted after the mountainous region declared independence in 1991.[75][76][77][78] Nagorno-Karabakh has been under Armenian control[79] since a Russian-brokered ceasefire in 1994.[80][81] Additional to this, Armenians occupy seven other Azerbaijani districts. This resulted in the displacement of 528,000 Azerbaijanis.[82] The UN Security Council has passed four resolutions on the "Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan" in 1993. The UN General Assembly[83] and other international organizations have similarly passed several resolutions recognizing Azerbaijan's territorial integrity and sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh, urging withdrawal of all occupying forces and peaceful resolution. The peace mediation is taken up by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group since 1992.[84]


Occupied since 1999 NATO bombing of Serbia, Kosovo is a province inside Serbia which self-proclaimed secession of the de-facto annexed territories in 2008. This is in violation of the UN resolution 1244, which placed Kosovo under KFOR and NATO occupation, while admitting Serbian sovereignty. Nevertheless, some 80 countries have recognized the secession, led by NATO countries that waged the war against Serbia. The secession does not have the support of UN General Assembly, nor the UN Security Council, in which permanent members (also NATO members that illegally bombed Serbia[citation needed]) US, Great Britain and France lobby for secession, while non-NATO permanent members China and Russia vehemently oppose this violation of international law.


  2. ^ a b c Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949.Commentary on Part III : Status and treatment of protected persons #Section III : Occupied territories Art. 47 by the ICRC
  3. ^ Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949.Commentary on Part III : Status and treatment of protected persons #Section III : Occupied territories Art. 49 by the ICRC
  4. ^ John Dugard (professor of international law at the University of Leiden) An illegal annexation : Tear down Israel's wall International Herald Tribune, 2 August 2003
  5. ^ John Dugard (The Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights for the occupied Palestinian territory) Israel uses excessive force and annexation in Palestinian territories – UN report, UN News Centre. Accessed 11 July 2008.
  6. ^ Paul Lewis, Confrontation in the Gulf; U.N. Council Declares Void Iraqi Annexation of Kuwait, The New York Times, 10 August 1990
  7. ^ R. W. Apple Jr. After the war: The Overview; Iraq Disavows annexation, pledging to repay Kuwait; Rebellion my be subsiding, The New York Times, 6 March 1991
  8. ^ PoK students want seats in IIM/IITsRediff.com, 2006-05-23
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  12. ^ a b c "Aksai Chin: China's disputed slice of Kashmir". CNN.com. 24 May 2002. http://edition.cnn.com/2002/WORLD/asiapcf/east/05/24/aksai.chin/. Retrieved 2007-07-23. 
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  37. ^ Western Sahara "Impunity for past crimes remained a serious concern, particularly since some alleged perpetrators continued to be members, or even high-ranking officials, of the security forces.". Verified 4 October 2007.
  38. ^ Third World Traveller Intifada in Western Sahara, Morocco seals off the occupied territory, New Internationalist magazine, August 2005. Verified 4 October 2007.
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  76. ^ Human Rights Watch. The former Soviet Union. Human Rights Developments: "In 1992 the conflict grew far more lethal as both sides—the Azerbaijani National Army and free-lance militias fighting along with it, and ethnic Armenians and mercenaries fighting in the Popular Liberation Army of Artsakh—began."
  77. ^ United States Institute of Peace. Nagorno-Karabakh Searching for a Solution. Foreword: "Nagorno-Karabakh’s armed forces have not only fortified their region, but have also occupied a large swath of surrounding Azeri territory in the hopes of linking the enclave to Armenia."
  78. ^ United States Institute of Peace. Sovereignty after Empire. Self-Determination Movements in the Former Soviet Union. Hopes and Disappointments: Case Studies "Meanwhile, the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh was gradually transforming into a full-scale war between Azeri and Karabakh irregulars, the latter receiving support from Armenia." / "Azerbaijan's objective advantage in terms of human and economic potential has so far been offset by the superior fighting skills and discipline of Nagorno-Karabakh's forces. After a series of offensives, retreats, and counteroffensives, Nagorno-Karabakh now controls a sizable portion of Azerbaijan proper ... including the Lachin corridor."
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