Disputes over territory are among the most contentious in human affairs. Throughout the world, societies view control over land and resources as necessary to ensure their survival and to further their particular life-style, and the very passion with which claims over a region are asserted and defended suggests that difficult normative issues lurk nearby. Questions about rights to territory vary. It is one thing to ask who owns a particular parcel of land, another who has the right to reside within its boundaries and yet another to determine which individuals or groups have political rights of citizenship, sovereignty, and self-determination within it. It must also be asked how these rights—if ‘rights’ is the correct term—are acquired. When attention turns to the territorial rights of communities, national groups or states, sovereignty is the principal concern. Within international law, de facto power over a territory, say, of occupying forces or trustees, is insufficient to possess or acquire sovereignty (Brownlie, 1990, p. 111). The central conceptions underlying modern democratic thought are that sovereignty over a politically demarcated territory is vested in the resident population, and that governmental authority is derived from the consent of that population. It is simple enough to identify the latter with the citizenry of a state, but demographic and political flux makes this a loose criterion. States come and go, and sometimes a territory is stateless. Also, large-scale demographic shifts during upheavals and peacetime immigrations change the assessments of who belongs where. Does everyone residing in a place at a particular time have a right to share in its governance then? What about illegal immigrants? Presumably, sovereignty rests with the established population or..

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Tomis Kapitan
Indiana University, Bloomington (PhD)


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