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The naming of maritime features viewed from an international law perspective
Franckx, E.; Benatar, M.; Scotcher, N.; Van den Bossche, K. (2011). The naming of maritime features viewed from an international law perspective. COLR 11(1): 41-69
In: Zhongguo Haiyang Faxue Pinglun = China Oceans Law Review. China Review Culture Limited: Xianggang. ISSN 1813-7350, more
Peer reviewed article  

Available in  Authors 

Keywords
    International law; Topography; Marine

Authors  Top 
  • Franckx, E., more
  • Benatar, M.
  • Scotcher, N., more
  • Van den Bossche, K., more

Abstract
    Toponymy, the study of place-names, albeit a scientific endeavour, has strong political implications. The appellation of places invokes sentiments of belonging and nationalistic claims. History is replete with examples ranging from fairly benign quibbles over cartography to actual wars being waged over the names of areas. Mutatis mutandis similar problems have arisen and continue to endure with respect to hydronyms, the names of bodies of water, especially salt water bodies.Setting aside for a moment these political, cultural and historical ramifications, we turn our attention in this contribution to the potential legal aspects of toponymy as it relates to the sea. So far, not a single piece of scholarship has been devoted to this conundrum. Thus, we can fairly ask: does international law überhaupt come into play in the naming process as regards maritime features?The first section of this article acknowledges the usefulness of framing this issue from an international law perspective. An initial examination of the right of states to attribute appellations will be followed by an inquiry into the possible legal implications that can be derived from the names of maritime features. The latter will mainly draw upon a discussion of international case law, chiefly the jurisprudence of the International Court of Justice (ICJ).The second section narrows our scope of analysis to two bodies with specific competence vis-à-vis geographical names. First of all, the work of the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names (UNGEGN) will be singled out. Its procedure and the legal nature of its recommendations highlight this organ's key role as a developer of procedures as well as major promoter of place names.Secondly, the involvement of the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) in the naming of maritime features will be studied in some detail. This section examines the possibilities for co-operation between states in the area of hydrography. On the one hand the influence of international organizations on sovereign states in the maritime naming process cannot be underestimated. On the other hand limitations to achieving solutions in politically sensitive cases still loom large, as can be observed for areas beyond the outer limits of states' territorial seas.Finally, this contribution offers some sober thoughts on the lacunae in the current legal framework of naming maritime features.

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