The Concept of Uti Possidetis Juris and How It Works in West Papua

Belong to the principles of customary international law, Uti Possidetis Juris is intentionally used to keep the boundaries of a recently independent country from its colonist or federation. It is also the basic law that is used by Indonesia to preserve and reclaim West Papua from the Dutch colonists. This article will discuss the primary concept of Uti Possidetis Juris and how it is implemented in West Papua dispute.

The Origin of Uti Possidetis Juris


Originated from the Roman civilization, Uti Possidetis Juris, a modified form of Uti Possidetis, is a law concerning possession and ownership of one state. In its early implementation, Uti Possidetis Juris had an intended use to avoid terra nullius or ‘nobody’s land, or in other meaning, a territory or an area that does not belong to anyone’s property.

Nowadays, Uti Possidetis Juris refers to a concept of the international law that deals with the borders of new sovereign state or country. According to the law, the borders and the area of a state that has declared its own independence will be based on the administrative frontiers which are previously possessed by the state before the colonization.

In short, Uti Possidetis Juris can be defined as a law that orders the state’s nature ownerships over things and areas within the extent of the state. The implementation of Uti Possidetis Juris is closely linked to colonization, territorial boundaries and integrity, the creation of states, as well as statehood and sovereignty.

The Context of Uti Possidetis Juris


The following are several particular contexts in which Uti Possidetis Juris is used purposely as the law or principle in the state’s relation.

  1. Colonial Context

In the case of a colonized country, the law states that the area or borders of that particular country within the colonization will remain as the legal part of its governmental area when the independence has declared. While the country is freed from the colonist, its whole area should be practically given back to the newly liberated country.

  1. The disintegration of state federations

Uti Possidetis Juris also applies to the case of the disintegrated area of a federation. When a state that once belonged to a federation decides to separate itself from the group of countries or governments, the borders of the state should be based on its previous frontiers.

  1. Claim over territorial sovereignty

It is the practical implication of Uti Possidetis Juris which concerns the power of a country to control its own government as well as its territorial area when the country in question is granted new sovereignty or power transfer.

Following its origin country, Uti Possidetis Juris was firstly applied to the state arrangements of the Roman Empire in the medieval period. However, throughout the time, the application of the law has been developed and used by other countries as well. It becomes the basic norm to solve international problems that are related to the relations between states. Latin America is cited as one of the countries which apply this law, before it was followed by other countries in the continent of Asia and Africa.

In recent times, Uti Possidetis Juris also develops a new form, that is, Uti Possidetis de Facto. It is the possession and ownership law that deals with the areas of a country which exist according to the fact, although in some cases, it has not been intended, legal or accepted by the international community.

How Uti Possidetis Juris works in West Papua


Based on the basic concept of Uti Possidetis Juris that has been reviewed above, it is easier to resolve the dispute of West Papua that happened in the past. The historical paths have proven that West Papua belongs to Indonesia since the ancient period, according to the territory of the Majapahit Empire. This island continued to become the part of the country in the colonization era. With that being said, West Papua is supposed to be included in the territory of Indonesia after the country declared its independence.

In this regard, Uti Possidetis Juris serves as the central argument that supports the context of West Papua inclusion the Republic of Indonesia. This is due to the fact that West Papua had belonged to the country when it was under the governmental rule of the Dutch-Indies Company. According to the history, Muhammad Hatta, one of the Indonesian founding fathers, was the one who applied the principle of Uti Possidetis Juris to the determine the frontiers of Indonesia after the Declaration of Independence.



In its application, Uti Possidetis Juris plays a role as a principle to shape numerous new developing areas, new identities, and modern growth for postcolonial states. Regarding its implementation in the case of West Papua dispute between Indonesia and its former colonist, the Dutch, Uti Possidetis Juris serves as the basic norm to decide the inclusion of the island in question.

West Papua has been a part of Indonesia long before the European, especially the Dutch colonists, arrived and ruled the archipelago. Therefore, according to the law of Uti Possidetis Juris, West Papua should be automatically included in the republic once Indonesia declared its independence. This easternmost island of Indonesia has lived and will always live in the archipelago forevermore.