Island of Palmas (or Miangas) (The Netherlands / The United States of America)

The dispute concerned the sovereignty over the Island of Palmas, ceded by Spain to the United States of America by treaty concluded in 1898, but claimed by the Netherlands as forming part of its possessions on the basis of having excercised sovereignty there for more than 200 years.


On January 23, 1925, the United States of America and the Netherlands referred their dispute concerning sovereignty over the Island of Palmas to arbitration by a sole arbitrator. The sole arbitrator was asked to determine whether the Island of Palmas (or Miangas) in its entirety formed a part of the territory belonging to the United States of America or of the territory of the Netherlands.


In his award, the sole arbitrator attached limited significance to discovery as a basis of title and elaborated on the legal effect of the peaceful and continuous display of state authority over territory. The arbitrator further considered the role of acquiescence and recognition in circumstances of competing acts of possession, and the principle nemo dat quod non habet in relation to treaties of cession.


To determine the question of title it was necessery for the arbitrator to consider arguments about the presentation of evidence in legal proceedings and the specific issue of maps. The arbitrator adoped a liberal approach towards the production of evidence, but indicated that caution was required when assessing the value of maps. 


The arbitrator concluded that even if it had been possible for Spain to have ceded to the United States of America its inchoate title derived from discovery or contiguity the inchoate title of the Netherlands could not have been modified by a treaty concluded by third Powers; and such a treaty could not have impressed the character of illegality on any act undertaken by the Netherlands with a view to completing their inchoate title... at least as long as no dispute on the matter had arisen. By the time a dispute had arisen, in 1906, the arbitrator found that the establishment of Dutch authority had already reached such a degree of development, that the importance of maintaining this state of things ought to be considered as prevailing over a claim, possibly based either on discovery in very distant times and unsupported by occupation or mere geographical position. For these reasons, the arbitrator held that the Island of Palmas (or Miangas) formed in its entirety a part of Netherlands territory.

Case information

Name(s) of Claimant(s) The United States of America (State)
Name(s) of Respondent(s) The Netherlands (State)
Names of Parties

Representative of the Netherlands:

Jonkheer Dr. A. C. D. De Graeff, Her Majesty’s Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary at Washington


Representative of the United States of America:

Mr. C. E. Hughes, Secretary of State of the United States of America


Case number 1925-01
Administering institution Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA)
Case status Concluded
Type of case Inter-state arbitration
Subject matter or economic sector - Other -
Procedural rules 1907 Convention for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes
Treaty or contract under which proceedings were commenced


Language of Proceeding - Other -
Seat of Arbitration (by Country) Netherlands
Arbitrator(s), Conciliator(s), Other Neutral(s)

Mr. Max Huber

Representatives of the Claimant(s) -
Representatives of the Respondent(s) -
Representatives of the Parties
Number of Arbitrators in case 1
Date of commencement of proceeding 23 January 1925
Date of issue of final award 04 April 1928
Length of Proceedings 2-3 years
Additional notes -


Award or other decision
Island of Palmas Case (or Miangas) Award of theTribunal