The Dispute Over Hans Island
By admin February 10, 2015


Hans Island

Hans Island

Hans Island is an uninhabited island located in the Kennedy Channel and it is currently being claimed and disputed between Canada and Denmark (on behalf of Greenland). The geographic location of Hans Island does not appear to clearly belong to either Canada or Denmark. However, the nearest populated place to the island is a Canadian city known as “Alert”. Many believe that the economic potential of Hans Island (e.g. hydrocarbon deposits, shipping, and fishing) has perpetrated this dispute between the two states. Although, some argue that there is nothing at stake, no economic dimensions to this dispute, and that it is nothing more than a symbolic political dispute.


Canada claims Hans Island because it was originally discovered by a British explorer and was later transferred to Canada by Britain through an order-in-council in 1870. While Denmark’s claim to the island is that it was a no man’s land, and they have suggested hunting parties of Greenland Inuit had periodically visited Hans Island. Canada and Denmark both entered a treaty (The Delimitation Treaty) that negotiated the shelf boundaries up until the point of the island but the treaty does not refer to this island itself. In international law, treaties are seen as contract law and hold the most weight when it comes to territorial claims. Unfortunately, the border described in the Delimitation Treaty is not established around Hans Island and, therefore, cannot be used in court. In addition, since Hans Island is too small and remote to occupy it with permanent settlement other factors must be considered to substantiate their claims such as demonstrating effective control.


Canada has attempted to demonstrate effective control through military expeditions and through their commitment to building ships that are able to extend deployment to Hans Island. The Danish have demonstrated effective control by carrying out naval deployments, having standing military patrol in Greenland, and by having regular aerial surveillance in place. There have also been symbolic gestures from both parties; the Danish placing flags and Canadian placing Intuit stone marks on the island.


In April 2012, it had appeared there was going to be a resolution over the island, but that did not happen. Currently, there are two options being discussed, splitting the island between the two states or creating a condominium. Some fear that granting either state sovereignty over the island would set a dangerous precedent for other countries trying to gain possession of remote territories. Thus, it is very likely that Denmark and Canada will be awarded possession of the island under an equitable solution by splitting Hans Island in the middle.


While the dispute over Hans Island has provoked diplomatic hostility between Denmark and Canada, the level of conflict is relatively low. The National Public Radio referred to it as “one of the world’s friendliest border disputes.” Overall, this dispute has not affected political relations between the two countries, but tensions may rise as the ice in the arctic continues to melt.


Thanks for sharing !

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