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The land that no country wants (2016) (theguardian.com)
100 points by kawera 11 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 67 comments

> On Egyptian maps, Bir Tawil is shown as belonging to Sudan. On Sudanese maps, it appears as part of Egypt. In practice, Bir Tawil is widely believed to have the legal status of terra nullius – “nobody’s land” – and there is nothing else quite like it on the planet.

This is wrong and the article later corrects itself:

> Their ties to the area may be based on traditional rather than written claims – but Bir Tawil is not any more a “no man’s land” than the territory once known as British East Africa, where terra nullius was repeatedly invoked in the early 20th century by both chartered companies and the British government that supported them to justify the appropriation of territory from indigenous people.

The fascinating thing is that the idea that Bir Tawil is, or ever was, terra nullius comes from atriciously bad Wikipedia pages on the subject (in the past even the West Bank was listed as terra nullius!). It likley was those that lead Jeremiah Heaton to think he could claim it by planting a flag there. Because you cannot find any scholarly sources claiming that Bir Tawil is terra nullius. So what must have happened is that one or more Wikipedians, with no legal training, must have found terra nullius described in some source and then started to give terra nullius designations to pieces of land that they thought fit.

Along comes a lot of clueless journalists and repeats Wikipedia's erroneous claims. Wikipedians in turn find these articles and inserts them as references into the articles and the circle is complete.

And fwiw, the literal translation of terra nullius isn't "nobody's land" it's "empty land". Ownership of land is orthogonal to whether it is inhabited. Examples of terra nullius would be Antarctica or tiny remote islands that sometimes pops up in the Atlantic far from any country's coast. Bir Tawil does't fit the bill because it is inhabited. Which state has sovereignty is unclear but we do know it is either Egypt or Sudan. There is no room for a third party to make any claims.

> And fwiw, the literal translation of terra nullius isn't "nobody's land" it's "empty land".

Is it an Italian term or something? In Latin it would be "land of no one". Terra is nominative (alternatively ablative or vocative, but that's unlikely here), nullius is genitive; there's no parsing in which nullius could be in agreement with terra, and even if they were in agreement, nullus doesn't mean "empty" (terra nulla would be more like "no land", definitely not a land that exists but is characterized by emptiness). If it's Italian though I'd have to take your word for it; I don't speak that language.

No, you're right. The literal translation is "land of no one". I maintain that "empty land" is a fair translation of the term though.

no it's definitely a Latin term and your translation is about as literal as it can get. [0]

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terra_nullius

I've often wondered if you could use the process described above to create an historical event that never happened.

Create the Wikipedia page(s), some journalists write about it, then add those articles as references. I wonder if people might even say they remember it happening.

If the model worked well, any source reputable enough to be cited enough in Wikipedia would fact check it and drop it. But I'm not sure that would work today, apart from the most reputable newspapers

> So what must have happened is that one or more Wikipedians, with no legal training, must have found terra nullius described in some source and then started to give terra nullius designations to pieces of land that they thought fit. > Along comes a lot of clueless journalists and repeats Wikipedia's erroneous claims. Wikipedians in turn find these articles and inserts them as references into the articles and the circle is complete.

https://xkcd.com/978/ describes this process perfectly

> And fwiw, the literal translation of terra nullius isn't "nobody's land" it's "empty land".

But isn't terra nullius a play on res nullius, which in Roman law meant a thing nobody owned? Perhaps it literally meant 'empty thing'. (My Latin is very weak.)

Well, the literal translation of res nullius is "thing empty" but it is true that phrase was used in Roman law for "unowned things". But the defining feature of res nullius was that it could be taken possession of by means of occupatio. For example, a tree in the forest would be res nullius until someone cut it down and made logs of it.

But it would be the act of cutting down - occupatio - that made the tree cutter the legal owner. It wouldn't be enough for him to just wander into a forest, see a lot of trees and declare "those trees are mine!" In a way he would be required to "fill the void" so to speak.

The relation between res nullius and terra nullius is dubious to say the least. During the Middle Ages "unowned things" disappeared as a legal concept. Instead most everything became the property of God or the monarch. It is questionable if the European colonizers ever actually used the terra nullius doctrine to justify conquest. For example, Manhattan was purchased from the Native Americans. Had terra nullius been applicable they could have just taken it.

The closest thing to a historical application of terra nullius is Australia, where the British (and later Australian) government did not consider the natives to have any legal title to the land, and therefore no one had any title that would need to be extinguished for the settlers to occupy.

Countries like the US did recognize that the native Americans held title to the land, and this title was somewhat orthogonal to the rights acquired via European diplomacy (e.g., Louisiana purchase). The native rights were extinguished via treaties that were quite often violated, but there was definitely a recognition that indigenous peoples had a claim to their territory that needed legal processes to be extinguished in favor of the settlers.

> Well, the literal translation of res nullius is "thing empty"

why do you translate it like this? a literal translation cannot totally drop the sense of the genitive.

I don't think it has to do with Roman law. It seems the term originated much later:

"Starting in the 17th century, terra nullius denoted a legal concept allowing a European colonial power to take control of "empty" territory that none of the other European colonial powers had claimed."

[0]: http://homepages.gac.edu/~lwren/AmericanIdentititesArt%20fol...

> There is no room for a third party to make any claims.

Is there room for the people living in Bir Tawil to establish their own government and call what they're living on a sovereign nation?

People often confuse ownership and sovereignty.

The land there is very likely owned by the local people according to whatever arrangements they have.

There is no country claiming sovereignty, which is what makes it interesting.

I guess it's true that no third country could make a claim, though it would be fun to to see one try. Or if the locals declared independence. If one country made a complaint, would it be seen as giving up their claim on the other part? :)

Either country could even openly support the rebels!

The concept of "owning" land is baseless in the grand scheme of nature and existence. I like the idea of Bir Tawil because I think it surfaces the idea that land _should_ be borderless and ownerless.

That's a self-defeating argument. Your objection to the concept of ownership would apply to just about every concept, including your own morality, which leaves your thoughts about what _should_ be a little out of place. That is, unless you think there's something very special about ownership in the grand scheme that is not true of other abstractions...

> That's a self-defeating argument.

I don't think so.

> Your objection to the concept of ownership would apply to just about every concept,

Except he constrained it to specific concepts. How you interpret those is likely different, but you didn't really ask as much as define and declare an outcome. That's not constructive.

You seem to be satisfied to do the same.

I at least explained what the problem was with the argument. "I don't think so" is not any kind of improvement there.

> "I don't think so" is not any kind of improvement there.

"I don't think so" is not about the core discussion, but a reflection of different interpretations to how you interpreted the statement. I then went on to explain what I meant, including how to bring the discussion back to concrete arguments, rather than making up my own interpretation (I don't like the term straw-man, which implies a bad-faith argument). You have a specific set of assumptions, which I take to be in good faith. I read the arguments and understand that there are a different set of assumptions to make (vis a vis different interpretations).

I'm sorry if you don't find it constructive in whole or in part.

I don't agree with the GP's point but I do agree with the defence against your counterargument. The GP clearly stated "owning land" - you might consider other forms of ownership a logical extension but that wasn't the context of the GP's point and thus you're being a little disingenuous to argue it in that way (one could even say you presented a "straw man argument").

A few years ago Norwegians officials tried to give Finland a mountain as a gift to celebrate Finlands 100 years as a free nation. Norway’s constitution states the kingdom of Norway is "indivisible and inalienable", so they had to give it up.


Too bad. Otherwise they could have traded some equal sized land back, like Finland and Sweden did with Märket.


"Every reputable travel agent we approached turned us down point-blank, citing the prevalence of bandit attacks in the desert. Thankfully, we were able to locate a disreputable travel agent." For some reason this story reminds me of Mos Eisley...

Belgium and it's northern neighbour swap land as the delta shifts. I believe last time the Netherlands donated some land.

There is an island on the France Spain or Spain Portugal border which takes turn about. Easier than fighting.

Enclaves are a thing. Maastricht and Liege have a couple nearby I believe. Too hard to tidy up. Partially alienated land is in some jurisdictions forbidden to be given up in law. The attempt to donate a mountain in skandi counties hit a constitutional barrier because the leaders are pledged to indivisible boundaries.

Norway trades a wee bit of land with Russia, too - a couple of banks in the Pasvik and Grense Jakobselv rivers are traded back and forth as the currents shift them from one side to the other of the centerline, the bilateral agreement governing this calls for the border to be reviewed every 25 years.

One amusing tidbit I remember is that even as the border is to follow the centerline of the rivers, no country is to gain or lose territory when the border is reviewed - so there's still some room for arbitration; the net size of both countries is to be unchanged.

One of the officials involved in the Norwegian delegation claimed that Norway was the only country ever to have been ceded part of Russian territory in modern times, though I expect this to be one for the newspapers - presumably other states with a river border with Russia have similar agreements.

China got half of Bolshoy Ussuriysky island and Tarabarov island on Amur river in 2004.

But how many enclaves have more enclaves within them?https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baarle-Hertog

I do think there's something to be said about trying new experiments for nation states with different operating models. There's obviously been mixed reactions and outcomes with places like Liberland and Seasteads (not to mention the micronations) but I'm hopeful that a small country like Estonia/Lithuania/Singapore/Rwanda that wants to be internationally competitive will innovate heavily in governance, economic models, etc.

Haven't read the whole article yet, but if I can put one unnecessary and unimportant opinion from the whole thing out there, I don't really like the flag Jeremia Heaton chose for his new country. I mean, it isn't terrible. I have seen worse but common man, you had the rare chance to create a new flag and you went with something that kinda has a seal in the middle of it (fourth principle of flag design). I mean it isn't the worst seal on a flag out there but at the same time the crown will surely not be destinct from a couple of hundred meters away even.

If the article is too long to read, watch this video instead: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J5iJSXaVvao

Still too long. Do you have a summary in a tweet somewhere?

Veni, vidi, verti, cessi :o)

I blame Disney for an unrealistic princess fantasy.

It's disputed territory, but one thing is clear: that guy does not belong there and has no legitimate claim to that place whatsoever.

> an American dad claimed a tiny parcel of African land to make his daughter a princess.

Can I just point out that this would be a fantastic plot for a movie or a novel? Could throw a lot of interesting themes into this

From the article:

> Jeremiah Heaton, beyond the “kingdom for a princess” schmaltz and the forthcoming Disney adaptation (he has sold film rights to his story for an undisclosed fee) [..]

I'm not sure if this was meant seriously though.

Tl;dr: there are two versions of land borders in that region, and the land which is valuable. Bir Tawil is a flip side of this coin. If one country claims it, they auto-lose the other side.

This seems quite naive as geopolitics go. One imagines China or the US, for example, would have no qualms about claiming both. "We assert Egyptian sovereignty over Hala'ib based on the treaty of 1899, and Egyptian sovereignty over Bir Tawil based on the inalienable historic right of the Adabda people to live under Egyptian rule."

Maybe it works better if you can afford to build a settlement there, like in Palestine, or an airstrip like in the South China Sea.

> “Are white people still allowed to do this kind of stuff?” good question

Are Chinese people white 'cos if so then maybe? Xinjiang, Tibet, South China Sea.


That's not a "white" thing. It's a conquerors thing.

they have had claims on all of those for a few centuries now, they didn't all of a sudden travel across oceans and continents to proclaim it theirs

It's OK to claim an adjacent territory, bring in settlers, oppress the natives, etc, just not OK to cross water to do so. is that your position? Hardly?

no i never said that. i merely observed that a question in the article is legitimate. not sure how i got dragged into addressing whataboutism in this subthread but ok

do citizens of Bir Tawil have to pay taxes? Why hasnt google bought it? Can multinational corporations set up banks there and avoid taxes altogether?

If there's water there then there is value. Be a great place to plant greenhouses, grow flowers and with an airstrip fly them into the heart of Europe.

But it would take quite a bit of capital and without formal recognition and a security force then it's a pipe dream. A pleasant one, but still a pipe dream.

Actually, there is no water. Nor soil. Nor vegetation which would depend on the other two.

Drill deep enough, and you might find water.

You might also be able to buy water from somewhere.

Solar farms don't need water either...

Lack of security force might not be an issue - being stateless means no taxes, so your business can probably afford to just hire it's own security against bandits. Get a reputation for shooting bandits on sight, and they won't come close.

I think the biggest risk is that if you actually manage to build a city there, both of your neighbours might decide to claim your land as theirs unless you have an army to threaten them with, or UN protection, both of which might be hard to get.

> Get a reputation for shooting bandits on sight, and they won't come close.

On what basis do you make that claim?

Probable reality will show they’ll just come with more armed bandits than you have security forces, assuming the value warrants it.

in one picture i can see what looks like dry waterways. possibly it does rain but lack of vegetation means water flows away too quickly

Perhaps there is gold, then? Or adamantium? Or what if you cand find Mithril!??

Don't forget Vibranium.

Either way, it sounds like there is a lot of Unobtainium there.

Assuming your idea had merit, the use of fossil fuels to airlift vegetables is a smart move ecologically?

This kind of thing is why I am looking forward to "No Man's Sky" VR release tomorrow.

No-one is likely to complain when I colonize a planet far off the beaten track where the highest form of life is a small feline creature with tentacles.

"No Man's Sky" [...] No-one is likely to complain

I've got some bad news for you.

Are people actually still playing One Mans Lie? I'd assumed everyone charge backed it on day one....

I picked it up afterwards at a discount. If you allow for how badly overhyped it was and treat it as a pretty screenshot generator for Roger Dean and Chris Foss fans, it turned out great.

(Never buy games on day one, let alone preorder, unless you're entirely comfortable giving the money to the developers for nothing)

The company has actually redeemed its reputation by continuosly releasing updates, afaik. Not fair to malign them like that.

Conspicuously free updates, too, in this era of DLC.

If I bought a broken car then the dealership spent the next two years slowly fixing it to match the sales pitch initially sold I'd still be pissed off.

Why do people allow game publishers to get away with the crap...

I'm not really following your analogy. A video game isn't a car, a car is a means of transportation that depending on your situation, is a requirement in order to get goods and retain employment. A video game is a hobby for most people, it's like watching movies or television. I'd say it'd be more similar to how people reacted to Lost's final seasons rather than a broken car.

One can separate the launch of the game, where clearly there was a lot of confusion and misleading information, from the events since. They have issued free updates for years. They received death threats and other harassment as well. I'm not saying you have to like the game, but I'm just confused as to what they're getting with.

> One Mans Lie

Do you say "Micro$oft" and "Crapple" too? Haven't seen those in a while.

It seems those who sticked with it got regular updates until it was a decent game. Not playing it myself, just what I heard from the vines.

I actually tried it recently. It's gotten a lot better, perhaps even to the point of vindicating itself. :)

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