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Beagle Channel Arbitration

On 1971 July 22 Salvador Allende and Alejandro Lanusse, the Presidents of Chile and Argentina, signed an arbitration agreement . This agreement related to their dispute over the territorial and maritime boundaries between them, and in particular the title to the Picton, Nueva and Lennox islands near the extreme end of the American continent, which was submitted to binding arbitration under the auspices of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom.

On 2 May 1977 the court ruled that the islands belonged to Chile .

On 25 January 1978 Argentina repudiated the arbitration decision and on 22 December 1978 started (and a few hours later aborted) military action to invade both those islands and continental Chile.

The Court

The British Crown had previously in 1902 and 1966 acted as arbitrator between Chile and Argentina , but, given the growing dispute in the Falklands between Argentina and the United Kingdom, the parties agreed to change the statutory framework of the Arbitration.

The Arbitration Agreement of 1971 stipulated:

the names of the 5 judges appointed (see the preamble of the Arbitration Agreement):

* Hardy Cross Dillard (United States of America)

* Gerald Fitzmaurice (United Kingdom)

* Andre Gros (France)

* Charles D. Onyeama (Nigeria)

* Sture Petren (Sweden)

the region where the court was to define the borderline

that the final decision would be submitted to the British Crown, which was then to recommend acceptance or rejection of the award of the court but not to modify it (Article XIII of the Arbitration Agreement)

that the Court of Arbitration should reach its conclusions in accordance with the principles of international law.

that each of the Parties should defray its own expenses and one half of the expenses of the Court of Arbitration and of Her Britannic Majesty's Government in relation to the Arbitration.

In this way the United Kingdom did not have any influence on the judgement: the procedure, the legal framework, the judges and the matter in dispute had all been defined by both countries.


The procedure had four phases:

The Memorials (starting from 1 January 1973) in terms of the delivery of written pleadings, annexes and maps.

The Counter-Memorials (starting from 2 June 1974) in terms of the responses.

The Replies (starting from 1 June 1975) in terms of comments.

The Oral proceedings (starting from 7 November 1975 to 23. October 1976) in terms of oral statements that were made in English or French at the speaker's choice, a simultaneous translation into English being provided in the latter case.

Chile handed over to the Court 14 volumes and 213 maps, and Argentina 12 volumes and 195 maps.

During the first fortnight of March 1976, the Court, accompanied by the Registrar and Liaison Officers from both sides, visited the Beagle Channel region, and inspected the islands and waterways concerned, first on the Chilean Naval Transport Vessel "Aquiles", and then on the Argentine Naval Transport Vessel "ARA Bahia Aguirre".


In the border treaty of 1855 Chile and Argentina had agreed to retain the borders of the Spanish colonial administration. This principle, known in jurisprudence as Uti possidetis, served two purposes: the first was to divide the territory between the two countries, and the second to preclude the creation of Res nullius areas which could have been taken in possession by other powers .

The boundary treaty of 1881 described, without any map, the course of the 5600 km border as follows:

over the Andes mountains (Article I),

in the region north of and through the Strait of Magellan (mainly along the 52S parallel) (Article II) and

in the Tierra del Fuego-Beagle Channel region (Article III).

The controversial articles II and III of the 1881 treaty were:

Article II)

"In the southern part of the continent, and to the north of the Straits of Magellan, the boundary between the two countries shall be a line, which starting from Point Dungeness, shall be prolonged overland as far as Mount Dinero; thence it shall continue westward, following the highest elevations of the chain of hills existing there, until it strikes the height of Mount Aymont. From this point the line shall be prolonged up to the intersection of meridian 70 W., with parallel 52 S. and thence it shall continue westward coinciding with this latter parallel as far as the divortium aquarumof the Andes. The territories lying to the north of said line shall belong to the Argentine Republic, and to Chili those which extend to the south, without prejudice to the provisions of Art. 3d concerning Tierra del Fuego and the adjacent islands".

Article III)

"In Tierra del Fuego a line shall be drawn, which starting from the point called Cape Espiritu Santo in parallel 5240, shall be prolonged to the south along the meridian 6834 west of Greenwich until it touches Beagle Channel. Tierra del Fuego, divided in this manner, shall be Chilean on the western side and Argentine on the eastern. As for the islands, to the Argentine Republic shall belong Staten Island, the small islands next to it, and the other islands there may be on the Atlantic to the east of Tierra del Fuego and of the eastern coast of Patagonia; and to Chile shall belong all the islands to the south of Beagle Channel up to Cape Horn, and those there may be to the west of Tierra del Fuego".

Under the so-called oceanic principle Argentina believed that the uti possidetis doctrine operated such that, under the arrangements operated by the colonial administrations, Chile (then the Captaincy General of Chile) had no territorial waters in the Atlantic Ocean and the Argentine (then the Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata) could not have territorial waters in the Pacific Ocean. The Argentine saw a reaffirmation of this principle in the Protocols of 1902, according to Rizzo Romano the first arms control pact in the worldSee Rizzo Romano, cited in "Canal de Beagle: El Laudo arbitral de la corona britanica" by Jose Enrique Greno Velasco in Universidad de La Rioja (page 70)

La Convencion sobre limitacion de armamentos comprende cinco articulos, y tiene el privilegio de ser de acuerdo a Rizzo Romano el primer convenio en su tipo ajustado entre naciones., under which both countries agreed that the Chilean navy should have enough ships to defend the interests of Chile in the Pacific, and the Argentine navy should have enough ships to defend the interests of Argentina in the Atlantic. Chile did not consider those protocols as a border treaty, and hence claimed that the boundary between the Pacific and the Atlantic had never been defined.

To resolve the conflicting interests of both countries, they decided in 1881 on an agreement; but nearly a century later there was still no mutual understanding of what that agreement had consisted of: Chile considered that it had renounced only its rights to eastern Patagonia (today continental south Argentina) in order to obtain full possession of the Strait of Magellan, but Argentina considered that Chile had received the Strait of Magellan in return for its renunciation of all coasts bordering the Atlantic ocean.

About the course of the Beagle Channel there were discrepancies. The eastern end of the Channel can be seen as a delta with an east-west arm and a north-south arm (around Navarino Island). The channel specified in the border treaty of 1881 was seen by Chile as the east-west arm, but by Argentina as the north-south arm. Following this controversy, two clauses were in dispute: Chile argued the Channel clause , while Argentina the Atlantic clause (the other islands there may be on the Atlantic to the east of Tierra del Fuego ). Some Chileans argued that the text "until it touches the Beagle Channel" in article III meant that Argentina had no navigable waters in the Beagle Channel, although this interpretation was not supported by the Chilean claim.

The judgement

A unanimous judgement was handed over to Queen Elizabeth II on 18 April 1977. The French judge Andre Gros gave a dissenting vote, not concerning the result but the reason. On 2 May 1977 the judgement was announced to the governments of both countries.

It involved the border running approximately along the center of the Channel, and awarded both Chile and Argentina sovereignty over navigable waters in the Channel:

"the Court considers it as amounting to an overriding general principle of law that, in absence of express provision to the contrary, an attribution of territory must ipso factocarry with it the waters appurtenant to the territory attributed" (107 Report and Decision of the Court of Arbitration).

Whaits island, the islets called Snipe, Eugenia, Solitario, Hermanos, Gardiner and Reparo, and the bank known as Herradura were awarded to Chile. All of these lie near the southern bank of the Beagle Channel.

Argentina was awarded all islands, islets and rocks near the north coast of the channel: Bridges, Eclaireurs, Gable, Becasses, Martillo and Yunque.

At the eastern end of the Channel, the judgement recognized the sovereignty of Chile over the Picton, Nueva and Lennox islands and all their adjacent islets and rocks.

The territorial waters established by these coasts, according to international maritime law, established Chilean rights in the Atlantic Ocean.

The Court sentenced also:

the 1881 treaty had given Chile exclusive control of the strait ( 31)

the waters of the strait were likewise Chilean since Chile controls both shores (37)

the Chilean Point Dungenes is on the Atlantic (24)

the 1893 Protocol had not altered the basic nature of the 1881 treaty compromise (74)

The reasons of the Court

The court rejected both the uti possidetis principle and the oceanic principle because:

In the particular case of the 1881 Treaty no useful purpose would be served by attempting to resolve doubts or conflicts regarding the Treaty, merely by referring to the very same [oceanic] principle or doctrine, the uncertain effect of which in the territorial relations between the Parties, had itself caused the Treaty to be entered into, as constituting the only (and intendedly final) means of resolving this uncertainty. To proceed in such a manner would merely be to enter a circulus inextricabilis.See 21 and 22 of the Report and decision of the Court of Arbitration

The tribunal considered that the exchange of Patagonia for the Strait of Magellan was the transaction behind the 1881 treaty:

This [Patagonia] was what Chile conceded by giving up a claim that still had enough vitality and content, at least politically, to make its final abandonment of primary importance to Argentina. It is on this basis, as well as on the actual attribution of Patagonian territory to Argentina effected by Article II of the Treaty, that the Court reaches the conclusion that it was the antithesis Patagonia/Magellan, rather than Magellan/Atlantic, which constituted the fundamental element of the Treaty settlement.See 31 of the Report and decision of the Court of Arbitration

After careful consideration of all possible word meanings and interpretations of the text, the court refused the Atlantic clause:

The Argentine interpretation depends on subjecting the text to a process, not exactly of amendment, but of what is known as emendation, i.e. adjustment to accommodate a different outlook. This is in no way an illegitimate proceeding as such, but its acceptability in any given case must depend on how compelling are the reasons that operate to support it, and also on the degree of adjustment entailed. The following are the adaptations that would be required:See 65 of the Report and decision of the Court of Arbitration

The reaction to the judgement

Chile accepted the judgement immediately and enacted it into its domestic law on 14 June 1977 .

On 25 January 1978 Argentina repudiated the arbitration award. According to Argentina:

the Argentine argument had been distorted and misrepresented.

the judgement had covered topics outside its terms of reference

the Court had drawn contradictory conclusions.

the Court had made errors of interpretation.

the Court had made geographical and historical errors.

the Court had not properly balanced the arguments and evidence of each party.

It has been argued that the Argentine claims over the Beagle Channel could not be sustained from a legal point of view and that in practice many of their assertions were subjective.


The court awarded navigable waters on the north bank of the eastern part of the Channel to Argentina, but otherwise it met all Chilean claims. Although the arbitration concerned only small islands, the direction of the new demarcation of the frontier would under international maritime law give Chile significant rights running into the Atlantic ocean, and would also significantly reduce the claims of Argentina on the Antarctic continent and its waters.

The Argentine rejection led both countries to the verge of war. On 22 December 1978 Argentina started military action to invade the islands. Only last minute papal mediation prevented the outbreak of armed conflict.

The award was a defeat for Argentine foreign policy, and initiated an uncoupling from the international community, which was to lead Argentina three years later into the Falklands war.

The arbitration was completely separate from the Falkland Islands issue, a fact that is often obfuscated or publicly denied in Argentina, where the arbitration is often presented as a plot by the UK See for example the book "Argentina en el Atlantico, Chile en el Pacifico" of Isaac Francisco Rojas Page 45:

S.M. Isabel II nombro un consejo para que la asesorase


The "council", actually the international tribunal, was named in the Arbitration Agreement of 1971 jointly by Chile and Argentina. The book is approved for teaching by the Argentine Ministry of Education in middle schools and universities (circular nr. 191/78 und Disposicion nr. 961/78 de S.N.E.P)See Argentine Newspaper Clarin 2. February 2005 [*]:

el laudo del 18 de abril de 1977 de un tribunal, que, en 1971, la dictadura de Alejandro A. Lanusse habia aceptado que estuviera bajo el influjo de la corona britanica

See "the most consequent defender of the rejection" Argentine's Profesor Rizzo Romano, cited in "Canal de Beagle: El Laudo arbitral de la corona britanica" by Jose Enrique Greno Velasco in Universidad de La Rioja (page 83),

3) Pretender que una nacion [United Kingdom] cuyo Gobierno ocupa y coloniza ilegalmente parte de un distrito [Falklands] administrativo de otro Estado [Argentina] pueda determinar validamente si otra porcion del mismo distrito [Beagle Channel] le corresponde a este o a un tercer Estado [Chile] que se encuentra en similar situacion ilegal resulta absurdo y aberrante, constituyendo un motivo principal para que nuestro Parlamento no confirme dicho tratado.

4) En caso de aprobarse el Acuerdo Arbitral de 1971, nuestra Nacion estaria indirectamente aprobando la invariable posicion britanica que niega la existencia de una disputa de soberania sobre Las Malvinas y sus adyacencias con la Republica Argentina.


Pablo Lacoste in his work "La disputa por el Beagle y el papel de los actores no estatales argentinos" (Argentine Civil Society Agencies in the Beagle Dispute) says:

The Argentine newspaper Clarin wished to show that the UK government had taken a substantive role in the arbitration, so that it could be criticized as biased in this by its own dispute with Argentina over the Falklands. To buttress this suggestion, on 3 May 1977, just as the arbitration award was announced, the newspaper put on its front page a cartoon of Queen Elizabeth II eating a Cap of Liberty, a Argentine emblem. Note that the same monarch had resolved the Palena and California controversies [i.e. other border disputes between Chile and Argentina] ten years previously, and that the Argentine government had accepted those decisions but that in 1977 the Argentine press did not mention these precedents.See "La disputa por el Beagle y el papel de los actores no estatales argentinos" in Revista Universum N 19 Vol.1 :86 - 109, 2004, also here retrieved 17.April.2009:

Algo que le interesaba al Clarin, era mostrar un papel protagonico de los ingleses en este proceso, asunto que se podia criticar por el pleito pendiente entre Argentina y Gran Bretana por las Malvinas. Para fortalecer este concepto, en la primera plana del 3 de mayo de 1977, se incluia una caricatura de la reina Isabel II comiendose un gorro frigio, parte del escudo nacional argentino. Recordemos que se trata de la misma soberana que habia emitido el laudo de Palena y California una decada antes, el cual habia sido aceptado por el gobierno argentino y con el cual se habia solucionado otro problema de limites con Chile. Naturalmente, en 1977, la prensa argentina no hizo la menor mencion de ese antecedente.

Chile kept in mind the Argentine breach of the arbitration agreementSee notes of the Chilean Foreign Minister Jose Miguel Insulza, in La Tercera de Santiago de Chile vom 13. Juli 1998 : "Enfatizo que, si bien la situacion es diferente, lo que hoy esta ocurriendo con el Tratado de Campo de Hielo Sur hace recordar a la opinion publica lo sucedido en 1977, durante la disputa territorial por el Canal de Beagle."See notes of Senator (not elected but named by the Armed Forces) Jorge Martinez Bush im La Tercera de Santiago de Chile vom 26 Juli 1998: "El legislador expuso que los chilenos mantienen "muy fresca" en la memoria la situacion creada cuando Argentina declaro nulo el arbitraje sobre el canal del Beagle, en 1978."See notes of the Chilean Foreign Minister Ignacio Walker Clarin de B.A., 22 July 2005: "Y esta en la retina de los chilenos el laudo de Su Majestad Britanica, en el Beagle, que fue declarado insanablemente nulo por la Argentina. Esa impresion todavia esta instalada en la sociedad chilena."See also "Reciprocidad en las Relaciones Chile - Argentina" of Andres Fabio Oelckers Sainz in PDF: "Tambien en Chile, todavia genera un gran rechazo el hecho que Argentina declarase nulo el fallo arbitral britanico y ademas en una primera instancia postergara la firma del laudo papal por el diferendo del Beagle" See notes of Director academico de la Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales Flacso, Francisco Rojas, in Santiago de Chile, in La Nación de Buenos Aires vom 26 September 1997: "Desde la Argentina, cuesta entender el nivel de desconfianza que hoy existe en Chile a proposito de la decision que tomo en 1978 de declarar nulo el laudo arbitral"See notes of Chilean Defense Minister Edmundo Perez Yoma im "Centro Superior de Estudios de la Defensa Nacional del Reino de Espana", apperead in Argentine newspaper El Cronista Comercial, 5 Mai 1997: ... Y que la Argentina estuvo a punto de llevar a cabo una invasion sobre territorio de Chile en 1978 .... These notes were later relativized by the Chilean Government .

The award brought the military dictatorships on both sides to the border to a unique and paradoxical situation: in Chile they celebrated the "wise" decision of the (overthrown) enemy Allende, and in Argentina they criticized the "imprudent" decision of his former colleague in power, general Lanusse.

The award was later fully recognized by Argentina in the Friendship and Peace Treaty of 1984.The Treaty of 1984 does not address the sovereignty of the Picton, Nueva, Lennox, etc. islands. Instead of this, it reaffirms the terms of the border treaty of 1881 and sus instrumentos complementarios y declaratorios and in article VII it defines the maritime border A partir del termino de la delimitacion existente en el Canal Beagle, esto es, el punto fijado por las coordenadas 5507.3 de latitud Sur y 6625.0 de longitud Oeste, , , that is, the point at the eastern end of the Beagle channel). The islands remained under Chilean sovereignty, but the maritime border was moved to the west.

See also

Falklands War

Argentina-Chile relations

Foreign relations of Argentina

Foreign relations of Chile


Beagle Channel Arbitration between the Republic of Argentina and the Republic of Chile, Report and Decision of the Court of Arbitration

Mark Laudy: The Vatican Mediation of the Beagle Channel Dispute: Crisis Intervention and Forum Building in Words Over War of Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict.

Alejandro Luis Corbacho: Predicting the Probability of War During Brinkmanship Crises: The Beagle and the Malvinas Conflicts, Universidad del CEMA, Argentina, Documento de Trabajo No. 244, September 2003, Spanish Language

Karin Oellers-Frahm: Der Schiedsspruch in der Beagle-Kanal-Streitigkeit, Berichte und Urkunden: Max-Planck-Institut fur auslandisches offentliches Recht und Volkerrecht, German Language

Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores de Chile: Relaciones Chileno-Argentinas, La controversia del Beagle. Genf 1979, English and Spanish Language

Andrea Wagner: Der argentinisch-chilenische Konflikt um den Beagle-Kanal. Ein Beitrag zu den Methoden friedlicher Streiterledigung. Verlag Peter Lang, Frankfurt a.M. 1992, ISBN 3-631-43590-8, German Language

Karl Hernekamp: Der argentinisch-chilenisch Grenzstreit am Beagle-Kanal. Institut fur Iberoamerika-Kunde, Hamburg 1980, German Language

Andres Cisneros y Carlos Escude, "Historia general de las Relaciones Exteriores de la Republica Argentina", Las relaciones con Chile, Cema, Argentina, Buenos Aires. Spanish Language

Annegret I. Haffa: Beagle-Konflikt und Falkland (Malwinen)-Krieg. Zur Aussenpolitik der Argentinischen Militarregierung 1976-1983. Weltforum Verlag, Munchen/Koln/London 1987, ISBN 3-8039-0348-3, German Language

Isaac F. Rojas und Arturo Medrano: Argentina en el Atlantico Chile en el Pacifico. Editorial Nemont, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1979, in spanischer Sprache.

Isaac F. Rojas, La Argentina en el Beagle y Atlantico sur 1. Parte. Editorial Diagraf, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Spanish Language

Carlos Escude und Andres Cisneros: Historia general de las relaciones exteriores de la Republica Argentina , in spanischer Sprache.

Fabio Vio Valdivieso: La mediacion de su S.S. el Papa Juan Pablo II, Editorial Aconcagua, Santiago de Chile, 1984, Spanish Language

Alberto Marin Madrid: El arbitraje del Beagle y la actitud argentina. 1984, Editorial Moises Garrido Urrea, id = A-1374-84 XIII, Spanisch Language

Luis Alberto Romero, Argentina in the twentieth Century. Pennsylvania State University Press, translated by James P. Brennan, 1994, ISBN 0-271-02191-8

Divisionsgeneral (a.D.) Juan E. Gugliamelli: Cuestion del Beagle. Negociacion directa o dialogo de armas , in Spanish Language. (Book compiled from articles of Argentine Magazin "Estrategia", published in Buenos Aires Nr:49/50, enero-febrero 1978.

General Martin Antonio Balza und Mariano Grondona: Dejo Constancia: memorias de un general argentino. Editorial Planeta, Buenos Aires 2001, ISBN 9504908136, Spanish Language

Francisco Bulnes Serrano und Patricia Arancibia Clavel: La Escuadra En Accion. Chile, Editorial Grijalbo, 2004, ISBN 9562582116, Spanish Language

Michael Morris, The Strait of Magellan, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1989, ISBN 0-7923-0181-1, 237 pages

External links

Chilean Telecast of Television Nacional de Chile "Informe Especial", Theme El ano que vivimos en peligro, , Spanish Language

Argentine Telecast of History Channel: Operativo Soberania YouTube, Spanish Language

Special edition of El Mercurio, Santiago de Chile, 2 September 2005, Spanish Language. There are Interviews with contemporary witness like Ernesto Videla, Jaime Del Valle, Helmut Brunner, Marcelo Delpech und Luciano Benjamin Menendez. Spanish Language.

Interview with the Chief Commander of the Argentine Army Martin Balza in El Mercurio de Santiago de Chile, 2 September 2005, Spanish Language

Interview with Sergio Onofre Jarpa, Chile's Ambassador in Argentina 1978 to 1982 in La Tercera, Santiago, Chile, 17 March 2002, Spanish Language

Interview with Argentine General Luciano Benjamin Menendez, Commandant of the III Army Corps in El Mercurio de Santiago de Chile, (from the Argentine Magazine "Somos"), Spanish Language

Interview with Pio Laghi, Nuntius in Argentina, 1978, in Clarin, Buenos Aires, 20 December 1998. Spanish Language

Interview with the Ambassador of the United States of America in Argentina, Raul Hector Castro, in Clarin Buenos Aires, 20 December 1998, Spanish Language

Interview with the former Chief of the "Secretaria General del Ejercito" (a Think-Tank of the Argentine Army), General Reynaldo Bignone, President of Argentina after the Falkland War, in Clarin, Buenos Aires, 20 December 1998, Spanish Language

Article Cartas desde el Abismo, Clarin, Buenos Aires, 20 December 1998, Spanish Language

Article El belicismo de los dictadores Clarin, Buenos Aires, 20 December 1998, Spanish Language

Article Beagle: historia secreta de la guerra que no fue La Nacion, Buenos Aires, 12. August 1996, Spanish Language

Article Historia de la santa mediacion en Clarin, Buenos Aires, 20 December 1998, Spanish Language

Chile-Argentina Relations, Spanish Language

Toma de decisiones politicas y la influencia de los discursos oficialistas durante el Connflicto del Beagle: Chile - Argentina 1977-1979, Spanish Language

Text of the Tratado de Paz y Amistad de 1984, Direccion de Fronteras y Limites de Chile, Spanish Language

Text of the Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1984, Copy to the United Nations, English Language

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