Sovereignty and sovereign rights

25 October 2012 | Article



Sovereignty is the factor which defines and characterizes a State to the exclusion of all other entities. Sovereignty is the principle of supreme authority; no other power is superior to sovereign power, thus no power can be higher than the State. Consequently, no other authority can interfere with action undertaken by an empowered sovereign State whether it concerns regulations, controls or sanctions, without first having obtained its agreement. The State's exclusive right to establish a rule of law and ensure its observance poses a major problem in terms of the effectiveness of international rules.

As regards the law of the sea, the sovereignty of a State implies its exclusive legal authority over all of its internal waters and territorial sea, but also over its nationals, and thus its vessels in international waters not subject to the authority of other States (cf. flag State and the high sea).

Finally, international law attributes sovereign rights to coastal States beyond their territorial seas: that is to say, over natural resources on their continental shelves and in their Exclusive Economic Zones (when they have declared that such Zones have been created). In these cases, the exclusive authority of the State no longer concerns all of its activities, but only some of them.

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