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A map is a symbolic representation of selected characteristics of a place, usually drawn on a flat surface. Maps play a pivotal role because they provide us the demographic information. Undoubtedly, maps have a crucial role in geographic studies. But at the same time, maps are also used as evidence in international law.

International laws are a set of rules, agreements and treaties that are binding between countries. Countries come together to make binding rules that they believe will benefit the citizens. It is an independent system of law existing outside the legal framework of a particular state.

Maps are a influential item used as evidence in international law. But, still there are limitations which usually are not considered in depth. Maps are subjective and therefore, also used as political document. International courts, tribunals and international negotiations, consider maps trustworthy. As, maps appear in front and depicts photographic representation.

Ian Brownlie classifies maps as only serving the purpose of proving something, be it proving fact or law. There are many types of facts a map can prove. They are

  • Geographic features.

  • Lines on maps help to differentiate the bench of an area.

  • Tells location for natural features & man- made constructions.

  • Water body & water lines are established.

In the Burkina Faso/ Mati frontier dispute case, maps were used as tools to establish these kinds of facts.


1. When a border is established by a natural feature, map can evidence where a river runs or mount peak sits, and in return provide evidence for the border.

2. A map that pinpoints are of military activity might suggest an analysis of whether or not the threshold for the use of force has been reached.

The international court of justice has been very reluctant to give value to maps thus view maps as secondary evidence. But in some situations, maps have been regarded as primary and highly significant evidence. A tribunal can also rely on different maps drafted for different purposes for different questions.

Maps are not only used as facts but they also contribute, for question of law. The ICJ specifically held that, in determining the delimitation of maritime areas by treaty (as with any question of treaty application), the Court must first establish whether the agreement is a treaty and only then determine the content of the treaty.

Thus, we can separate the question of whether a map is potentially evidentiary of whether the agreement is legally binding from the question of how a map evidences the meaning of the treaty terms.

Maps can be used to understand legal obligations. Such as –

Firstly, one party could submit a map as a part of its legal conclusion on its

obligations. For example, various states have attached maps to their responses to the projects undertaken by the International Law Commission (ILC), supporting their conclusions on the content of the law.

Secondly, a map could be introduced to prove the vintentions or understandings of the parties in reaching their negotium, for example, a secretly prepared map that is later exposed might demonstrate that a party desired a particular outcome.

Thirdly, where a map does not create a legal obligation, which will be discussed in more detail in the sections to follow, the map might still provide assistance in interpreting the treaty terms that are binding.

Therefore, maps have a more broad and deep relationship with international law than it is observed. Maps are used to prove facts, establish legal relations and creating new laws in international laws. Maps can be used as evidence to prove for fact and law.

Written By:Ms. Garima Aggarwal, Law Intern at S.Bhambri & Associates (Advocates), Delhi.

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