Global Encyclopedia of Territorial Rights

Living Edition
| Editors: Michael Kocsis

First Occupancy and Territorial Rights

Living reference work entry


One of the oldest and strongest justifications for granting territorial rights to anyone is that they got there first: they were responsible for the initial occupation of the territory before any other individual or group. As the first occupiers of the unowned territory (see “The Res Nullius Doctrine and Implications for Territorial Rights”), this type of rightsholder undertakes the initial acquisition of the area or thing, and, under the principle of first in time, first in right, they justify their right to exclude others from the territory based on the fact of their occupation. A legitimate historical first occupancy can therefore justify contemporary property rights: so long as the initial acquisition was just, then a series of voluntary transfers from the initial occupier to the present owner provides a justification for their right to exclude others. In the modern era, the doctrine has proved to be a resilient one and continues to assist in the determination of rights...

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.California State University, StanislausTurlockUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Nick C. Sagos
    • 1
  1. 1.Humanities / Liberal ArtsSeneca CollegeTorontoCanada