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Citation: Settlers of German Origin in the Territory Ceded by Germany to Poland. Permanent Court of International Justice, 1923.
Facts: On 28 June 1919, the Treaty of Peace between the Allied and Associated Powers and Germany was signed at Versailles. On 10 January 1920,Germany recognized the independent State of Poland and ceded rights and titles over certain territory to Poland (Article 87). Under the Treaty of Versailles (Article 256) all German State leases and contracts of territory transfer over to the Polish State. On 14 July 1920 the Polish Government refuses to recognize leases prior to 11 November 1918, by the German Government to German Nationals who have now acquired Polish nationality. The former German Nationalist are occupying territory under Rentengutsvertrage , a special contract, made with the predecessor State of Prussia. While the contract was effective prior to 18 November 1918 the Auflassung , legal ownership of the land, was not received. Under Article 256, the Polish Government assumes legal ownership of the territory. While the territories have been ceded to Poland, German Law is still in force in the territories.
Issues: Whether or not Poland (the successor state) is obligated to assume a Rentengustsvertrag, made with a former German National and the predecessor state of Prussia, and the execution of the contract, including the transfer by Ausflassung? Under the Treaty of Versailles is Poland in violation of her international obligations?
Side A: The German Settlers argue that the Rentengustsvertrag automatically transfers to the successor state. Although sovereignty has changed, private rights acquired under existing laws have not. They argue that while they had not acquired legal ownership of the lands prior to the Armistice of 11 November 1918, they have still acquired rights to the land (Articles 873 and 925 German Civil Code). Under the Minorities Treaty, Article 1 states that the conditions written in Articles 2 to 8 will be recognized as “fundamental laws”, in which no law, regulation, or official action can conflict with or override them. In Articles 2, 7, and 8 Poland further assures that all Polish nationals be given the protection of life and freedom without discrimination of “birth, nationality, language, race or religion”. Article 12 of the Treaty concludes that all minorities “be placed under the guarantee of the League of Nations”. Under Article 91 of the Versailles Treaty the former German Nationals have acquired Polish nationality.
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Side B: The Polish Government argues that because the lease conceded prior to 11 November 1918 they refuse to recognize it. They also believe that the contracts were of a personal nature, existing only between the original parties involved. Thus, releasing Poland of any obligations passed during the succession. Under Article 226 of the Peace Treaty, Poland contends that she is not required to execute any obligations passed on from the former State of Prussia concerning their policy of “Germanisation” (in reference to the property which was passed to Poland). Because it is not formally stated in the Peace Treaty, Poland contends that they have no obligations to the preservation of private rights.
Courts Decision: The Court decides that the Treaty of Versailles does involve international obligations. That the position taken by Poland was not in accordance with its’ international obligations.
Point of Law: The succession of a state carries with it not only territory, but also international obligations (i.e. contracts)
Beekon, Smith. International Law. 1996