Double Nationality

Double Nationality: Doctrine of Effective Link

Nottebohm Case (Liechtenstein v Guatemala), ICJ (1955).

L claimed damages against G for arresting, detaining, expelling and refusing to readmit Nottebohm, and for seizing and retaining his property without compensation.

G asked the court to declare the claim inadmissible, in part, ‘because L failed to prove that Nottenbohm properly acquired L nationality in accordance with the law of L’, ‘because anyway that law could not be regarded as in conformity with international law’ and because he appeared ‘in any event not to have lost, or not validly to have lost, his German nationality.’

Court used the effective link doctrine and found the claim inadmissible as the applicant could not establish effective link between the applicant and Nottenbohm.

The ICJ also held:

It is for Liechtenstein, as it is for every sovereign State, to settle by its own legislation the rules relating to the acquisition of its nationality, and to confer that nationality by naturalization granted by its own organs in accordance with that legislation. It is not necessary to determine whether international law imposes any limitations on its freedom of decision in this domain. Furthermore, nationality has its most immediate, its most far-reaching and, for most people, its only effects within the legal system of the State conferring it. Nationality serves above all to determine that the person upon whom it is conferred enjoys the rights and is bound by the obligations which the law of the State in question grants to or imposes on its nationals. This is implied in the wider concept that nationality is within the domestic jurisdiction of the State.

But the issue which the Court must decide is not one which pertains to the legal system of Liechtenstein. It does not depend on the law or on the decision of Liechtenstein whether that State is entitled to exercise its protection, in the case under consideration. To exercise protection, to apply to the Court, is to place oneself on the plane of international law. It is international law which determines whether a State is entitled to exercise protection and to seise the Court.