Prescription (sovereignty transfer)

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In law, prescription is the method of sovereignty transfer of a territory through international law analogous to the common law doctrine of adverse possession for private real-estate. Prescription involves the open encroachment by the new sovereign upon the territory in question for a prolonged period of time, acting as the sovereign, without protest or other contest by the original sovereign. This doctrine legalizes de jure the de facto transfer of sovereignty caused in part by the original sovereign's extended negligence and/or neglect of the area in question.

Acquiring a piece of movable or immovable property by prescription is known as "acquisitive prescription" while losing property or a right is known as "extinctive prescription".


  • Randall Lesaffer, "Argument from Roman Law in Current International Law: Occupation and Acquisitive Prescription."[1]