WikiProject United Nations political boundaries

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National governments and international organizations are willing to use OSM to publish interactive maps. However, they could face huge diplomatic problems if those maps don't follow the internationally recognised rules established by United Nations for countries in the world. The complete list of country members is published at . Some maps are also available at .

The OSM community is definitely interested to know where OSM differs from the UN recognized countries and territories. We'd like to see these designations in the database. For many places, what is currently a difference between OSM and the UN may simply be a mistake, and in those cases, we simply need to update the default tags. But that's not always the case.

What might be controversial is the "default" name and designation, shown on the default map rendering of the OpenStreetMap site, and other renderings like CloudMade. For instance, Kosovo is recognized internationally by many countries, and of course in Kosovo, but not all. If the mappers in Kosovo want the default map rendering to show Kosovo as a country, I don't think the community would weigh against that. Of course, it could be changed at any time in either way. OSM is a wiki.

In a very few cases, the OSM Foundation is called in to mediate disputes, such as in Cyprus and we employ the Disputes#On the Ground Rule On the Ground rule in those cases. How the rule applies to political designations is still subject to debate.


OpenStreetMap can still include information on official recognition, and alternate renderings can be configured to show those renderings

New tags are needed for non-self-governing territories and for something like Other territories.

Tags like name=*, is_in=*, boundary=* all would have localizations. The local key for internationally recognized political entities could possibly be "UN", such as ref:UN=*, but the United Nations also maintain a statistic reference number in its M.49 standard (referenced also by the IETF BCP 47 standard track for tagging languages), not just for member countries but for various entities; the only way would be to use a more specific tag like UN:member=yes).

Known inconsistencies

  • Faeroes islands are not a country but a territory administrated by Denmark.
  • Alderney and Guernsey are not countries but Crown Dependencies of UK
    False. Crown Dependencies are NOT formally part of UK (just like most British overseas territories, even if these later are under British sovereignty), and are also NOT under British Sovereignty. The British Crown Dependencies are in fast personnal possession of the Britsh Crown, and operate their own States; just like other independant states under free association with another country. The UK legislation is not immediately applicable to these dependencies, without a prior consent of the relevant States. They are helf-independant, and have freely chosen (by decision of their States), to be represented internationally by UK. Citizens of these Dependences do get the right of using the British citizenship, but the reverse is NOT true (there's only a freedom of movement for all Briths citizens, but there are specific customs applicable to these States; some local elections are only applicable to citizens of these states, not necessarily to all British citizens residing there). These states are also not part of the European Union. These dependencies of the Crown have a very large level of autonomy. The government of UK cannot decide alone without approval by the relevant states, including for laws related to international affairs and international treaties.
    The only thing that is true is that these dependencies (including Isle of Man, and Jersey, the two other Crown Dependencies) have no seat in the UN, because they are not internationally recognized as independant countries (they are associated states), but it is extremely near from full independance (if these States decide to withdraw the association, they have the right to do it; they will remain in the British Crown with the Queen/King as their head of State, just like Canada); and these states have the legal right to create embassies, or consulates in selected countries, without prior authorization by the British government or the British Parliament; they can also become parties to international treaties of their choice, independantly of UK even if the British parliament or government is opposed to it (unlike its overseas), provided that this is compatible with the terms of the current association (notably in terms of defense and police, but the British army cannot take any action there without consulting the local States).
    Notes: Alderney and Sark are direct dependancies (administrative subdivisions) of the Bailiwick of Guernsey. The two Bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey were formerly associated in the "Channel Islands" but this association is now fully dissolved as they operate now as separate states (the "Channel Islands" should no longer be used on today's map). Also do not confuse these "Channel Islands" (this former administrative entity) with the "British Isles" (an existing much larger geographical-only entity, covering the full island of Great Britain, the full island of Ireland, the Isle of Man, and the islands of Jersey, Guernsey, Sark, Alderney and their smaller dependancies).
  • Gibraltar is not a country but a territory administrated by the United Kingdom.
  • Kosovo is not a country but a territory in dispute.
  • Macedonia should be called The Former Republic Yugoslav of Macedonia or at least Macedonia (F.Y.R.O.M.).
  • Western Sahara is not an independent country; it has been suggested that the borders should be rendered differently (dashed).
It's true that it's not a severeign state, it is technically still a territory (former colony) of Spain under UN treaties, but Spain abandonned it completely without following the international procedure for self-determination. As a result this territory was immediately invaded by Morocco and Mauritania, but Mauritania also abandonned it. The local population wanted their own government but had to flee the Moroccan army coming there to annex it (without any UN right for it), only because there was a secret agreement between Spain, Morocco and Mauritania. Since then the territory is disputed between two states (Morocco that wants to annex it, and the Western Sahran government, which mostly lives in exile in Algeria (giving assistance and even taking part to the conflict, even if Algeria does not claim it).
As such there's one de jure statee (Spain) there everywhere, one de facto state (Morocco) governing most part of it, and the remaining small band left without any clearly recognized and active government.
On UN maps, this is still a terrotory to decolonize (it was to be decolonize by Spain, but now it is also to be decolonized by Morocco (which instead increases its presence and has created a strongly armed boundary with several walls crossing isolating the Eastern part, and even cutting it in two part (during some period, Morocco defined the well boundary on a small desertic part of the territory of Mauritania, but this is no longer the case and Mauritania now has legal control on the small triangle in the North-West corner that separates the two remaining "free" parts of Western Sahara. There's however still an issue in the southernmost point where Morocco initially wanted to create a city, that is now abandonned and left stuffed with landmines, still creating a dangerous situation for Mauritania.
So there's no official effective government for Western Sahara which remains disputed since 40 years, but where Morocco now governs most of the territory (and still claims the rest, to the East of the wall, but does not administrate it effectively).
In OSM this Eastern part should be visible (there is also a narrow corridor to the south along the border of Mauritania but the border of Mauritania is so near from the wall that this corridor is unusable by anyone and remains a nomansland, without any resource for anyone to be able to live there. This has created a situation where all the area could not develop and has regressed dramatically: the rest of the "free" area is really in danger, left without any assistance, without anny form of justice (the situation is worse than in refugees camps in Algeria and Mauritania, and many Western Sahran chose to surrender and finaly accept the Moroccan domination to return to the west, but they are still not considered as premier citizens there). The recent apparaition of AQMI in the region complicated the issue a lot for finding a peaceful end of the situation.
In most UN statistics, this territory is missing, but it is fully greyed out (UN does not recognize even the part currently governed by Morocco and will not before there's a self-determination and those that previous lyt lived there (but that are now in refugee camps in Algeria) can take part to the self-determination. There's no easy solution for now. But the UN-recognized border of Morocco should still be in the OSM database and visible by default on rendered map, even if it's just a "dashed line"! We still need this data for creating maps explaining the history and political situation or its evolution.

Area vs. boundary

Right now, OSM tags administrative boundaries, but not the country areas. In order to properly tag the contested territories, a possible solution is a relation of boundaries making up a closed multipolygon should be created for every territory.

Such areas should overlap in contested territories, and no-man's-land should not overlap with any of such areas.

Such areas should be tagged as recognised (or not) by UN, self-governing, etc. Later on, a geoprocess could automatically extract "problematic" areas (contested, no-man's-land, non-UN countries, etc).