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For the rule of Oliver Cromwell, see The Protectorate.

A protectorate is a type of dependent area in international law. Suppose one state engages to protect another state, or a stateless territory, in exchange for its obedience in relations with other states; then the first state is a protector and the other state or region a protectorate. In practice, the protectorate has direct foreign relations only with the protecting power; other states must deal with it by approaching the protector. Similarly, the protectorate does not take military action on its own, but relies on the protector for its defence. This is distinct from annexation, in that the protector has no formal power to control the internal affairs of the protectorate.

Protection is a long-established term in English law for the duty of a sovereign to keep the subject safe from harm, including harm done by the sovereign; the subject has a corresponding duty of allegiance and obedience. Thus, in 1775, George III declared the thirteen colonies "out of his protection" for their disobedience — almost equivalent to a declaration of war.


19th Century

When the British took over Cephallenia in 1809, they proclaimed that "We present ourselves to you, Inhabitants of Cephalonia, not as Invaders, with views of conquest, but as Allies who hold forth to you the advantages of British protection." When the British continued to occupy the Ionian Islands after the Napoleonic wars, they did not formally annex the islands, but described them as a protectorate. The islands were constituted by the Treaty of Paris in 1815 as the independent 'United States of the Ionian Islands' under British protection.

Other British protectorates followed. In 1894 Prime Minister William Gladstone's government officially announced that Uganda was to become a British Protectorate, where Muslim and Christian strife had attracted international attention. The British administration installed carefully selected local kings under a program of indirect rule through the local oligarchy, creating a network of British-controlled civil service. Most British protectorates were overseen by a Commissioner or a High Commissioner, rather than a Governor.

British law made a distinction between a protectorate and protected state. Constitutionally the two were of similar status:

  • Britain controlled defence and external relations in both cases
  • however in protectorates Britain established an internal government, while in protected states a form of local internal self-government was already in existence.

The last British protectorate was Brunei (a protected state), which became independent in 1984.

Persons connected with former British protectorates, protected states, mandated or trust territories may still be British protected persons if they did not acquire the nationality of their country at independence. See British nationality law

The League of Nations

The League of Nations established League of Nations Mandates, similar to protectorates, for "responsible" European powers in various areas of the non-European world.

US use of term

Some agencies of the United States government, such as the United States Environmental Protection Agency, use the term protectorate to refer to insular areas of the United States such as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as were the Philippines. However, the agency responsible for the administration of those areas, the Office of Insular Affairs (OIA) within the United States Department of Interior exclusively uses the term insular area rather than protectorate.

See also

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