In 1970, the United Kingdom granted the island of Fiji its independence with a legal document presented by Prince Charles. Sometime in 2005, Fiji lost that document. Fijian officials spent the next five years scouring the country's 7,000 square miles, spread over 332 islands, for the legal certification of its nationhood. It couldn't find it, and has now admitted it lacks proof it is, in fact, an independent country. The BBC reports that Fiji has been "forced to take the embarrassing step of asking its former colonial masters for a photocopy."
Does this mean that Fiji, lacking written proof and legal documentation of nationhood, is no longer a real country? Not really, says the BBC.
But when a country loses such a document, does the right to independence go with it?
Almost certainly not, according to Catherine Redgwell, professor of international law at University College London.
"If it's recognised as a state and fully participates in the international community, the loss of documents isn't going to affect its existence [as an independent state]."
... In the same way that losing your birth certificate does not mean you cease to exist, the legitimacy of a state does not rest on a piece of paper, agrees Prof Roda Mushkat.
That may sound like a silly and obvious question, but it's probably one that Fijian officials are relieved to know the answer to.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.