23 May, 2008

Singapore Has Sovereignty Over Pulau Batu Puteh !

Sovereignty over Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh, Middle Rocks and South Ledge (Malaysia/Singapore)

The Court finds that Singapore has sovereignty over Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh; that

Malaysia has sovereignty over Middle Rocks; and that sovereignty over South Ledge belongs to the State in the territorial waters of which it is located

The International Court of Justice here today ruled Singapore has sovereignty over Pulau Batu Puteh while Malaysia owns Middle Rocks, and South Ledge belongs to the state in whose territorial waters it is located.

The judgment brought to a close a 28-year-old territorial dispute between Malaysia and Singapore over the island which Singapore called Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks and South Ledge.

The judgment was delivered by ICJ Vice-President Shawkat Al-Khasawneh, who was the Acting President in the case, at 10am Netherlands time and ended reading out the verdict five minutes before noon.

Shawkat and 15 other judges had heard oral submissions by both countries from Nov 6-23 last year.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim regarded the judgment as a "win-win" situation and stated that the status quo remained although Singapore had sovereignty over Pulau Batu Puteh and Malaysia over Middle Rocks.

Download "Sovereignty over Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh, Middle Rocks and South Ledge (Malaysia/Singapore) - Judgment of 23 May 2008"- International Court Of Justice
(icj) here. Press release here.

Malaysia’s conduct since 1953 showed that sovereignty over Pulau Batu Puteh had passed over to Singapore, the International Court of Justice said today, ruling 12-4 in favour of the republic.

This decision resolves a thorny issue that has haunted bilateral ties between the countries for 28 years. But the ICJ decision will not be the final word on this matter in Malaysia where loss of territory to Singapore – even an outcrop of rocks – could turn into a political issue. For the past few weeks, Johoreans have been conducting special prayers in the hope that the court will decide in favour of Malaysia.

But the ICJ noted that the strength of Singapore’s claim lay in a letter sent by the state secretary of Johor in 1953 to the Singapore government where he informed that "the Johore government does not claim ownership of Pedra Branca." It could not accept Malaysia’s argument that the state secretary did not have authority or legal capacity to disclaim or confirm ownership of the island, said Judge Awn Shawkat al-Khasawneh.

He also noted that between 1962 and 1975 Malaysia published several maps which attributed Pulau Batu Puteh or Pedra Branca to Singapore. This gave strength to Singapore’s claim of sovereignty.

The ICJ by a majority of 15-1 gave Malaysia ownership of Middle Rocks and said that the South Ledge belongs to the state in which territorial waters it is located in.

Malaysia’s Arguments.

1) Malaysia zoomed in on the 1953 letter, pointing out that Johor’s Acting State Secretary then did not have the authority and no legal capacity to renounce, disclaim or confirm ownership of any of its territories. Singapore had said earlier that the letter was from the Johor government then and it confirms the republic’s ownership of Pedra Branca.

2) Cited two Johor treaties with Britain in 1948 which said that Johor had transferred all its rights, powers and jurisdiction on matters of defence and external affairs to the British.

3) Singapore, in its rebuttal, had said that if the British had not funded the lighthouse construction and decided on it, there would not even have been one on Pedra Branca.
However, Malaysia’s counsel disagreed that it was the British who initiated the construction of the lighthouse and took ownership of the island.

4) Malaysia was criticised for its “silence on the nature of acts a titre d souverain” (the exercise of sovereign powers) on the island but this was because during the period 1847-1851, Britain’s conduct could not be classified as having exercised sovereign powers.

5) ”Conduct (British) in every respect related to the construction of a lighthouse and nothing

6) Placing of experimental bricks, the cutting of rain channels and others on the island, as submitted by Singapore, could hardly be described as acts of the exercise of sovereign powers

7) Malaysia’s counsel, Marcelo Kohen, submitted that the permission of Johor to build the lighthouse made the “fragile and convoluted Singaporean case irreparably collapse.

8 ) Native population used the island, as referred to in Portuguese books as early as 1552 and in 1822. Nearly 300 years later, John Crawfurd reported that the “men of the sea” living in that area were subjects of the Sultanate of Johor

Singapore’s Argument.

1) Pedra Branca was no man’s land in 1847, when the British went there to build the Horsburgh Lighthouse. This meant that Malaysia’s claim that it owned the island even before 1847 is untrue.

2) Malaysia has failed to produce any evidence to show that it owns the island.

3) British possessed Pedra Branca without permission from anyone.

4) Malaysia had claimed it gave Britain permission to construct the lighthouse on the island. But again, they had not shown any evidence to prove that.

5) In 1953, when Johor was a sovereign state under international law, the state secretary of Johor, writing in an official capacity, informed the Singapore government that ‘the Johore Government does not claim ownership of Pedra Branca’

6) Singapore’s display of sovereignty over the island was “open, continuous and notorious” for over 130 years. But Malaysia had said earlier that Singapore was merely performing acts that were expected of a lighthouse operator.

7) Between 1962 and 1975, Malaysia published six maps which attributed Pedra Branca to Singapore. Singapore has never published a single map attributing the island to Malaysia

8 ) Malaysia had also argued that Pedra Branca and its outcrops of Middle Rocks and South Ledge should be treated as separate features. But Professor Koh said for reasons of proximity, geology, history and law, the “three features are inseparable and must be treated together.

9) Malaysia had repeatedly argued that this case is about ownership and not about competing activities on the island but Singapore’s case is that Pedra Branca did not belong to anyone in 1847 and that Singapore has acquired sovereignty over it since 1847 and has maintained it from then.

10) Singapore’s actions are consistent with that of a country that has sovereignty over Pedra Branca. In contrast, all of Malaysia’s actions and inactions, he said, are entirely consistent with that of a country which has no title over the island.

11) Singapore’s actions were open and public and are the counterpart to Malaysia’s silence in the face of these activities over a period of 130 years. Malaysia’s official disclaimer in 1953 and its series of official maps attributing the island to Singapore are further confirmation of this picture.

12) The Singapore team highlighted that Malaysia did not protest to any of those activities over the last 130 years.

13) Citing examples, Malaysia did not object when the British expanded the jetty and landing stage on the island in the 1880s, and it did not protest either when Singapore insisted in 1974 that it had to approve Malaysian visitors going to Pedra Branca.

14) Singapore performed numerous activities in a manner which fully reflected the reality that it regarded itself as possessing sovereignty over the island while Malaysia did nothing.

15) Malaysia also disclaimed ownership over Pedra Branca in 1953. Malaysia’s meteorological publications listed the rainfall station on Pedra Branca as being “in Singapore”. It also published a series of official maps over a 14-year period designating Pedra Branca as Singapore. And it did nothing of its own on the island

16) Malaysia had argued that it had conducted navy patrols in the waters with other countries such as Australia and the United States, and those were an exhibition of its sovereignty over the island. But Malaysia has no documentary evidence to indicate the precise areas covered by such patrols or that they had anything to do with Pedra Branca and its waters.

17)Malaysia’s documents, which they claimed show its original title over the island, are insufficient.

Read also:

Malaysiakini:"Batu Puteh goes to Singapore"

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