ICJ: Judgment in the Malaysia/Singapore case 23 May 2008
The ICJ has rendered its Judgment in the case concerning the sovereignty over three maritime features in the Straits of Singapore, awarding the largest islet to Singapore.

Sovereignty over the strategically located island of Pedra Branca (foreground) was awarded to Singapore. Middle Rocks in the background go to Malaysia.On Friday 23 May 2008, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) rendered its Judgment in the case concerning the sovereignty over Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh, Middle Rocks and South Ledge (Malaysia/Singapore).

 The Court found that sovereignty over Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh – a small but strategically located island in the Straits of Singapore – belongs to the Republic of Singapore and that sovereignty over Middle Rocks belongs to Malaysia. The Court refrained from awarding South Ledge to either country, ruling that sovereignty over the low-tide elevation belongs to the State in whose territorial waters it is located.

The dispute between Malaysia and Singapore over the three maritime features began in 1980 when Malaysia published an official map depicting the island of Pulau Batu Puteh (called Pedra Branca by Singapore) within Malaysia’s territorial waters. In 1993, the dispute expanded to Middle Rocks and South Ledge when Singapore referred to the maritime features in the context of its claim to Pedra Branca.

The Court first found that the territorial domain of the Sultanate of Johor (Malaysia) did cover in principle all the islands and islets within the Straits of Singapore including Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh. It found that no development affected this original title until 1953.

After 1953 however, the Court found that the conduct of the Parties could be seen as conduct à titre souverain. This included the investigation of shipwrecks by Singapore within the island’s territorial waters and the granting or not granting of permission by Singapore to Malaysian officials to survey the waters surrounding the island. Additionally, the Court considered that weight could also be given in support of Singapore’s claim by way of Malaysia’s absence of reaction to the flying of the Singapore ensign on the island and Singapore’s installation of military equipment on the island.

The Court accordingly found that sovereignty over Pedra Blanca/Pulau Batu Puteh belonged to Singapore.

The Court observed that the particular circumstances which led to the finding of sovereignty over Pedra Branca in favour of Singapore did not apply to Middle Rocks. It thus concluded that sovereignty over Middle Rocks remained with Malaysia as the successor to the Sultanate of Johor.

As for South Ledge, the Court noted that this low-tide elevation fell within the apparently overlapping territorial waters generated by Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh and by Middle Rocks. Recalling that it had not been mandated by the Parties to draw the line of delimitation with respect to their territorial waters in the area, the Court concluded that sovereignty over South Ledge belongs to the State in the territorial waters of which it is located.

The Judgment of the Court is binding and without appeal.

Relations between Malaysia and Singapore have been highly complex since the city-state was expelled from the Malaysian Federation in 1965. Additionally, these three maritime features are located at the eastern end of the Straits of Singapore, a highly strategic passage scattered with islets at the crossing of Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. The Straits are some of the busiest maritime passages in the world, with nearly 40% of all the world’s oil trade passing through there.

Press release

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