Singapore ‘confident’ of its case on Pedra Branca: Vivian Balakrishnan

Singapore ‘confident’ of its case on Pedra Branca: Vivian Balakrishnan

The Foreign Affairs Minister says Singapore will submit a 'comprehensive and compelling rebuttal' to Malaysia’s application to overturn a 2008 ICJ ruling by Jun 14.

The tiny island of Pedra Branca sits at the entrance to the Singapore Strait about 30km east of the city state. (File photo: Reuters)

SINGAPORE: Singapore is confident of its case against Malaysia's claim over Pedra Branca, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told Parliament on Thursday (Mar 2).

He said its legal team “strongly believes” that the three documents relied on by Malaysia in their application to overturn a 2008 International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling on Pedra Branca do not satisfy the criteria laid out for a revision of a judgment. "We are confident of our legal team and our case," he said.

Speaking at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Committee of Supply debate, Dr Balakrishnan noted that Malaysia had applied for a revision under Article 61 of the ICJ’s Statute and that several criteria must be met for a revision:

- It must be based upon the discovery of facts which were unknown to the court and the party claiming revision when judgment was first given.

- The newly-discovered facts must be decisive, and of such a character as to lay the case open to revision.

- And an application for revision must be made at latest within six months of the discovery of the new fact, and within ten years of when the judgment was given.

After careful study of Malaysia's application, Singapore's legal team believes the documents do not satisfy the criteria under Article 61. Singapore will submit its “comprehensive and compelling rebuttal” to Malaysia’s application by Jun 14, which is the time limit fixed by the ICJ, Dr Balakrishnan said.

He added that Singapore is committed to resolving the issue amicably and in accordance with international law. “Bilateral relations with Malaysia therefore are good, will remain good, and we will continue on all our mutually-beneficial bilateral programmes,” he said.

BILATERAL RELATIONS WITH MALAYSIA "EXCELLENT"

Dr Balakrishnan also told the House that Singaporeans should not be disconcerted by these developments. “Because even with the best of diplomatic and personal relations, we must expect other states to act in their own self-interests,” he said.

He added that part of what underpins Singapore’s good relations with Malaysia is a commitment by both sides to resolve disagreements amicably in accordance with international law, while allowing mutually-beneficial cooperation to continue in the meantime.

Dr Balakrishnan noted that Singapore has marked a new milestone in its relationship with Malaysia, with the signing of the agreement on the KL-Singapore High-Speed Rail (HSR) in Dec 2016.

“In addition to the HSR, we’re also looking to sign a bilateral agreement on the Singapore-JB Rapid Transit System (RTS) this year,” he added. “This RTS will improve the flow of people and business between Singapore and Johor, and bring both sides closer together.”

He stressed that on the whole, Singapore’s bilateral relations with Malaysia are “excellent.” “Other than these connectivity initiatives, the economic, the people-to-people ties remain strong,” he said. “We will continue to cooperate on security, defence and counter-terrorism.”

APPOINTMENT OF SINGAPORE’S JUDGE AD HOC

In a separate press statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said under the Statute of the ICJ, if there is no judge of the nationality of the parties on the Bench of the Court, the parties may each choose a judge ad hoc who will take part in the decision of the case.

MFA said Singapore has chosen Judge Gilbert Guillaume to sit as judge ad hoc for the purposes of Malaysia’s application to overturn the 2008 ICJ ruling.

Judge Guillaume was a member of the ICJ from 1987 to 2005, and served as its President from 2000 to 2003, added MFA. He is currently a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

HISTORY OF THE CASE

In 2003, Singapore and Malaysia had agreed to submit the case concerning sovereignty over Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks and South Ledge to the ICJ. The ICJ had ruled in 2008 that Singapore had sovereignty over Pedra Branca, while Middle Rocks was awarded to Malaysia and South Ledge belonged to the state in whose territorial waters it is located.

On Feb 2, however, Malaysia applied to revise the judgment, claiming “a new fact” unearthed from three documents discovered in the National Archives of the United Kingdom between Aug 4, 2016 and Jan 30, 2017.

The first document is a confidential telegram in 1958 from the Governor of Singapore to the British secretary of state for the colonies. The second document is a naval incident report from 1958 citing the British navy’s inability to assist a Malaysian vessel being followed by an Indonesian gunboat near Pedra Branca as it “was still inside Johor territorial waters”.

The third document is a map dated 1962 but with handwritten annotations from 1966 which showed that Singapore’s territorial waters “do not extend to the vicinity of Pedra Branca”, according to Malaysia.

Source: CNA/lc

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