SINGAPORE: The International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Friday (Feb 10) released details of Malaysia’s application to overturn a 2008 ruling which awarded sovereignty of Pedra Branca island to Singapore.
Pedra Branca - referred to by Malaysia as Batu Puteh - was first claimed as territory of the Johor Sultanate in 1979. Singapore protested, the matter was brought to the ICJ in 2003 and in 2008, the ICJ ruled that Singapore had sovereignty over Pedra Branca.
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 (UK) between Aug 4, 2016 and Jan 30, 2017.
“The documents indicate that in the critical years following the 1953 correspondence … Singapore officials at the highest levels did not consider that Singapore had acquired sovereignty over Pedra Branca from Johor,” said Malaysia.
The correspondence refers to a letter from Johor’s Acting State Secretary to Singapore’s Colonial Secretary which stated "the Johor government does not claim ownership of Pedra Branca". It was a key consideration in the 2008 ruling.
The first document is a confidential telegram in 1958 from the Governor of Singapore to the British secretary of state for the colonies, which proposed the establishment of an international high seas corridor one mile from Pedra Branca. This showed the Governor “did not consider the island of Pedra Branca to be part of Singaporean territory”, said Malaysia.
“If he had understood, or otherwise been advised, that Pedra Branca was under Singaporean sovereignty, there would not have been a need for him to advocate the provision of an international passage so near to the island,” said the documents.
Malaysia also noted that the telegram was released by the UK government in 2013, but “would have been known to Singapore at the time of court proceedings in 2008 as the document originates from Singapore”.
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”. This showed British acknowledgement that the waters around Pedra Branca were Johor’s and that they “did not view the waters around Pedra Branca as belonging to Singapore”, said Malaysia, adding that it would once again assume “the document would have been known to Singapore”.
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.
COURT "BOUND TO REACH DIFFERENT CONCLUSION"
“The newly discovered materials show that Singapore’s perception that Pedra Branca did not fall within Singapore’s territory persisted through the critical period of the first half of the 1960s … and lasted until at least February 1966,” said Malaysia.
“This application is not an appeal against the 2008 judgment. On the contrary, it draws to the court’s attention what has only recently become known to Malaysia, namely, that even after the 1953 correspondence, and at a point at which Singapore had become a self-governing colonial territory, Singapore, at the highest levels of its government, did not have the view that it had sovereignty over Pedra Branca.”
“It is Malaysia’s contention, informed by a close reading of the judgment in 2008 and its accompanying opinions, that the court would have been bound to reach a different conclusion on the question of sovereignty over Pedra Branca had it been aware of this new evidence.”
The Malaysian application also stated that these documents were released to the public by the UK government only after the court delivered its judgment in 2008. "Two of these documents only became accessible to the public in the years since the court gave its judgment in 2008; the third document's date of release is unknown," said the application.
(Source: Singapore Memorial submitted to the ICJ)
The ICJ received Malaysia's application for a revision to the 2008 decision on Feb 3. A spokesperson at Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said that Singapore is studying Malaysia's application and has formed a legal team to respond to Malaysia's application. The Singapore legal team includes Attorney-General Lucien Wong, Professor S Jayakumar, Professor Tommy Koh and former Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong, said MFA.
Minister for Home Affairs and Law K Shanmugam had also said on Feb 4 that he had seen the documents and Malaysia would have to satisfy a number of conditions, including whether the new facts would have made a decisive difference to the case.