ICJ makes public details of Malaysia's bid to revise 2008 Pedra Branca judgment

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) yesterday released Malaysia's application to revise the court's 2008 judgment that awarded sovereignty of Pedra Branca to Singapore.

In the 42-page application, Malaysia cited three "new facts" to argue that "Singapore's officials at the highest levels did not consider that Singapore had acquired sovereignty over Pedra Branca from Johor" in the years following 1953.

Malaysia filed the application on Feb 2, asking the court to revise its judgment. Singapore has formed a legal team, including senior lawyers well acquainted with the issue, to study the application.

Read also: Malaysia seeks to revise judgment on Pedra Branca, citing discovery of 'new facts'

In its 2008 ruling, the ICJ had considered correspondence from 1953 between Singapore's colonial officials and Johor as being of central importance in determining the sovereignty of Pedra Branca.

In the 1953 letter, Johor's top official wrote that "the Johor government does not claim ownership of Pedra Branca". The court found this showed that while Johor had the original title, "as of 1953, Johor understood that it did not have sovereignty over Pedra Branca".

Malaysia, in its application, cited three documents. This, it said, "cuts deeply against the central thesis of the court's judgment". It contends that the court would have reached a different conclusion "had it been aware of this new evidence".

The first document is a confidential telegram sent from Singapore's top colonial official to the British Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1958. In it, the Governor had proposed establishing "a corridor of international waters passing only one mile from Pedra Branca".

This showed he "did not consider the island of Pedra Branca to be part of Singaporean territory", Malaysia said.

The second document was a report about a naval incident near Pedra Branca.

Malaysia pointed out the report had said a British Navy ship could not go to the aid of a Malaysian vessel being followed by an Indonesian gunboat because it was "still inside Johor territorial waters".

Malaysia said this showed that the "military authorities responsible for Singapore's defence at the time did not view the waters around Pedra Branca as belonging to Singapore".

The third document - a map of naval operations in the Malacca and Singapore straits from 1962 - showed Singapore's territorial waters "do not extend to the vicinity of Pedra Branca", Malaysia said.

It also said two of the documents - from the UK National Archives - were declassified after the 2008 judgment. The third document's date of release is unknown. Malaysia discovered them on or after Aug 4 last year, it said, and had filed its application within six months of getting the documents.

Based on the ICJ's rules, an application for revision may be made only when there is discovery of a fact that would be a "decisive factor" and was not known at the time of judgment. The application must be filed within six months of the new fact being found and 10 years of the judgment, which means the window for filing it closes next year.

Read also: Malaysian official on Pedra Branca: We'll defend borders, keep good ties

The territorial dispute between Singapore and Malaysia had also involved two smaller maritime features, Middle Rocks and South Ledge, near Pedra Branca.

The ICJ, in its 2008 judgment, found that sovereignty over Middle Rocks belonged to Malaysia and sovereignty over South Ledge belongs to the state in the territorial waters of which it is located.

The three features in the Singapore Strait are located about 40km east of the Republic's main island.


Read also: Panel to draw up maritime boundaries
Sultan of Johor seeks to reopen Pedra Branca case
KL cites declassified UK files in bid to revise judgment

This article was first published on Feb 11, 2017.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.