Australia and East Timor are set to take their maritime border dispute over the oil-rich Timor Sea to The Hague, where a landmark legal hearing is scheduled to start on Monday.
At stake is 40 billion dollars per year in oil and gas revenues.
In April, East Timor asked the United Nations to resolve its dispute with Australia in compulsory conciliation proceedings, the first of their kind, under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Australia has repeatedly refused to negotiate a permanent boundary, East Timor argues, costing it billions of dollars in revenue from offshore oil and gas.
Since its independence from Indonesia in 2002, East Timor has instead signed a “temporary resource-sharing arrangement” and a Sea Treaty with Australia.
East Timor argues that the border should be halfway between East Timor and Australia, which would place a larger area of the oil and gas field in its territory.
Its action has forced Canberra into a formal process, but its outcome will still be non-binding because Australia left UNCLOS’ compulsory dispute settlement procedures in 2002, just before East Timor became independent.
Officials from both countries will begin delivering their opening remarks Monday in front of an independent panel of five experts at the Permanent Court of Arbitration.
Proceedings could go on for a year before the commissioners produce a report.
Establishing permanent maritime boundaries was a matter of national priority “as the final step in realizing our sovereignty as an independent state,” East Timor’s prime minister, Rui Maria de Arauji,
said in April.
It has been revealed that Australia bugged East Timor’s cabinet office during negotiations for a 2006 sea treaty that divides revenue from the Greater Sunrise oil and gas field evenly between the two
Australia has also been slammed for having double standards – urging China to follow international law to sort out the South China Sea dispute while refusing to do the same with East Timor.