ICJ releases Malaysia’s application for revision of judgement on Pulau Batu Puteh

Feb 11, 2017
The island of Pedra Branca or Pulau Batu Puteh sits at the entrance to the Singapore Strait about 30km east of the city state and 15km off peninsular Malaysia’s southern coast on Jan 6, 2003. Photo by Reuters
The island of Pedra Branca or Pulau Batu Puteh sits at the entrance to the Singapore Strait about 30km east of the city state and 15km off peninsular Malaysia’s southern coast on Jan 6, 2003. Photo by Reuters

The Hague-based International Court of Justice has released the full text of Malaysia’s application for revision of the 2008 judgement on Pulau Batu Puteh or Pedra Branca.

New facts that prompted Malaysia to apply for the revision are contained in three documents discovered in the National Archives of the United Kingdom.

The documents are an internal correspondence of the Singapore colonial authorities in 1958, an incident report filed in 1958 by a British naval officer and an annotated map of naval operations from the 1960s.

The documents were discovered in the National Archives between Aug 4, 2016, and Jan 30, 2017.

In the 18-page application, Malaysia said two of these documents only became accessible to the public in the years since the ICJ gave its judgment in 2008 while the date of release of the third document is unknown.

In its filing, Malaysia said the newly discovered materials showed that Singapore’s perception that Pulau Batu Puteh did fall within Singapore’s territory persisted through the critical period of the first half of the 1960s during which Singapore underwent various constitutional changes, and lasted until at least February 1966, by which time Singapore had ceased to be part of Malaysia and became an independent state in its own right.

The first newly discovered document was a confidential telegram sent in 1958 from the Governor of Singapore to the British secretary of state for the colonies in response to a request for comments on a proposal to extend Singapore’s territorial waters from three miles to six miles.

The Governor of Singapore indicated that it was important to Singapore that the existing three-mile limit be retained as access to the channels on approach to Singapore would be inhibited if an entitlement to a six-mile limit became generally accepted in international law.

For this reason, he proposed that in the event that six miles became the generally accepted limit, “special provision should be made for an international high seas corridor one mile wide through the straits between Singapore and Malayan territory in the north and Indonesian territory in the south”.

He described the course of this corridor of international waters passing only one mile from Pulau Batu Puteh where the Horsburgh Lighthouse was situated.

If he had understood, or otherwise been advised that Pulau Batu Puteh 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, since Singapore would have been able to claim rights over the territorial waters
surrounding Pulau Batu Puteh.

The second document was discovered in a British archival file for 1958 which is related to an incident concerning a Malaysian vessel, the Labuan Haji, being followed by an Indonesian gunboat in waters “near Horsburgh Light”.

A message dated Feb 25, 1958 explained that the Royal Navy could not assist because it “was still inside Johor territorial waters”.

The third document was discovered in a file prepared by the British Commander of the Far East Fleet under the title ‘Naval Operations in the Malacca and Singapore Straits 1964-1966’.

This file contains a confidential publication distributed by the Commander titled ‘Orders for Ships Patrolling in Defence of Western Malaysian Seaboard’.

This confidential compilation of orders includes an order for ‘Restricted and Prohibited Areas – Singapore Territorial Waters’, which indicates the areas in which night curfew arrangements were to be enforced, and designates three areas where night fishing was permitted.

Dated March 25, 1962, a map shows the limits of Singaporean territorial waters at a point south of Pulau Tekon Besar in the Johor Strait; “they do not extend to the vicinity of Pedra Branca”.

In the application, Malaysia emphasised that it did not make this revision application lightly.

“Revision proceedings are exceptional. It is only after careful consideration that the Government of Malaysia has decided to submit this application.

“This application is not an appeal against the 2008 judgement. On the contrary, it draws to the court’s attention what has only recently become known to Malaysia.” –Bernama

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