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International Court of Justice – Case concerning sovereignty over Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks and South Ledge

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International Court of Justice – Case concerning sovereignty over Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks and South Ledge

What is Pedra Branca?

Pedra Branca
is an island that sits at the eastern entrance of the Straits of Singapore. It lies about 24 nautical miles to the east of Singapore.

Its location has long been of strategic importance to us as it commands the entire eastern approach to the Straits of Singapore, through which almost 900 ships pass daily.

The oldest feature on the island is Horsburgh Lighthouse, which was built on the island by the British between 1847 and 1851.

What is Singapore’s case with regard to Pedra Branca?

It is Singapore’s case that Pedra Branca belongs to Singapore because the British colonial government took possession of the island over 160 years ago to build Horsburgh Lighthouse and other structures on it. At that time, Pedra Branca was uninhabited and it belonged to no one.

Since then, Singapore has continuously and openly conducted acts of a sovereign nature over the entire island and its surrounding waters. In contrast, Malaysia did nothing and did not protest against any of the actions of Singapore.

In 1953, Johor stated in official correspondence with Singapore that it did not claim ownership over Pedra Branca. Malaysia also published a series of official maps from 1962 to 1975 depicting Pedra Branca as belonging to Singapore.

What are Middle Rocks and South Ledge?

Middle Rocks and South Ledge are two maritime features to the south of Pedra Branca. Middle Rocks consists of two clusters of rocks situated 0.6 nautical miles south of Pedra Branca. South Ledge is a low-tide elevation (in other words, it is submerged at high tide) further south, 2.1 nautical miles, of Pedra Branca.

It is Singapore’s case that sovereignty over Middle Rocks and South Ledge belongs to the country that has sovereignty over Pedra Branca. 

International Court of Justice – Case concerning sovereignty over Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks and South Ledge

How did the dispute arise?

The dispute arose in 1979 when Malaysia published a map which claimed the island as hers. In response, Singapore lodged a formal protest with Malaysia, in early 1980.

Why did Singapore and Malaysia decide to put the dispute before the ICJ?

Singapore and Malaysia agree that bringing this matter before the ICJ will remove an irritant from the bilateral relations between the two countries.

Why did this process take so long?

It took slightly more than 20 years, from the time the dispute arose in 1979, for it to be finally brought before the ICJ. This suggestion was first made by Singapore in 1989.  Malaysia accepted this proposal in 1994.  The two countries agreed on the text of a Special Agreement (a formal agreement that was needed for the submission of this dispute to the ICJ) in 1998. Finally, the Special Agreement was signed on 6th February 2003 by the Foreign Ministers of both countries, and formally notified to the ICJ on 24 July 2003. 

International Court of Justice – Case concerning sovereignty over Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks and South Ledge

What have Singapore and Malaysia requested the ICJ to decide in this dispute?

Singapore and Malaysia have requested the ICJ to determine who has sovereignty over (a) Pedra Branca; (b) Middle Rocks; (c) South Ledge.

What happened after Singapore and Malaysia submitted the Special Agreement to the ICJ in July 2003?

In accordance with the terms of the Special Agreement, the ICJ scheduled three rounds of written pleadings, which were to be exchanged simultaneously. These were duly submitted on 25 March 2004, 25 January 2005 and 25 November 2005.

In May 2006, the ICJ decided that no further written pleadings were required, thus closing the written proceedings phase of the case.

The case then moved to the oral proceedings phase. Both Singapore and Malaysia made oral arguments before the ICJ from 6-23 November 2007. These hearings were open to the public and were held at the ICJ's Seat at the Peace Palace at The Hague (Netherlands).

Transcripts of the speeches are available on the ICJ's website.

How can I obtain more information on the ICJ?

For more information, please see: http://www.icj-cij.org/.

International Court of Justice – Case concerning sovereignty over Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks and South Ledge

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International Court of Justice – Case concerning sovereignty over Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks and South Ledge