Summary of Singapore's opening arguments in the public hearings in the case concerning Sovereignty over Pedra Branca (8 November 2007)

08 November 2007

Singapore opened its arguments before the International Court of Justice on 6 and 7 November 2007 with speeches from the Agent, Professor Tommy Koh, the Attorney-General Mr Chao Hick Tin, the Chief Justice Mr Chan Sek Keong, Professor Alain Pellet and Mr Ian Brownlie, Q.C.

On the first day of the hearings, Professor Tommy Koh gave the Court a brief overview of Singapore's case and outlined the basic themes which would be elaborated upon by Singapore over the next 4 days. The Court was also told that both countries shared close ties, and that resolving the dispute in this manner would remove "an irritant in the bilateral relations between the two countries". 

Attorney-General Chao Hick Tin then took the Court through the relevant geographical setting and the history of the dispute. He also provided a chronology of events relevant to the case that would serve as useful background information for the presentations that followed. 

Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong rebutted Malaysia's claim that she had original title over Pedra Branca. He pointed out that Malaysia had provided "no evidence that Pedra Branca belonged to the Johor Sultanate at any point in its history". He also pointed out that Malaysia had glossed over historical facts which undermined Malaysia's case and had also misinterpreted the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824. 

Professor Alain Pellet spoke next on the irrelevance of the few pieces of historical evidence that Malaysia had relied upon to support her claim. Professor Pellet also showed that the British did not seek, and did not need to seek, the permission of the Sultan or the Temenggong of Johor in taking possession of Pedra Branca to build Horsburgh Lighthouse. 

On the second day of the proceedings on 7 November 2007, Mr Ian Brownlie, Q.C., showed in detail how the British authorities in Singapore took possession of Pedra Branca and exercised acts of sovereignty over the island. At this time, Pedra Branca belonged to no one. The British acts were of an official nature. They were public and were not protested by any other powers during the entire period from 1847 to 1851. He also highlighted to the Court that in 1850, official Dutch correspondence had described Pedra Branca as British territory. In the same year, Pedra Branca was described as a dependency of Singapore at the ceremony for the laying of the foundation stone of Horsburgh Lighthouse. 

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