The UN’s highest court says it will hold hearings in June into Malaysia’s request to overturn a ruling in an ongoing dispute with Singapore over a rocky outcrop.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) said it would review the 2008 ruling concerning the sovereignty of Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh on June 11 in the Peace Palace in The Hague.
Malaysia lodged its appeal in February last year against the ruling granting its neighbour sovereignty over the tennis-court-sized island.
Malaysia’s attorney-general Mohamed Apandi Ali said he would lead a team of experts to argue at the hearings.
The dispute comes as the Malaysian government was poised to call a controversial general election and the display nationalistic pride might help distract from the official attempts to stifle the resurgent opposition in the one-party state.
Malaysia says newly discovered documents in the British archives backing its territorial claim to what it calls Pulau Batu Puteh, while in Singapore it is Pedra Branca (white rock).
Strategically located 14km from Johor on the eastern approach to the Singapore Strait from the South China Sea, the Lion City operated the Horsburgh Lighthouse on the granite rock for more than 130 years without controversy.
But in a map of maritime boundaries in 1980, Malaysia unveiled its claim to the outcrop.
After years of unsuccessful talks, the parties turned to the ICJ, which ruled against Malaysia in 2008, while another rocky outcrop called Middle Rocks was deemed to be Malaysian. A low-tide bank called South Ledge straddled the territorial waters, the court said.
But the discovery of three documents in the British national archives in 2016 and 2017 allegedly revive the Malaysian claim. They include internal correspondence from Singapore’s colonial authorities in 1958, a British naval incident report from 1958 and a 1960s map.
Malaysia claimed these documents showed “officials at the highest levels in the British colonial and Singaporean administration appreciated that Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh did not form part of Singapore’s sovereign territory”, according to the court documents.
The court can ask for a judgement to be revised if new facts come to light within 10 years of a ruling.
In a separate filing, Malaysia says a bilateral committee has failed to delimit maritime borders and called for a UN ruling.
The International Court of Justice. Picture credit: Wikimedia