Parliament: Singapore's legal team confident of its case on Pedra Branca

Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan saud that Singapore's legal team has carefully studied the application Malaysia made last month to the ICJ regarding Pedra Branca.
Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan saud that Singapore's legal team has carefully studied the application Malaysia made last month to the ICJ regarding Pedra Branca.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Singapore's legal team strongly believes that the three documents relied on by Malaysia in its bid to overturn a 2008 judgement that awarded the island of Pedra Branca to the Republic do not satisfy the criteria under which it applied for a revision.

The legal team has carefully studied the application Malaysia filed last month at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), including the documents cited to support the application, said Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan on Thursday (March 2).

"We will submit to the ICJ our comprehensive and compelling rebuttal to Malaysia's application by 14 June, which is the time limit fixed by the ICJ," he said. "We are confident of our legal team and our case."

He was responding to Mr Baey Yam Keng (Tampines GRC), who asked about the Pedra Branca case and what impact it may have on bilateral relations with Malaysia.

Malaysia in February filed an application at the ICJ to revise the 2008 judgement, citing three "new facts" to argue that "Singapore's officials at the highest levels did not consider that Singapore had acquired sovereignty over Pedra Branca from Johor" in the years following 1953.

It based its application on Article 61 of the ICJ's Statute, which provides that an "application for revision of a judgment may be made when it is based only upon the discovery of some fact of such a nature as to be a decisive factor".

The fact had to be "when the judgment was given, unknown to the court and also to the party claiming revision, always provided that such ignorance was not due to negligence".

The request for revision must also be made within six months of discovery of the new fact - in this case Aug 4, 2016 - and no later than 10 years from the date of judgment.


Singapore's legal team on the case includes senior lawyers well acquainted with the issue.

Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore is very fortunate to still have former deputy prime minister and law minister S Jayakumar, Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh, and former chief justice Chan Sek Keong - the leading figures in the original team on the Pedra Branca case.

They are working with a younger team of "bright legal minds" in Attorney-General's Chambers, to build up expertise and experience in the next generation, he added. "That is important as I am sure there will be more international legal issues in future."

On whether this episode will affect ties with Malaysia, Dr Balakrishnan said bilateral relations with Malaysia are excellent, and mutually-beneficial bilateral cooperation will continue.

Singaporeans should not be disconcerted by these developments, he assured: "Even with the best of diplomatic and personal relationships, we must expect other states to act in their own self-interests."

Part of what underpins Singapore's good relations with Malaysia is a commitment by both sides to resolve disagreements amicably, in accordance with international law, while allowing mutually-beneficial cooperation to continue, he said.

Malaysia had cited three documents in its application to revise the judgment,.

The first document is a confidential telegram sent from Singapore's top colonial official to the British Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1958. In it, the Governor had proposed establishing "a corridor of international waters passing only one mile from Pedra Branca". This showed he "did not consider the island of Pedra Branca to be part of Singaporean territory", Malaysia said.

The second document was a report about a naval incident near Pedra Branca. Malaysia pointed out the report had said a British Navy ship could not go to the aid of a Malaysian vessel being followed by an Indonesian gunboat because it was "still inside Johor territorial waters". Malaysia said this showed that the "military authorities responsible for Singapore's defence at the time did not view the waters around Pedra Branca as belonging to Singapore".

The third document - a map of naval operations in the Malacca and Singapore straits from 1962 - showed Singapore's territorial waters "do not extend to the vicinity of Pedra Branca", Malaysia said.

It also said two of the documents - from the UK National Archives - were declassified after the 2008 judgment. The third document's date of release is unknown. Malaysia discovered them on or after Aug 4 last year, it said, and had filed its application within six months of getting the documents.

The territorial dispute between Singapore and Malaysia had also involved two smaller maritime features, Middle Rocks and South Ledge, near Pedra Branca.

The ICJ, in its 2008 judgment, found that sovereignty over Middle Rocks belonged to Malaysia and sovereignty over South Ledge belongs to the state in the territorial waters of which it is located.

The three features in the Singapore Strait are located about 40km east of the Republic's main island.