Law of the sea disputes can now be heard in Singapore under signed agreement

Itlos president Jin-Hyun Paik, registrar of the tribunal Ximena Hinrichs Oyarce, Senior Minister of State for Law and Health Edwin Tong, and Minister for Law and Home Affairs K. Shanmugam after a virtual signing ceremony.
Itlos president Jin-Hyun Paik, registrar of the tribunal Ximena Hinrichs Oyarce, Senior Minister of State for Law and Health Edwin Tong, and Minister for Law and Home Affairs K. Shanmugam after a virtual signing ceremony.PHOTO: MINISTRY OF LAW

SINGAPORE - Disputes referred to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (Itlos) or one of its chambers can now be heard in Singapore, under an agreement signed on Thursday (June 11).

The model agreement sets out the terms and conditions to enable Itlos or one of its chambers to sit and exercise its functions in Singapore, the first country to do so.

During a virtual ceremony conducted via video conferencing on Thursday, Itlos president Jin-Hyun Paik and Minister for Law and Home Affairs K. Shanmugam signed letters for the adoption of the model agreement.

Senior Minister of State for Law and Health Edwin Tong and tribunal registrar Ximena Hinrichs Oyarce witnessed the signing.

Itlos signed the agreement at its headquarters in Hamburg, Germany, while Mr Shanmugam and Mr Tong were in Singapore.

The virtual signing comes after a 2015 joint declaration between Singapore and Itlos, which expressed support for the country as a venue for the tribunal to carry out its functions.

Since then, several rounds of negotiations have been held between Singapore's Ministry of Law and the Registry of Itlos on the terms and conditions of the model agreement signed on Thursday.

Itlos is an independent judicial body that was established by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), to hear any dispute relating to Unclos.

It is headquartered in Hamburg, but has the ability to sit and exercise its function where it considers desirable.

On Thursday, Judge Paik thanked the Singapore Government for its cooperation over the past few years.

 
 

He said the agreement is “a particularly welcome development, as this initiative was spearheaded by an Asian state, since traditionally, the states of this region have been perceived to be rather reluctant with respect to international adjudication”. 

“Hopefully, this model agreement will help pave the way for more Asian states to seek recourse to Itlos for the settlement of their law of sea related disputes,” he said. 

He also urged states from other regions in the world, such as Latin America and Africa, to consider making similar arrangements with the tribunal. 

“It is my own belief that having a network of model agreements extending to various regions will help lower the barrier for many states to avail themselves to the service of the tribunal, thus promoting the peaceful settlement of international disputes,” he said. 

The tribunal is also adopting new methods using technology to operate effectively despite the current Covid-19 pandemic, he added.

Meanwhile, Mr Shanmugam said Singapore is honoured to have the opportunity to host Itlos hearings and contribute to the work of the tribunal.

"It reflects Singapore's position as a neutral location, as a strong proponent to the international rule of law framework, (and) commitment to peaceful settlement of disputes... We look forward to hosting cases in Singapore," he added.

Singapore became a party to Unclos in 1994.

There are currently 168 parties to Unclos, which comprises 167 states and the European Union.