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International Court of Justice determines Malaysia/Singapore sovereignty dispute

The International Court of Justice delivered its judgment on 23 May in the Case Concerning Sovereignty over Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh, Middle Rocks and South Ledge. The case was jointly submitted by Singapore and Malaysia in 2003 by way of special agreement. Oral proceedings took place in November 2007 and the Court finally delivered its decision last week. The Court found that sovereignty over Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh belongs to the Republic of Singapore, whereas sovereignty over Middle Rocks belongs to Malaysia. The question of sovereignty over South Ledge was more complex as it was classified not as an island but as a low-tide elevation. Moreover, it was located in the overlapping territorial waters generated by the mainland of Malaysia, Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh and Middle Rocks. As the Court had only been authorised in the special agreement to decide the sovereignty dispute, it was not competent to decide on the location of the maritime boundary between the two states. As a result, the Court was only able to conclude that sovereignty over South Ledge belongs to the State in the territorial waters of which it is located. It follows that the judgment falls short of fully settling the dispute and Singapore and Malaysia must now return to the negotiating table in order to agree on the delimitation of the maritime boundary in their territorial seas.

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