Sovereignty over Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh, Middle Rocks and South Ledge (Malaysia/Singapore)
Overview of the case
On 24 July 2003, Malaysia and Singapore jointly seised the Court of a dispute between them by notification of a Special Agreement signed on 6 February 2003 and which entered into force on 9 May 2003. Under the terms of that Special Agreement, the Parties requested the Court to “determine whether sovereignty over : (a) Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh ; (b) Middle Rocks ; and (c) South Ledge belongs to Malaysia or the Republic of Singapore”. They agreed in advance “to accept the Judgment of the Court . . . as final and binding upon them”. By an Order of 1 September 2003, taking account of Article 4 of that Special Agreement, the President of the Court fixed 25 March 2004 as the time-limit for the filing of a Memorial by each of the Parties and 25 January 2005 as the time-limit for the filing of a Counter-Memorial by each of the Parties. Those pleadings were duly filed within the time-limits thus fixed.
By an Order of 1 February 2005, the Court, taking into account the provisions of the Special Agreement, fixed 25 November 2005 as the time-limit for the filing of a Reply by each of the Parties. The Replies were duly filed within the time-limit thus fixed. By a joint letter of 23 January 2006, the Parties informed the Court that they had agreed that there was no need for an exchange of rejoinders in the case. The Court itself subsequently decided that no further pleadings were necessary and thus that the written proceedings were closed.
Following public hearings which were held in November 2007, the Court rendered its Judgment on 23 May 2008. In that Judgment, the Court first indicated that the Sultanate of Johor (predecessor of Malaysia) had original title to Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh, a granite island on which Horsburgh lighthouse stands. It concluded, however, that, when the dispute crystallized (1980), title had passed to Singapore, as attested to by the conduct of the Parties (in particular certain acts performed by Singapore à titre de souverain and the failure of Malaysia to react to the conduct of Singapore). The Court consequently awarded sovereignty over Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh to Singapore. As for Middle Rocks, a maritime feature consisting of several rocks permanently above water, the Court observed that the particular circumstances which had led it to find that sovereignty over Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh rested with Singapore clearly did not apply to Middle Rocks. It therefore found that Malaysia, as the successor to the Sultan of Johor, should be considered to have retained original title to Middle Rocks. Finally, with respect to the low-tide elevation South Ledge, the Court noted that it fell within the apparently overlapping territorial waters generated by Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh and by Middle Rocks. Recalling that it had not been mandated by the Parties to delimit their territorial waters, the Court concluded that sovereignty over South Ledge belongs to the State in whose territorial waters it lies.
This overview is provided for information only and in no way involves the responsibility of the Court.