Pedra Branca: The Road to the World Court about the territorial dispute between Malaysia and Singapore over Pedra Branca, a small but strategically located island near the entrance to the Straits of Malacca. It describes how the two countries managed the dispute over three decades until final resolution by the International Court of Justice in May 2008. The two authors, who were personally involved in the case, recount the many twists and turns in the dispute as well as behind the scenes political and diplomatic manoeuvres. At a time when Asia still has numerous unresolved territorial disputes, the book would be of great interest to scholars, academics and practitioners in politics, international relations, history, diplomatic and legal circles.
The authors have not attempted a detailed analysis of the legal pleadings and arguments of both countries. Singapore’s written pleadings comprised 14 volumes of totalling 2,723 pages. Nor have the book undertaken an in-depth analysis of the ICJ’s Final Judgment. If the authors were to attempt to do either, they would be perceived as being biased and partisan. The authors have decided to leave that task to international law scholars and legal commentators.
The authors wrote Pedra Branca: The Road to the World Court to give readers a glimpse of the enormous behind-the-scenes preparations for the case, both before and during the hearings at the ICJ. They hope it will give readers some interesting insights into the way they managed the dispute and the various policy decisions that were made. For example, in the negotiations on the Special Agreement to submit the case to the ICJ, when Malaysia first insisted that Middle Rocks and South Ledge belonged to them, should they agree to their proposal to omit these features from the Agreement?
If they had accepted Malaysia’s position, the sovereignty of Middle Rocks and South Ledge would have remained unresolved. Singapore, however, preferred to ask the Court to consider who had sovereignty over the three maritime features. Should they agree to Malaysia’s proposal to provide that the ICJ should also decide the rights of the party which was not awarded sovereignty? This would run the risk of the Court deciding to grant sovereignty to Malaysia and to grant only lighthouse operator rights to Singapore.
Working on the Pedra Branca case with other colleagues was immensely satisfying and at the same time challenging in many ways for the authors. The question put to the ICJ seemed deceptively straightforward: “to determine whether sovereignty over (a) Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh; (b) Middle Rocks; (c) South Ledge; belongs to Malaysia or the Republic of Singapore“. However, as the written pleadings and oral arguments showed, the issues involved in the arguments on who had sovereignty turned not only on legal principles but also on assessing the significance of various historical events in the region as well as the interpretation of treaties, colonial records, maps etc.
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