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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Malaysian rebuttals

Nov 23, 2007
Rebuttals by Malaysia turn out to be a surprise
It countered few of the new arguments raised by Singapore
IN ITS final pleadings on Pedra Branca before an international court, Malaysia surprisingly rebutted few of the fresh points raised by Singapore earlier this week.
It chose instead to restate its chief argument that the Johor sultanate possessed the original title to Pedra Branca.

Malaysia's counsel offered no substantive response to a new argument Singapore fleshed out on Monday and Tuesday, upon which the verdict in the case could well hang.

What Singapore did was to tell the court that if neither side could prove it had title to the disputed island, then Singapore's claim must prevail because it was the only one with state activities on Pedra Branca in the past 150 years.

On Thursday, a day set aside for Malaysia's rebuttals, its counsel James Crawford said the shift in the Singapore position showed that 'doubts have set in'.

But he quickly moved on to other issues, after promising to return to the matter in the final half of Malaysia's rebuttals (which was set to end late on Friday night, Singapore time).

There was no response either to Deputy Prime Minister S. Jayakumar's speech on Monday, in which he rebutted five allegations Malaysia levelled at Singapore last week, including a charge that Singapore had concealed letters from the court.

As for a brewing controversy over Malaysia's use of a photograph taken from a suspect blog, that was brushed aside by one counsel as 'not worth discussing'.

Singapore and Malaysia are appearing before the International Court of Justice to resolve their dispute over the sovereignty of Pedra Branca, an island 40km east of Singapore which stands at the eastern entrance of the Singapore Strait.

Malaysia's stand is that the Johor sultanate possessed the title to Pedra Branca - which it calls Pulau Batu Puteh - from time immemorial.

It claims the Johor rulers gave permission to Britain to build and operate a lighthouse there, and that Singapore continued to do so after it gained independence.

Singapore disputes that.

It argues that Pedra Branca was terra nullius, that is, it belonged to no one, when the British took lawful possession of it in 1847 and built the Horsburgh Lighthouse there.

In the 160 years since, Britain and then Singapore have confirmed and maintained their title through a series of actions that were an open, continuous and effective display of state authority, it told the court.

In restating Malaysia's case on Thursday, its lawyers said Singapore had failed to prove that Pedra Branca was terra nullius in the 1840s.

They said that Orang Laut, or sea gypsies, who paid allegiance to the Sultan of Johor, had fished in the waters around Pedra Branca for centuries.

That showed the island could not be terra nullius, they added, but belonged to the Johor ruler.

But Singapore, in its rebuttal, had noted that not all the Orang Laut in the area paid allegiance to the Johor Sultan.

It also pointed out that the Orang Laut's fishing activities were private acts which, under international law, have no bearing on sovereignty. Only state activities, such as those carried out by Singapore, do.

On Thursday, Malaysia's counsel, Sir Elihu Lauterpacht, ridiculed Singapore's argument that the British intended to claim sovereignty over Pedra Branca when they went and built a lighthouse there in 1847.

'What they wanted was a light. The addition of so small an item to the vast British empire never entered their minds,' he said.

The hearing ends once Malaysia wraps up its rebuttals (set to end late last night, Singapore time).

The verdict on the case is expected next year.

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