Dhaka, Bangladesh (BBN)– Bangladesh has won the legal battle with Burma over the maritime boundary dispute in the Bay of Bengal, as an international tribunal verdict went in favour of the country, foreign ministry has said.
“The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) on March 14, 2012 sustained Bangladesh’s claims to a full 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zone in the Bay of Bengal, and to a substantial share of the outer continental shelf beyond 200 miles,” the foreign ministry said in an announcement.
The ruling, by a vote of 21 to 1, brings to a conclusion the case initiated by Bangladesh against Burma, officially known as Myanmar in December 2009, to resolve a longstanding dispute in regard to the maritime boundary between the two neighbouring states in the oil-and-gas rich Bay.
“This is a great day for Bangladesh,” Foreign Minister Dr Dipu Moni said in an instant reaction after listening to the verdict from President of the Tribunal, the announcement quoted her as saying.
Judge José Luis Jesus, of Cape Verde, read the judgment at main courtroom of the tribunal in Hamburg, Germany on Wednesday.
The announcement also said the judgment is final and without appeal.
“All of our strategic objectives were achieved,” the foreign minister continued. “Bangladesh’s full access to the high seas out to 200 miles and beyond is now recognized and guaranteed, as are our undisputed rights to the fish in our waters and the natural resources beneath our seabed.”
The Tribunal also awarded Bangladesh a full 12-mile territorial sea around St. Martin’s Island, overruling Burmese argument that it should be cut in half.
The foreign minister continued: “The people of Bangladesh are deeply connected to and dependent on the Bay of Bengal, both as a source of nutrition and for employment. The legal certainty afforded by this ruling will ensure that we will be able to maximize the benefit of this important resource for the people of Bangladesh while at the same time ensuring long-term sustainability.”
She also said that energy-starved Bangladesh’s exploration for petroleum and natural gas in the Bay of Bengal, long delayed by conflicting boundary claims, can now proceed.
“Today’s ruling constitutes the equitable solution that Bangladesh has long desired, but was unable to obtain during 38 years of diplomatic stalemate preceding the lawsuit,” the foreign minister asserted. “The bold and visionary decision of the Prime Minister to seek a binding judicial resolution of this longstanding dispute has been vindicated.”
“But it is a victory for both states,” the foreign minister emphasised, “because it finally resolves – peacefully and according to international law – a problem that had hampered the economic development of both States for more than three decades. We salute Myanmar for its willingness to resolve this matter by legal means and for its acceptance of the tribunal’s judgment.”
Burma had claimed that its maritime boundary with Bangladesh cut directly across the Bangladesh coastline, severely truncating Bangladesh’s maritime jurisdiction to a narrow wedge of sea not extending beyond 130 miles.
Burma also claimed that the tribunal lacked jurisdiction to award continental shelf rights beyond 200 miles from either State’s coast. The tribunal rejected both of these arguments.
The International Tribunal, based in Hamburg and known as ITLOS, was established by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to adjudicate disputes between States concerning issues covered by the Convention, including the delimitation of maritime boundaries.
The 151-page judgment is the first by any court or tribunal to delimit the maritime area beyond 200 miles, known as the “outer continental shelf”, and is certain to establish an important precedent in that regard.
“We are very pleased with the expertise, fairness and efficiency of ITLOS and its judges,” said Bangladesh’s foreign minister. “The case was resolved, from beginning to end, in a little over two years. This is unprecedented for judicial efficiency in a maritime boundary case.”
As the Agent of Bangladesh in the proceedings, the Foreign Minister presided over an eminent legal team, including: the Deputy Agent, Rear Admiral (Ret) Md. Khurshed Alam; as well as attorneys James Crawford, Philippe Sands and Alan Boyle of the United Kingdom; Paul Reichler and Lawrence Martin of the United States; and Payam Akhavan of Canada.
Burma was represented by its Agent, Attorney General Tun Shin. Its counsel included Alain Pellet and Mathias Forteau of France; Sir Michael Wood of the United Kingdom; and Coalter Lathrop of the United States.
Bangladesh filed a lawsuit on December 14, 2010, with the ITLOS after Myanmar sent a flotilla to explore petroleum inside Bangladesh’s extended territorial water.
Bangladesh placed all necessary facts and figures before the tribunal on July 1, 2010, while Myanmar did the same on December 1, 2010.
BBN/SSR/AD-15Mar12-8:30 am (BST)