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102- Sovereignty over Pulau Ligitan and Pulau Sipadan (Indonesia/Malaysia)

The Republic of Indonesia and Malaysia signed a compromise on January 31st, 1997 in Kuala Lumpur which aimed to submit their dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The question put to the Court was to decide which of the two States, in light of the Conventions, Treaties or any other instruments, had sovereignty over the disputed islands of Palau Ligitan and Palau Sipadan.

Considering that a decision from the ICJ could have consequences on the sovereignty it constitutionally recognised over the territory of North Borneo, the Philippines filed a request in intervention in these proceedings. Both the Republic of Indonesia and Malaysia objected to this request. Therefore, the Court had to rule on this matter before ruling on the merits of the case. In its judgment of October 23rd, 2001, the ICJ rejected the request in intervention filed by the Philippines. 

Judgment of 23-10-2001.pdf

The Court then set out to define which of the two States had sovereignty over the disputed islands. It therefore looks for titles that could exist:

  1. By virtue of convention or succession, which would establish sovereignty of one party or the other over the disputed territories. This was unsuccessful, no title nor instrument submitted could allow the Court to definitely give sovereignty to the islands to one party over the other;
  2. By virtue of ”effectivites”, in other words the continuous and effective exercise of authority over the disputed territories, which would then prove the intention and the will of one of the parties to act as sovereign.
  • Indonesia argued that its naval fleet had always anchored next to the islands. Furthermore, Indonesian fishermen were exclusively fishing in this area.
  • Malaysia for its part argued that it has taken administrative, legislative and even sometime judicial measures with regards with the islands.

The ICJ sided with Malaysia,noting that although modest, Malaysia’s actions were various in nature, spanned a considerable time period and were never objected to by Indonesia. 

Judgment of 17-12-2002.pdf


This summary is provided for informational purposes only, does not involve the responsibility of Dome and should in no way be used as a substitute for a careful reading of the judgments and order of the case.