Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi stated on Wednesday that a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) will commence on the alleged mishandling of sovereignty disputes in Pedra Branca by the former administration after the Malaysian King appoints the RCI’s members.
In 2003, Malaysia and Singapore agreed to the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) jurisdiction to determine whether Malaysia or Singapore enjoys sovereignty over three groups of islets in the South China Sea, namely Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks and South Ledge. In 2008, the ICJ concluded that Pedra Branca belongs to Singapore, Middle Rocks belongs to Malaysia and South Ledge belongs to the State in the territorial waters of which it is located. The court reasoned that even though Malaysia had a valid original title to Pedra Branca, Malaysian authorities demonstrated no intention to claim ownership of the island from the British colonial government in 1953. Subsequently, Singapore’s investigating shipwrecks within the island’s territorial waters and Malaysian authorities’ requesting Singapore’s permission to survey the waters surrounding the island may be seen as conduct à titre de souverain (conduct as a sovereign), and therefore constituted a transfer of sovereignty.
Although the ICJ’s decision is final and binding on Malaysia, the Malaysian government applied for revision of the judgment in 2017 based on the discovery of new facts, pursuant to Article 61 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice. The Malaysian government contended that they discovered a new letter that could prove the British colonial government’s construction on the island was with the consent of the Malaysian government. However, the then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad dropped the application in 2018.
The current Malaysian administration set up a special task force in 2023 to investigate whether the withdrawal of the application was mistaken. The then Attorney General Idrus Harun contended that the withdrawal was “improper.” In establishing an RCI, Chief Secretary Zuki Ali stated that the RCI members would be experts in the fields of law and public administration. He further asserted that they would “conduct the investigation transparently, fair and impartially to avoid any issues involving conflict of interests with the relevant parties.”