Malaysia to set up royal commission of inquiry to examine cases of 3 disputed islets in Singapore Strait

The decision comes amid Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s call for a review of the 2018 decision by Malaysia to drop its application to revise an International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling that affirmed Singapore’s sovereignty over Pedra Branca, one of the contested islets.

Malaysia has made public the establishment of a royal commission of inquiry to thoroughly examine the handling of cases about three disputed islets in the Singapore Strait, according to an official cabinet statement on Wednesday.

The decision comes amid Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s call for a review of the 2018 decision by Malaysia to drop its application to revise an International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling that affirmed Singapore’s sovereignty over Pedra Branca, one of the contested islets.

The 2018 decision, made during the administration of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, has been a point of contention, with calls for reevaluating the circumstances surrounding the situation. Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has expressed the need for a comprehensive review, underscoring the importance of addressing any perceived discrepancies in the handling of these crucial territorial disputes.

The ICJ ruling in 2008 had awarded the Middle Rocks formation to Malaysia, while Pedra Branca, referred to as Pulau Batu Puteh by Malaysia, was given to Singapore. After Mahathir became the Prime Minister, Malaysia eventually dropped its claim to have the Pedra Branca part of the ruling overturned.

On Tuesday, Mohd Zuki Alis, Chief Secretary to the government asserted that recommendations for the composition of the inquiry panel will be brought to the king of Malaysia for approval. Mohd Zuki stated, “The recommendations will take into account experts with wide experience in judicial, legal, and public administration matters who can carry out a transparent, fair, and equal investigation.”

About 7.7 nautical miles (14km) off the coast of southern Malaysia, the chain of rocky outcrops is located, 24 nautical miles (44km) off the east coast of Singapore.

The International Court of Justice in its decision on Pedra Branca stated that although Malaysia’s ancient sultanate of Johor had real and original ownership over the island the government failed to respond to the conduct of Singapore when it asserted its sovereignty over the outcrop like when it installed military communication equipment on it in the year 1977.

In its judgment, the ICJ also said that by the time Malaysia published a map claiming that the Pedra Branca belonged to it and the dispute emerged and escalated in 1980, sovereignty had passed to Singapore.

The ICJ further said that Kuala Lumpur maintained documents that showed the officials at the highest level in the British colonial and administration of Singapore appreciated that Pedra Branca or Pulau Batu Puteh did not form a part of the sovereign territory of Singapore.