ITLOS Issues Judgment in Bangladesh/Myanmar Delimitation Dispute

The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) delivered its judgment in the maritime delimitation dispute between Bangladesh and Myanmar on 14 March 2012. I have previously discussed the dispute here.

All the documents relating to the dispute can be found here. The final judgment can be found here (but, see the separate opinions also). An ITLOS press release succinctly summarizes the dispute and the judgment.

In reacting to the judgment, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh observed that the ruling constitutes “the equitable solution that Bangladesh has long desired, but was unable to obtain during 38 years of diplomatic stalemate preceding the lawsuit.” She went on to note:

But it is a victory for both States … 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.

See also: this report in The Irrawaddy by Joseph Allchin

Prime Minister Singh’s Dhaka Visit

Here are some important developments from Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s recent visit to Bangladesh:

  • Exchange of land between India and Bangladesh:

India and Bangladesh signed an agreement on the exchange of land in adverse possession and enclaves. The agreement is in the form of a Protocol to the 1974 treaty between India and Bangladesh on the demarcation of land boundary, and forms an “integral part” of the 1974 Agreement (Art. 1 of the Protocol). The full text of the Protocol is available here.

A news report notes:

India and Bangladesh inked a historic pact on Tuesday to exchange 162 enclaves, resolving a 64-year-old boundary demarcation problem.

The breakthrough was made following discussions on the 162 enclaves (51 in India and 111 in Bangladesh) between Singh and his Dhaka counterpart Sheikh Hasina. Enclaves are defined as pockets of a country’s territory surrounded by the other’s.

They have been a bone of contention between successive regimes in India and Bangladesh and were created centuries ago when local kings in undivided Bengal and Assam exchanged pieces of land while gambling or playing chess.

The Indian enclaves in Bangladesh are located in four districts – Panchagarh, Lalmonirhat, Kurigram and Nilphamari. All of Bangladesh’s enclaves lie in West Bengal’s Cooch Behar district. The agreement enables Bangladesh to retain the Dahagram and Angarpota enclaves.

ALMOST 3,000 acres of Bangladesh’s land lies in India and India has around 3,500 acres inside Bangladesh.

The pact signed by Singh allows residents of an Indian enclave in Bangladesh to seek local citizenship once the area becomes a part of Bangladesh. Such inhabitants also have the right to return to their original country from which they will be allotted land.

  • Duty free import of 61 items from Bangladesh:

A report in The Hindu notes:

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has announced duty-free import of 61 items from Bangladesh that were barred from entering India.

A majority of these items – 46 to be precise, relate to textiles, particularly readymade garments.

 

  • Water dispute not resolved

On the other hand, an agreement on sharing of the Teesta river water failed to materialize, apparently because of the opposition of the Chief Minister of the Indian state of West Bengal, which borders Bangladesh and was to be most affected by such an agreement (report here).

 

Public Hearing: Bangladesh/Myanmar Delimitation Dispute at ITLOS

A recent Press Release by the ITLOS announces:

The public hearing in the Dispute concerning delimitation of the maritime boundary between Bangladesh and Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal will open on 8 September 2011 at 10 a.m. Judge Jesus, President of the Tribunal, will preside. The public hearing will be broadcast live on the Tribunal’s website.

 

A public sitting of the Tribunal will be held at  10.30 a.m. on  Monday, 5 September 2011, at which Mr  Thomas Mensah, Judge ad hoc  chosen by Bangladesh, and Professor Bernard H. Oxman, Judge ad hoc chosen by Myanmar, will make the solemn declaration required under article 9 of the Rules of the Tribunal.

 

Written records of the oral hearings will be available on the ITLOS website here. The hearing will also be webcast live here, and, in case you miss it, a recording of the webcast will be available in the archives.

On the background of the dispute see this insightful note (The Maritime Boundary Dispute Between Bangladesh and Myanmar: Motivations, Potential Solutions, Implications, Asia Policy, No. 10, 103 (July 2010)) by Jared Bissinger.