Geopolitik Energi

April 12, 2007


Implications of the Pulau Sipidan and Pulau Ligitan case

Malaysia’s claims are at least partially based on the fact that on 17 December 2002 the ICJ ruled that sovereignty over the islands of Sipadan and Ligitan, which are located in the vicinity of the Ambalat area, rested with Malaysia. The key factor which led the ICJ to award sovereignty to Malaysia, the Court having rejected both sides’ arguments concerning treaty-based title to the islands, was the fact that Malaysia was able to demonstrate the stronger case in terms of effectivités – acts of administration demonstrating effective exercise of authority over the islands. In particular, Malaysia was able to refer to measures taken by colonial British North Borneo (now Malaysia’s Sabah Province) authorities to regulate and control the collection of turtle eggs on the islands, as well as their construction of lighthouses on Sipadan and Ligitan in 1962 and 1963 respectively, and the subsequent operation of these lighthouses by Malaysian authorities post-independence. Crucially, the Court noted that when these activities were undertaken “neither Indonesia nor its predecessor, the Netherlands, ever expressed its disagreement or protest”. Indonesia’s effectivités, based on the presence of the colonial Dutch and Indonesian navies as well as Indonesian fishermen in the vicinity of the disputed islands, proved less convincing. The ICJ therefore concluded, by 16 votes to one, that on the basis of effectivités, “sovereignty over Pulau Ligitan and Pulau Sipadan belongs to Malaysia.”27

Malaysia is likely to argue that the maritime boundary should be determined on the basis of equidistance, giving full effect to Pulau Sipadan and Pulau Ligitan. However, although the ICJ determined sovereignty over the islands, no maritime boundary was defined. Thus while Indonesia reluctantly accepts that Sipadan and Ligitan belong to Malaysia, Jakarta is likely to claim that these small islands are nothing more than mere rocks within the meaning of Article 121(3) of the LOSC.28 Indonesia is therefore likely to contest their right to generate anything more in terms of maritime jurisdiction than a 12nm broad territorial sea, and not extended claims to continental shelf or an EEZ. Defining a maritime boundary line is therefore likely to hinge on reaching a compromise over the legal status of these features and their potential impact on an equidistance-based delimitation.

It is worth noting that the Sipadan and Ligitan case still resonates in Indonesia, and this factor contributes to the intense Indonesian reaction to the Ambalat dispute. The loss of territory is keenly felt by any state but especially by Indonesia, still smarting after the violent separation of East Timor in 1999.29 The reaction has been exacerbated by the fact that the Indonesian government and media did not prepare the public for the possibility of defeat, so that the loss was largely unexpected, especially after considerable investments were made in hiring international lawyers and experts to support Jakarta’s case.

The possible loss of isolated, peripheral islands has provoked serious concern in Indonesia, given that the Indonesian archipelago is made up of an estimated 17,000-plus islands of which only about 3,000 are inhabited. Although most Indonesian islands are safely located within the country’s archipelagic baselines, this situation has led to worries over potential loss of territory due to neglect and the Indonesian Navy’s inability to mount a real presence, let alone provide effective enforcement throughout such a vast archipelago.30 One response prompted by the Sipadan and Ligitan case has been a lighthouse-building campaign. Indeed, Indonesia has announced its intent to construct 20 lighthouses in the Ambalat area alone.31 But it is worth noting that construction of a light beacon on Takat [Rock] Unarang on the fringes of the disputed zone was interrupted by Malaysian forces at the outset of the dispute on 20 February 2005, when Indonesian construction workers were arrested and later released.32


  1. Bung,

    Bagus euy blognya…
    Kebetulan saya juga tertarik dengan isu-isu hubungan internasional dan internasional politik.
    Coba dong, ulas teori politik internasional punya Kenneth Waltz

    Comment by sholi — August 31, 2007 @ 10:22 am | Reply

  2. bagus…tpi bahasa inggrisnya itu loh,, pegel bacanya!!

    Comment by indah — April 16, 2008 @ 6:08 am | Reply

  3. fuck bgt malaysia

    Comment by wahyi — March 19, 2009 @ 8:05 am | Reply

  4. Outstanding article!! Will come back soon.

    Comment by DescuemDerb — May 20, 2009 @ 7:03 pm | Reply

  5. Hancurkan malaysia, fuck jöngos britis.

    Comment by Merah putih — June 4, 2009 @ 5:18 am | Reply

  6. Sdh taon 2009, Malay’sin’ masih aj nyolek2 Ambalat,Ooi..INA tegaz dong… Gayang Malaysia…:-(

    Comment by Nieki — June 4, 2009 @ 10:26 am | Reply

  7. malaysialan anjiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinggnnngggg

    Comment by cata — June 13, 2009 @ 7:58 am | Reply

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