Book delves into unheard cases of Pedra Branca

01 February 2019 | General News
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Pedra Branca: Story of the Unheard Cases was launched at the National Library on 30 January

The Centre for International Law (CIL) at NUS, with support from the National Library Board, has launched a book revealing behind-the-scenes details of how Singapore prepared for the two unheard cases against Malaysia for the revision and interpretation of the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) Judgment of 2008 awarding Singapore sovereignty over the island of Pedra Branca.

Pedra Branca: Story of the Unheard Cases was officially launched by Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore Minister for Foreign Affairs, on 30 January. The launch was attended by some 150 guests, including Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat and Singapore Attorney-General Mr Lucien Wong.

“Even though the cases were discontinued, without being heard, the story of how the Singapore team came together and followed through with the challenge is one that deserves to be told…The book tells the story of a small country mounting a huge and robust effort on the global stage. We may be a tiny nation, but the Singapore spirit will always be united, resolute and determined,” said Dr Balakrishnan.

The new book, published by Straits Times Press, is co-authored by Professor S Jayakumar, Chairman of the International Advisory Panel at CIL and Senior Legal Adviser to the Singapore Minister for Foreign Affairs; Professor Tommy Koh, Chairman of the CIL Governing Board and Ambassador-at-Large at the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and Mr Lionel Yee, SC, Deputy Chairman of the CIL Governing Board and Deputy Attorney-General, Singapore.

Even though the cases were discontinued, without being heard, the story of how the Singapore team came together and followed through with the challenge is one that deserves to be told…The book tells the story of a small country mounting a huge and robust effort on the global stage. We may be a tiny nation, but the Singapore spirit will always be united, resolute and determined.

It is the second book by Prof Jayakumar and Prof Koh about the Pedra Branca case, the first being Pedra Branca: The Road to the World Court detailing the three-decade-old case between Singapore and Malaysia over the island, which is strategically located about 40km east of mainland Singapore. Prof Jayakumar, Prof Koh and Mr Yee were all involved in both the earlier 2008 case on Pedra Branca and latest case before the ICJ.

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The book's authors (from left): Prof Koh, Prof Jayakumar and Mr Yee

Pedra Branca: Story of the Unheard Cases outlines the Singapore legal team’s intense preparations after Malaysia filed two applications in 2017 for the revision and interpretation of the 2008 Judgement awarding Pedra Branca to Singapore. To knock the applications out at the first instance, the Singapore team “decided to include every single one of our strongest arguments in our written pleadings, instead of leaving them for the oral hearings”, the authors wrote.

They set up a mock ICJ courtroom, filmed practice sessions and roleplayed as the Malaysian side to identify the blind spots in Singapore's arguments. However, just two weeks shy of the scheduled oral hearings in June 2018, Malaysia opted to discontinue the cases and withdrew their applications.

“I felt like a boxer who had trained for 17 months for an important contest, and at the last minute, to be given a walkover,” said Prof Koh, adding that the team was simultaneously relieved and disappointed.

Nevertheless, when asked what lessons could be learnt from the experience, the authors had many to share. “However confident you are of your case, you cannot take it for granted,” advised Prof Jayakumar. Mr Yee stressed the need for all government agencies involved to work together in understanding all aspects of the case, even those that did not come under their jurisdiction.

“This book describes how meticulously Singapore prepared for the two cases, leaving no stone unturned. Indeed, this must always be Singapore’s approach,” wrote Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in the book’s foreword.

Pedra Branca: Story of the Unheard Cases is expected to appeal to lawyers and non-lawyers alike, as well as students who are interested in international law, international relations and territorial disputes.