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IBRU: Centre for Borders Research

Boundary news

Boundary news Headlines

Bangladesh and Myanmar fix deadlines in maritime boundary case

(3 February 2010)

During a meeting held in Hamburg on 25 and 26 January, representatives from Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed to fix the time-limits for the filing of their written pleadings to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). According to the agreed schedule, Bangladesh’s deadline to present its written pleading to ITLOS is 1 July 2010 while Myanmar has until 1 December 2010. If the Tribunal believes it necessary, Bangladesh and Myanmar may also submit replies to the written pleadings before the fixed deadlines of 15 March 2011 and 1 July 2011 respectively. These deadlines suggest the case is being given a relatively fast pace by ITLOS, especially when compared to the more lengthy time scales for cases before the International Court of Justice with its much heavier case load.

For several years Bangladesh and Myanmar have tried to negotiate their overlapping maritime and continental shelf claims in the Bay of Bengal, an area believed to be rich in oil and gas prospects and over which India has also raised claims. However, in the course of negotiations the two sides could not agree the principles behind delimitation. Myanmar has supported a maritime boundary solution based on the equidistance principle that would give Bangladesh a small maritime area because of the concave nature of the Bay of Bengal. Alternatively, Bangladesh has always advocated the equity principle as mentioned by Art. 59 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which could entail using other calculations to provide Bangladesh with a larger maritime area. Following a stall in negotiations, both countries accepted the jurisdiction of ITLOS to settle their maritime boundary dispute and proceedings were instituted on 14 December 2009.

While accepting the jurisdiction of ITLOS, Bangladesh and Myanmar have not renounced finding a bilateral solution through continued negotiations. During a meeting held in Chittagong on 8 and 9 January, Myanmar agrees to delimit the maritime boundary by combining both equidistance and equity principles. Despite this move, Bangladesh decided not to withdraw the case from ITLOS and has opted to continue holding bilateral talks alongside adjudication.

Bangladesh seems to be adopting a similar approach to maritime dispute settlement with India, as bilateral negotiations continue alongside binding third-party proceedings. After many years of failed negotiations, in October 2009 Bangladesh called for binding arbitration concerning maritime boundary delimitation with India under the auspices of the UNCLOS. During their last meeting held on 29 and 30 January, officials from Bangladesh and India failed to agree on the appointment of 3 out 5 arbitrators. However, Bangladeshi foreign secretary Mohamed Mijarul Quayes was reported as saying that bilateral negotiations will continue alongside arbitration, or the international tribunal would settle their boundary disputes with both India and Myanmar.

Sources: ‘Maritime boundary negotiations’ The Financial Express (Bangladesh), 26 January 2010; ‘Bangladesh, Myanmar begin talks over maritime boundary’ Plus News Pakistan, 9 January 2010; ‘Myanmar raises accord hopes maritime boundary row’ Staff Reporter, 24 January 2010; ‘No decision at Dakha-Delhi talks on arbitrator appointment’ Plus News Pakistan, 1 February 2010.