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Bangladesh claims victory in Bay of Bengal dispute‎

Publication Date : 16-03-2012


Bangladesh now gets more area in the Bay for oil, gas and other maritime resources


Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina yesterday termed the triumph over Burma in the maritime boundary dispute case at Hamburg a victory of the whole nation.

She credited her government with getting the verdict of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Bangladesh's favour and criticised others for not taking any steps during their tenures.

Bangladesh on March 14 won the landmark verdict at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg, Germany. The court sustained Bangladesh's claim to rights over a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic and territorial zone in the Bay of Bengal, thereby rejecting the claims of Burma. The verdict cannot be appealed against and has become effective immediately.

"Fortunately the people of Bangladesh voted the Awami League to power at the 2008 elections. After we formed the government in 2009, we took measures to establish our rights on our maritime boundaries. And for this reason, we had to do a lot of work,” she said at her Gono Bhaban residence while talking to district and upazila level Awami League leaders.

Later, in parliament, Hasina said, “The unresolved issue with India over maritime boundaries is expected to be settled in 2014. If people vote for us and give us scope to serve them, we will be able to bring good news for them as we did today.”

The dispute with India over maritime boundaries is scheduled to be settled in late 2014 at the UN's Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague, the Netherlands, while parliamentary elections are scheduled for early January 2014 in Bangladesh.

"We will be able to bring good news as no successive government after 1975 looked into this matter,” she said, citing the Awami League-led government's measures to establish the country's rights in the Bay.

In her brief speech in the House, Hasina said, “Today is the happiest day for independent and sovereign Bangladesh, which we liberated through bloodshed.”

Earlier at the meeting with district and upazila level leaders of the Awami League, the prime minister said Bangladesh had got more than what it had wanted. “We have got 1.11 lakh square kilometres…There are many natural resources like oil, gas, mineral resources and fish. All these are now ours, we own these resources.”

She said, “Had we not come to power and placed the demand at the right time, the opportunity might have slipped away. Had the BNP come to power, it would have resorted to looting and the demand would not have been met.”

Hasina said Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman initiated discussions on the maritime boundary issue with Burma in 1973 for the first time. But after his murder in 1975, no government, led by former presidents Ziaur Rahman, HM Ershad or now opposition leader Khaleda Zia, took any initiative to resolve this issue as also the land boundary disputes with neighbouring states, she added.

"After coming to power in 1996, we signed the international law on maritime boundary in 1997. Although there was a provision to place Bangladesh's demand on the maritime dispute issue at the UN by 2011, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) which came to power in 2001 did not take any steps to this end,” she said.

Verdict effective

Talking to The Daily Star over telephone from Germany, Foreign Minister Dipu Moni said, “The verdict has been made effective immediately after its pronouncement.

"There is no need for its ratification or any other formalities that could take time.” She said, “The 151-page verdict laid out all aspects of the maritime delimitation in minute detail.”

The tribunal applies the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and other rules of international laws compatible with the convention.

As per the law, all parties to a case have to accept the jurisdiction of the tribunal before the case is dealt with. The jurisdiction may be accepted either before a dispute arises or afterwards. The decisions of the tribunal are final and binding and the parties to the dispute are required to comply with them.

However, the tribunal has no means of enforcing its decisions.

The parties to a dispute are required to comply promptly with any provisional measures prescribed by the tribunal under specific articles of the UN convention.

Role in victory

Records show that since 1974, only the Awami League-led governments had pursued to establish Bangladesh's territorial rights in the Bay of Bengal.

Only three years after the country's liberation, the first step was taken by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who enacted the Territorial Waters and Maritime Zones Act, 1974, the first to enact in the region.

He initiated a dialogue with Burma and India to fix maritime boundary issues.

As a result, Bangladesh and Burma signed an agreement in 1974, in which Burma accepted Bangladesh's claim for 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zone.

However, Burma later changed its stance.

After the assassination of Bangabandhu, successive governments did not follow up with discussions and decisions agreed upon by Bangladesh, India and Burma. Despite repeated calls over decades by the UN to submit Bangladesh's claim for the continental shelf in the Bay, there had been no initiatives for scientific survey or anything.

The next progress was made after Sheikh Hasina assumed office in 1996 and ratified the long overdue United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea in 2001.

During the previous BNP rule (2001-2006), a project was launched regarding maritime issues, but no tangible development was achieved and a lot of money was spent on this.

After the Awami League returned to power in 2009, Bangladesh lodged cases against India and Burma in two separate UN courts on Oct 8, 2009. Bangladesh was forced to file the cases after the two neighbours unfairly cut off a significant portion of Bangladesh's maritime area in the Bay, sources said.

They said Foreign Minister Dipu Moni then took all-out efforts to prepare Bangladesh for the legal battle against India and Myanmar.

In the case with Burma, she, as the main agent of Bangladesh, placed Bangladesh's claims during the final hearing held between Sept. 8 and Sept. 24, 2011, in Hamburg.

Additional Secretary to the Foreign Ministry Rear Admiral (retd) Khurshed Alam played a crucial role as he was the main man behind all scientific surveys conducted in the Bay. Bangladesh possibly appointed the best lawyers in the world who were experts in complex maritime issues.

Due to the relentless efforts by Dipu Moni, Khurshed Alam and internationally reputed lawyers, Bangladesh came out triumphant.


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