Friday, September 9, 2011

Our Other Border: Monitoring the delimitation of our maritime boundary with Myanmar

Dispute concerning delimitation of the maritime boundary between Bangladesh and Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal (Bangladesh/Myanmar)

While everyone has been pre-occupied with the India-Bangladesh talks, and particularly the water and transit issue, there have been significant developments regarding our border with our other neighbour.

At this very moment, oral submissions are being made at the International Tribunal for Law of the Sea in Hamburg for the delimitation of our maritime boundary with Myanmar. They commenced yesterday (8th September) in the presence of our Foreign Minister and her delegation:

Background: As some of you may remember, a couple of years ago, relations between Bangladesh and Myanmar suddenly became strained, as they - through a South Korean intermediary - began exploring for oil and gas reserves, around a disputed sea boundary in the Bay of Bengal. Even though tensions cooled after a while, the dispute remained unresolved, and both sides agreed to settle the matter amicably by taking it to the relatively newly constituted International Tribunal for Law of the Sea. Written proceedings commenced in 2009 but it is only now that we have reached the stage of oral submissions.

Essentially, Myanmar have claimed that they have a right to explore the disputed area because, based on the principle of equidistance used in international law, it falls with their jurisdiction. Bangladesh, on the other hand, claims that using the principle of equidistance in these particular circumstances will be inequitable as it deprives the country of a large swathe of sea territory and blocks access to the outer continental shelf, despite having hundreds of kilometers of coastline.

This case is a landmark event for us, not only because it will help consolidate our national borders and determine the extent of our oil and gas reserves but also because it will be Bangladesh's first case in front of an international court as a state party. (The War Crimes Tribunal is governed by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court but is not an 'international court' and the ICJ case between Pakistan and India regarding our Liberation War did not involve us as a state party)

I really hope that we get a favorable outcome of this. My expectations have been heightened by the fact that we have lined up an AMAZING team of international lawyers. Paul S. Reichler and Lawrence H. Martin from Foley Hoag LLP (, Professor Dr. James Crawford( and Professor Alan Boyle ( are absolute legends in the fields of international law of the sea and international arbitration.

If you are interested in following what is happening at ITLOS, you can read the press releases on the ITLOS website or even watch the proceedings via webcam at the stated times: It is a unique opportunity to see the cogs of the international legal system turn and observe how the interests of YOUR country are defended. An archive of footage from previous sessions is also available on the website and I would particularly recommend watching the first session as it provides a detailed political, historical and legal background to the entire issue and includes a speech by Dr. Dipu Moni, our Foreign Minister.

Have any of you been following this issue? Do you any expectations regarding this issue, in specific, or our relations with Myanmar, in general? I'll post background articles and news of relevant developments in the coming days.


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