Category Archives: Sabah

Initial thoughts on the Sabah standoff

For background on the current Sabah standoff, click here.

My initial thoughts:

sabahWhat the Philippines must effectively address in its claims to historic title over Sabah: the right to self-determination, which is customary and is subject of both erga omnes partes and erga omnes omnium obligations.

In his separate opinion to the Sovereignty over Pulau Ligitan and Pulau Sipadan (Indonesia/Malaysia) case before the ICJ in 2002, ad hoc judge Thomas Franck had this to say, in his rejection of the Philippine intervention:

“13. The independence of North Borneo was brought about as the result of the expressed wish of the majority of the people of the territory in a 1963 election. The Secretary-General of the United Nations was entrusted under the Manila Accord of 3 1 July 1963 with the task of ascertaining the wishes of the people of North Borneo, and reported that the majority of the peoples of North Borneo had given serious and thoughtful consideration to their future and: “[had] concluded that they wish to bring their dependent status to an end and to realize their independence through freely chosen association with other peoples in their region with whom they feel ties of ethnic association, heritage, language, religion, culture, economic relationship, and ideals and objectives” (quoted by the Representative of Malaysia to the General Assembly, 1219th meeting, 27 September 1963, Official Records of the General Assembly, Eigteenth Session, UN doc. No. AIPV. 121 9).

14. In 1963, Britain filed its last report to the United Nations on North Borneo as an Article 73 je) Non-Self-Governing Territory (Note by the Secretary-General, Political ancl Consfitutionak Information on Asian Territories under United Kingdom Administration, UN doc. NO. Al54021 Add.4 (4 April 1963)). Thereafter, the United Nations removed North Borneo from the list of colonial territories under its decolonization juris- diction (see Yearbook of the United Nations 1964, pp. 41 1-435, which omits North Borneo from the Cornmittee’s list of territories), thereby accepting that the process of decolonization had been completed by a valid exercise of self-determination.

15. Accordingly, in light of the clear exercise by the people of North Borneo of their right to self-determination, it cannot matter whether this Court, in any interpretation it might give to any historic instrument or efficacy, sustains or not the Philippines claim to historic title. Modern international law does not recognize the survival of a right of sovereignty based solely on historic title; not, in any event, after an exercise of self- determination conducted in accordance with the requisites of international law, the bona fides of which has received international recognition by the political organs of the United Nations. Against this, historic
claims and feudal pre-colonial titles are mere relics of another international legal era, one that ended with the setting of the sun on the age of colonial imperium.”

Click here for the link to the full text of Judge Franck’s separate opinion.

I am not saying the Philippine case is hopeless. I am just saying there’s a very big legal hurdle to its claim to sovereignty over Sabah that needs serious consideration.

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Filed under Decolonization, Malaysia, Philippines, Sabah, Self-determination, Sultanate of Sulu