And in other news . . . the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) also had a first of its own this past Wednesday. ITLOS delivered judgment in its first maritime delimitation case – Dispute concerning delimitation of the maritime boundary between Bangladesh and Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal (Bangladesh/Myanmar) (see press release here and judgment here). The case is part of a pair of maritime delimitation cases involving Bangladesh and its neighbours. The other case is one between Bangladesh and India, which has been submitted to arbitration under Annex VII of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
We will have a substantive comment on the decision in the Bangladesh/Myanmar cases soon but for now it may be noted that ITLOS set out a single maritime boundary delimiting the territorial seas, exclusive economic zones and continental shelves of the two States. It appears that both parties got something from the decision. The Tribunal rejected Bangladesh’s argument that both parties had already agreed on a delimitation of the territorial sea in 1974. However, ITLOS acceded to Bangladesh’s request (which was opposed by Myanmar) that the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles limit be delimited.
It is not surprising that the decision by ITLOS has received much less attention than that of the International Criminal Court in the Lubanga case (see post here). However, I am surprised that ITLOS announced its decision on the same day as the ICC. ITLOS seems to take special care in ensuring that its work is completely overshadowed by the work of other international courts. Announcing a decision on the same day as the ICC’s first judgment is just part of a trend. The hearings in the Bangladesh/Myanmar case were held exactly at the same time as the ICJ hearings in the Germany v. Italy (Immunity) case. So of course, those hearings got very little attention. In September 2010, when ITLOS held hearings in its advisory proceedings on The Responsibilities and obligations of States sponsoring persons and entities with respect to activities in the International Seabed Area, they were fixed for the same week as the ICJ’s hearings in the Georgia v. Russia (Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination Case). Considering that these two ITLOS hearings are the only two substantive hearings the tribunal has had in the last couple of years I find it strange that they are fxed for the same time as the ICJ’s hearings, especially as the ICJ itself only has a few hearings a year. It’s not very hard to avoid those week is it! Perhaps ITLOS is not deliberating trying to hide its light under a bowl, but it couldn’t do a better job of hiding away if it was deliberately trying.