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Bangladesh; India: Court Awards Control of Maritime Region

(July 15, 2014) On July 7, 2014, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which is located in The Hague, issued its decision on the maritime dispute between Bangladesh and India. (Bay of Bengal Maritime Boundary Arbitration Between Bangladesh and India (Bangladesh v. India), Permanent Court of Arbitration website (last visited July 11, 2014).) The Court considered scientific survey information and historical documents, including maps and agreements made by the British in the 1940s, in awarding rights to 80% of an area of 9,700 square miles in the Bay of Bengal to Bangladesh. (Peter Snyder, UN Tribunal Rules for Bangladesh in Maritime Border Dispute with India, PAPER CHASE (July 9, 2014); UN Rules in Favor of Bangladesh in Sea Border Dispute with India, AL JAZEERA AMERICA (July 8, 2014).)

The decision ended a three-decades long dispute over fishing grounds and the rights to oil and gas exploration in the Bay of Bengal. The problem has been attributed in part to the partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan in 1947. Bangladesh was part of Pakistan, as a region known as East Pakistan, until 1971. (Snyder, supra.; The Formation of an Independent Bangladesh, INFO PLEASE (last visited July 14, 2014).)

In 2009, Bangladesh initiated arbitration with India under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), choosing the Court to handle the matter. Article 287 of that Convention specifies that Member States may choose the venue for dispute resolution. Bangladesh and India had both signed the Convention on December 12, 1982; India ratified it on June 29, 1995; Bangladesh did so on July 27, 2001. (Snyder, supra; UNCLOS (Dec. 10, 1982), art. 287, United Nations website; Table Recapitulating the Status of the Convention and of the Related Agreements, as at 10 January 2014, United Nations website.)

The Court’s ruling sets the maritime boundary between the two countries, establishing their territorial seas, exclusive economic zones, and the continental shelf line. (Snyder, supra.) The decision was applauded by leaders from both countries. Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali, the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh, called the ruling a “victory and a win-win situation for both sides. … It finally resolves peacefully and in accordance with international law a problem that had hampered the economic development of both states for more than three decades.” (UN Rules in Favor of Bangladesh in Sea Border Dispute with India, supra.) India’s External Affairs spokesperson, Syed Akbaruddin, also approved of the Court’s action, stating, “[w]e believe that the settlement of the maritime boundary will further enhance mutual understanding and goodwill between India and Bangladesh by bringing to closure a long-pending issue.” (Id.) It is now thought that with the dispute resolved, hydrocarbon exploration will develop in the Bay. (Id.; Snyder, supra.)