29 June 2020

On 11 June 2020, the Ministry of Law (“MinLaw”) announced the signing of a model agreement (“Model Agreement”) to enable the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (“ITLOS” or “Tribunal”) to sit in Singapore.

The ITLOS is an independent judicial body established to adjudicate disputes arising out of the interpretation and application of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (“UNCLOS”). ITLOS’ Statute establishes its seat as Hamburg, Germany. However, it is also provided that ITLOS may sit and exercise its functions elsewhere, whenever it considers this desirable. The Model Agreement enables ITLOS or one of its chambers to do this.

On 31 August 2015, Singapore and ITLOS signed a Joint Declaration for Singapore to provide appropriate facilities in the event the Tribunal or a special chamber of the Tribunal sits or exercises its functions in Singapore. This initiative culminated in the signing of letters in a virtual ceremony on 11 June 2020 for the adoption of the Model Agreement, establishing the terms and conditions under which the Singapore Government agrees to provide the appropriate facilities for ITLOS or one of its chambers to sit or otherwise exercise its functions in Singapore.

Singapore is the first country to have a model agreement for proceedings before ITLOS or a chamber of the Tribunal to take place outside the Tribunal’s headquarters. The Model Agreement covers situations when a case is to be heard by the Tribunal or a Chamber of the Tribunal in Singapore. States will now have the option of having their disputes heard by the Tribunal or a Chamber of the Tribunal in Singapore.

Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law, K Shanmugam, SC, noted that ITLOS plays a vital role in upholding international rule of law, by providing a peaceful means for settling disputes between States. The Tribunal’s decisions have contributed to the maintenance of peace and stability in the world’s oceans and seas. The Model Agreement with the Tribunal will provide States with greater access to the Tribunal and time-zone convenience for UNCLOS disputes arising between States in the Asia-Pacific / Oceania regions.

The adoption of the Model Agreement also affirms Singapore’s position as a neutral venue for the settlement of international disputes, strengthening the country’s reputation as a neutral venue for the resolution of State-to-State disputes.

Reference materials

The following materials are on the MinLaw website www.mlaw.gov.sg and the ITLOS website www.itlos.org: