KUALA LUMPUR, March 10 – The Sulu Sultanate no longer has any legal claim over Sabah since the International Court of Justice (ICJ) recognised Malaysia’s rights and sovereignty over the east Malaysian state and its surrounding islands during a territorial dispute in 2002, the Bar Council said today.
The ICJ recognised Malaysia’s claim in its decision on the dispute between Malaysia and Indonesia over the islands of Ligitan and Sipadan off the coast of Sabah in December 2002. The Philippines had at the time applied to intervene in the case, but its application was rejected.
“The Sultanate of Sulu had, by its several actions and by various separate instruments between 19 April 1851 and 26 June 1946, relinquished and ceded all of its rights, interests and dominion over what was previously referred to as North Borneo,” council vice-president Christopher Leong said here in a statement.
“The Sultanate of Sulu, even if such an entity were to legally exist today, has no subsisting legitimate claim to Sabah.”
Last week, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima from the Philippines’ Department of Justice reportedly said the government had not ruled out taking the Sulu group’s claim on Sabah to the ICJ, but was carefully studying the case as it did not want to strain its friendship with Malaysia.
The Sulu Sultanate has laid claim to Sabah, saying it had merely leased North Borneo in 1878 to the British North Borneo Company for an annual payment of 5,000 Malayan dollars then, which was increased to 5,300 Malayan dollars in 1903.
Sabah, however, joined Malaya, Sarawak and Singapore to form Malaysia in 1963, after which Malaysia continued paying an annual stipend of RM5,300 to the Sulu sultanate on the basis of the sultanate ceding the Borneo state.
In a referendum organised by the Cobbold Commission in 1962, the people of Sabah voted overwhelmingly to join Malaysia.
The Bar Council also urged Putrajaya today to solve the ongoing conflict in Lahad Datu in a peaceful manner, while treating prisoners according to international humanitarian law and international human rights standards.
This comes as the death toll of Sulu militants reached 53 in the sixth day of “Ops Daulat” launched to flush out the remaining armed intruders from Philippines, and alleged violence used by the Malaysian police on Suluks and suspected followers of the Kiram clan.
“As we seek to assert our rights and protect our sovereignty and territorial integrity, we must continue to conduct ourselves with a strong sense of dignity and professionalism, with due observance of our own laws as well as international laws and standards,” Leong said.
“We expect that the due process of the law shall be observed and accorded to these arrested persons,” Leong said, referring to the 85 suspects arrested under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (SOSMA).
SOSMA was tabled in Parliament on April 10 last year and passed in June, officially replacing the ISA and removing the government’s option to detain without trial.
Under the ISA, an individual believed to have committed a security offence can be detained for up to two years without trial, on orders from the home minister.
The Council also asked for authorities to ensure that all combatants, either friend or foe, are treated humanely with access to necessary medical assistance and treatment.
Malaysia launched an all-out assault on the Sulu group on Tuesday morning, using fighter jets to rain down bombs on Kampung Tanduo where the Sulu group had been hiding.
After the airstrike, ground troops moved in for the “mopping up” operations, going from door-to-door and advancing slowly over the uneven terrain surrounding the coastal village to hunt down the armed militants.