Australian government accused of hypocrisy over World Court statement

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Friday, November 11, 2005

The Australian government was accused of hypocrisy today over a media release about the International Court of Justice (ICJ). In the joint release the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Attorney General welcomed the election of a New Zealander, Sir Kenneth Keith, as a judge on the ICJ, and said that "Australia strongly supported Sir Kenneth's candidature to the Court". Advocacy groups made the accusation because Australia withdrew from the jurisdiction of the maritime division of the ICJ in 2002, because of a dispute with East Timor.

Jefferson Lee from the NSW Branch of the Australia-East Timor Association said that "it is hypocritical that they are celebrating the appointment of an ICJ judge given the fact that Australia withdrew from the jurisdiction of the ICJ maritime division in March 2002."

A spokesman for the Minister for Foreign Affairs rejected the suggestion that the minister had been hypocritical, and said that it had always been government policy to resolve such disputes via bilateral negotiation.

"Maritime boundaries should be resolved by negotiation. This is how we have done it with all other countries we have negotiated with. Maritime boundaries are an issue of sovereignty," he said.

Mr Lee was referring to Australia's redeclaration of its recognition of the court. On March 22, 2002, Australia deposited a new declaration with the ICJ, which stated that its recognition of the Court did not apply to "any dispute concerning or relating to the delimitation of maritime zones, including the territorial sea, the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf, or arising out of, concerning, or relating to the exploitation of any disputed area of or adjacent to any such maritime zone pending its delimitation." This was widely understood at the time to be the result of Australia's dispute with East Timor over the maritime border. The declaration was signed by Mr Downer, who co-sponsored today's media release. The issue is especially important to both countries as the Timor Sea holds significant oil reserves.

Mr Lee argued that Australia was unfairly using its stronger bargaining position in negotiatons, and deliberately avoiding submitting to a decision by the court.

"They are constantly harping on about the necessity of resolving the Timor Sea issue by bilateral consultation between the Australian and East Timorese government rather than subjecting the dispute to the umpire, i.e. the international court of justice maritime division," he said.

Tom Clarke, Coordinator of the Timor Sea Justice Campaign, argues that the governments stance in relation to the ICJ is hypocritical.

"By picking and choosing specific parts of the ICJ’s jurisdictions that it does and doesn’t want to acknowledge, the Australian Government demonstrates that it does not take International Law seriously. Our Government has some shocking double standards," he said.

Mr Clarke also drew attention to the economic situation in East Timor. "When we’re talking about the Australian Government taking millions of dollars while East Timorese children are dying of preventable diseases, it really is no laughing matter."

Associate Professor David Reeve of the Department of Chinese and Indonesian, University of New South Wales, was asked if he thought the minister was being hypocritical.

"Foreign policy is a tricky business, with lots of strands. And there are always tensions between any country's idealism and interests. It often happens that different bits of foreign policy thrust may seem to be contradictory, but it's a complex world, and any government is trying to play lots of notes simultaneously. In this case I think Downer can be quite genuine in his congratulations, while the advocacy groups have a good opportunity to highlight their perfectly logical views," he said.

There has not been an Australian or New Zealand judge on the court since 1967. Sir Kenneths position with the court starts in 2006, and lasts for nine years.

Sources

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