Govt should refrain from rhetorical claims
EVER since the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea issued its judgement in the dispute concerning delimitation of the maritime boundary between Bangladesh and Myanmar the government has embarked on a strong campaign to gain political mileage from the event, terming it a ‘maritime victory’. On Wednesday, the prime minister, while addressing a reception accorded to her by the Juba Sangram Parishad, termed the verdict a ‘victory to the nation’ and promised more success if her party is re-elected in the next elections. On March 14, the tribunal, in a 21 to 1 ruling by vote, sustained Bangladesh’s claims to a full 200-mile exclusive economic zone in the Bay of Bengal, and to a substantial share of the outer continental shelf beyond 200 miles. While the government is well within its rights to celebrate the conclusion to the long-standing dispute with Myanmar, which also now opens up undisputed access to the natural resources in the Bay, caution must, however, be exercised in presenting the subject.
The government has been describing the verdict as ‘maritime victory’, which carries a different connotation from resolution of a dispute, and leaves much room for things to be misconstrued. One after all can ask as to whom we have secured victory against. The use of the word ‘victory’ would seem to suggest that our claims to the Bay had been under occupation, whereas, in reality, it had only been a case of disputed claims in which the tribunal had tried to satisfy the needs of both sides, specifically dealing with each individual claim of both nations, ruling both in favour and against both nations’ claims in the whole process. In fact, throughout its 151-page judgment, the tribunal stressed that the goal of maritime boundary delimitation (beyond the territorial sea) was an ‘equitable solution.’ Furthermore, the foreign minister in her initial reaction to the verdict had also described the judgement as ‘a victory for both States’. While the final verdict may have indeed addressed ‘Bangladesh’s strategic objectives’ as the minister claims, it is both misleading and diplomatically unwise to resort rhetorical claims of ‘victory’, as it may also unnecessarily antagonise the government and people of Myanmar and affect bilateral relations between the neighbours.
Given the circumstances and complex nature of the verdict, the government would indeed be well-advised to refrain from the use of such simplistic description of the verdict to avoid confusion in the future. Furthermore, the government also needs to clarify why and how, after the ‘victorious’ verdict, the country lost out on a portion of the Bay, which had initially been mapped out as a block for exploration in the map drawn in 2008, when the foreign minister claims that Bangladesh had gotten more than its claim. Even the dissenting judge at the Tribunal had actually claimed the verdict ‘unfair to Bangladesh.’ There are indeed many reasons, after careful inspection, to refrain from the use of simplistic descriptions of the judgement.
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