UN hears Dhaka's claim on Aug 25
The United Nations will hear Bangladesh's claim on the continental shelf in the Bay of Bengal on August 25, months after Dhaka sought international arbitration following disputes with neighbouring India and Myanmar.
Foreign Minister Dipu Moni will present Bangladesh's case in the hearing scheduled at the UN headquarters in New York, official sources said in Dhaka.
Bangladesh's claim on the Bay of Bengal continental shelf extends up to 400-460 nautical miles (850 km) from the coast. Dhaka says it should have total rights over the undersea natural resources within this area.
The continental shelf is an undersea extension of a continent which can stretch for many miles out to the sea. Many nations have asserted mineral and land rights to their associated continental shelves since these are rich in natural resources.
Bangladesh submitted its arbitration on February 25 to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), a UN body that deals with the continental shelf.
This was Bangladesh's first such move since its independence 40 years ago.
In New York, Dipu Moni will make an opening statement on August 25 and Additional Foreign Secretary Rear Admiral (retd) Md Khurshid Alam will give a technical and scientific presentation in support of Dhaka's claim.
The presentations are considered significant as the UN will decide whether Bangladesh's claim is logical or not. Dhaka will have to establish and prove that its claim is genuine, and counter India and Myanmar's claim over the continental shelf.
Bangladesh's claim is that the dispute should be resolved on “equity principle” meaning that the countries adjacent to the Bay of Bengal would get proportional areas in the zone. India and Myanmar favours "equidistance" system to get bigger maritime areas.
Under a UN charter, the principle of "equity" takes into account a country's population, economic status and needs, GDP growth, and other human issues, while the "equidistance" system marks the boundary through geometric calculations.
In 1974, Bangladesh became the first country in South Asia to have declared its jurisdiction on territorial waters, economic zones, and continental shelf by legislating the Territorial and Maritime Zones Act.
A UN settlement of the dispute will also allow Bangladesh's unhindered exploration of oil and gas resources in the Bay.
Bangladesh has selected 28 offshore blocks in the Bay, but India and Myanmar claim that 27 of the blocks belong to their territories. The dispute has unfairly cut off around half of Bangladesh's maritime area, which also has prevented exploring natural resources.
Bangladesh will gain hugely if its claim is accepted by the UN and its courts, said Khurshid Alam. "As per our just claim, the size of our maritime area will be like the size of our country," he added.
On completion of consideration of Dhaka's submission, the CLCS will make recommendations in the light of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), officials in Dhaka said.
They mentioned that before going for the arbitration,
Dhaka consulted the Federal Institute of Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR) of Germany, GRID - Arendal of Norway, Centre for Coastal and Ocean Mapping of the University of New Hampshire, Scripps Institute of Oceanography, and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, USA.
The Commonwealth Secretariat has provided legal and technical assistance in the final documentation of Bangladesh's submission. Dhaka has also received advisory assistance from Dr Herald Brekke, a member of the UN body CLCS, said the officials.
Talking to The Daily Star, Khurshid Alam, who heads the UNCLOS wing at the foreign ministry, said Dhaka formally objected to Delhi's submission to the CLCS on May 11, 2009. “We dispute the Indian claims on areas of outer continental shelf since these are part of the natural prolongation of Bangladesh,” he said.
Myanmar made a submission to the CLCS on December 16, 2008. Dhaka objected to it as Myanmar claimed natural prolongation areas of Bangladesh, Khurshid added.