In a decision made on Monday, 19 September but published only this week
, the ad hoc Commission under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) said that it is “competent with respect to the compulsory conciliation” set out in Timor-Leste’s request.
“There are no issues of admissibility or comity that preclude the Commission from continuing these proceedings,” the decision read.
Last month, Timor-Leste urged the commission to mediate the dispute claiming bilateral negotiations have been futile.
Australia maintained that the Commission had no jurisdiction because it had signed a treaty with its neighbour’s government barring any court recourse. It also refuses to negotiate a permanent border until 2056 at the earliest.
The arbitration could decide which territory covers large oil and gas deposits estimated to be worth $40b.
“Just as we fought so hard and suffered so much for our independence, Timor-Leste will not rest until we have our sovereign rights over both land and sea,” Xanana Gusmao, the country’s former prime minister, said in a statement after the PCA’s decision.
Australia “accepts the commission's decision and will continue to engage in good faith as we move to the next phase of the conciliation process,” Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop said.
“We are committed to working together to strengthen our relationship and overcome our differences in the Timor sea,” she added.
In 12 months, the Commission will report any agreements reach and, failing agreement, its conclusions on all questions of fact or law relevant to the matter in dispute including recommendations which may be appropriate for an amicable settlement.
The report will be coursed through the UN Secretary-General and transmitted to the parties in dispute.
Australia has lost its attempt to quash Timor-Leste’s maritime boundary complaint after the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) announced it was competent to handle the conciliation and that the matter will proceed.