Washington International Law Journal


James K. Kenny


Australia and Indonesia signed the Timor Gap Treaty in 1989 as a means to jointly benefit from the petroleum reserves in the Timor Sea between East Timor and northwestern Australia without permanently resolving their dispute over seabed delimitation. The Treaty utilizes rights granted by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III, 1982). Resolution III of the UNCLOS III provides the benefit of the Convention's rights to United Nations-recognized non-self-governing peoples, which includes the East Timorese people. Under Resolution III, the East Timorese are entitled to all of the Convention's rights, including sovereignty over natural resources in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The Timor Gap Treaty violates international law by using the UNCLOS III's rights to exploit petroleum reserves within the East Timorese people's EEZ, a seabed area reserved to the East Timorese under Resolution III. Australia and Indonesia cannot assume the benefits of the UNCLOS III without also respecting its obligations. The International Court of Justice may adjudicate the validity of the Timor Gap Treaty in a pending case, East Timor (Portugal v. Australia).

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