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Since the restoration of its independence, Timor-Leste has made it a national priority to establish permanent maritime boundaries with its neighbours, Indonesia and Australia pursuant to international law.

A permanent maritime boundaries maritime boundary with Australia was agreed in 2018, enshrined in the Maritime Boundary Treaty between Timor-Leste and Australia, signed at the headquarters of the United Nations on 6 March.

This was a significant moment for Timor-Leste, and marked the end of a long struggle to secure its maritime rights in the Timor Sea.

In March 2002, two months before Timor-Leste’s restoration of independence, Australia withdrew from the binding jurisdiction of international dispute resolution bodies on maritime boundaries. This meant that Timor-Leste was not able to seek a binding determination of its maritime boundaries with Australia from an international court or tribunal. The Australian Government also declined Timor-Leste’s invitations to negotiate bilaterally.

Left with no other option, in April 2016, Timor-Leste initiated the only remaining legal option – compulsory conciliation. Compulsory conciliation is a procedure under United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea ( UNCLOS ) (Annex V, Section 2) in which a panel of conciliators assists States to reach an amicable resolution of their dispute. Through this process, Timor-Leste and Australia agreed a permanent maritime boundary.

Discussions about maritime boundaries between Timor-Leste and Indonesia began in 2015. Both States have affirmed that the position of a permanent maritime boundary should be negotiated in accordance with international law, particularly UNCLOS. Preliminary discussions resumed in late 2018, with formal negotiations to begin in 2019

To learn more about the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, including a brief history of the development of international maritime boundary law, the key concepts under the 1982 Convention and the accepted approach to delimitation of maritime boundaries, click here

To learn more about the Timor Sea Agreements, and why they do not constitute a permanent maritime boundary, click here

To learn more about the past and current legal issues between Australia and Timor-Leste, click here

To learn about Timor-Leste and Indonesia’s recent talks on maritime boundaries, click here

For Frequently Asked Questions, click here

For copies of all relevant Timor Sea treaties, recent articles and further resources on Timor-Leste and international maritime boundary law, click here