4 November 2009
General Assembly
GA/L/3380

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-fourth General Assembly

Sixth Committee

24th Meeting (AM)


Legal Committee Is Told Law of Sea Tribunal, with Likely Greater


Need for Maritime Adjudications, Raising Visibility

 


Release of Detained Vessels, Protection of Environment

Said by President to Be Prominent Among Urgent Cases Dealt With


The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea was enhancing its own visibility and that of its dispute-settlement system, in anticipation of an increased need as exploitation of marine resources advanced, the Tribunal President told the Sixth Committee (Legal) as today, at a meeting at which Programme of Assistance in the Teaching, Study, Dissemination and Wider Appreciation of International Law was also taken up by the Committee.


The President said seven regional workshops had been held on the procedures of the dispute settlement, as related to issues involving the Law of the Sea.  The most recent had been held in Cape Town for southern African countries.  In collaboration with the Nippon Foundation since 2007, an annual capacity-building and training programme was conducted for the benefit of both Government officials and researchers.


On the work of the Tribunal, he said many of the cases brought before the Tribunal involved urgent proceedings, relating either to the implementation of provisional measures or to the facilitation of release for vessels and crews.  As an example, the Tribunal could prescribe provisional measures to protect rights of disputant parties or to protect the marine environment against impending damages.


Agreeing, in an interactive dialogue with the Tribunal President, that exploitation of deep sea resources would increasingly create disputes calling for settlement by the Tribunal, the representative of Trinidad and Tobago said his country had already submitted an appropriate “article 287 declaration” mechanism to settle a dispute. 


In turn, the President noted the importance of making such declarations in the case of a dispute, so as to avoid the costly process of submitting to binding arbitration.  Once the dispute process was instituted, he said, States were bound by the procedure unless the instituting party withdrew.


The representatives of Argentina, Liberia and Ghana also took part in the exchange.


When the Committee turned to the Programme of Assistance related to international law, Ghana’s representative said his delegation had chaired an Advisory Committee dialogue on 16 October, where it was disclosed that the audiovisual law library had received the 2009 Best Website Award from the International Association of Law Librarians.  The time had come to acknowledge the primacy of international law in international affairs by putting international law at the forefront of State concerns and at the top of the United Nations agenda as the “fourth pillar” of development.


The United States delegate agreed that international law was a core element in spreading the rule of law, and he called for support to the Programme through which lawyers, judges and other juridical professionals learned about legal systems throughout the world.


Saying she had taken part in the International Law Fellowship training programme for lawyers in The Hague this summer, Slovakia’s delegate said the two-fold purpose of those sessions was to update legislative professionals and deepen knowledge of international law, while also allowing international legal professionals to get to know the United Nations system.  States should call for more such programmes and lend their financial support to them.


The representatives of Colombia and Mexico also spoke in support of the Programme. 


Finally today, the representative of Canada introduced a draft resolution on measures to eliminate international terrorism.  Liechtenstein’s delegate introduced a draft on the rule of law at the national and international levels.


The Committee is expected to meet again at 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, 12 November, when it expects to take action on draft resolutions while also taking up the report of the Committee on Relations with the Host Country, and the subject of revitalization of the work of the General Assembly and Programme Planning.


Background


The Sixth Committee (Legal) met today to discuss the United Nations Programme of Assistance in the field of international law, to consider a number of draft resolutions various issues, to hear a presentation on the Law of the Sea followed by an interactive opportunity with the President of the Law of the Sea Tribunal.


Before the Committee is a report by the Secretary-General on the United Nations Programme of Assistance in the Teaching, Study, Dissemination and Wider Appreciation of International Law (document A/64/495).  It covers implementation of the Programme during the biennium 2008-2009 and provides guidelines and recommendations for executing the Programme in the 2010-2011 biennium.  The report gives an account of the relevant activities undertaken by the United Nations Legal Affairs Office and by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).


In its section as the Legal Affairs Office, the report details the numerous activities of the Codification Division in relation to the International Law Fellowship Programme, including its seminars and lectures.  Also covered are developments with regard to the United Nations Audiovisual Library of International Law, which was accessible in more than 175 countries and territories in under a year after its launch.  Publications produced by the Codification Division included the Juridical Yearbook, summaries of proceedings of the International Court of Justice and coverage of the International Law Commission’s work.  In the area of dissemination, 19 websites were operational on aspects of international law, such as the Rome statue of the International Criminal Court.


Also covered in the report are activities of the Division for Ocean Affairs and Law of the Sea, the United Nations International Trade Law Division and the Treaty Section.  Activities of the United Nations Office at Geneva, UNITAR and UNESCO are included.


In relation to the 2010-2011 biennium, the report states that the recommendation was for current activities to be continued, and to be developed and expanded if funds were available.  New activities should be undertaken only if the overall level of appropriations or voluntary contributions made them possible.


Annex I contains a listing of resource locators for websites maintained by the Office of Legal Affairs.  Annex II is an update on the relationship between the Hamilton Shirley Amerasinghe Memorial Fellowship and the United Nations Programme of Assistance relating to international law.


In addition to that report, the Sixth Committee has before it a draft resolution on measures to eliminate international terrorism (document A/C.6/64/L.12), which it was expected would be introduced.  By that draft, the Assembly would strongly condemn all manifestations of terrorisms as criminal and unjustifiable, and would call upon Member States, the United Nations and other international, regional and subregional organizations to implement the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.  The Assembly would also urge States to ensure full prosecution of nationals or persons in their territories who funded or financially supported any and all terrorist acts.  States would be called upon to become party to the relevant international conventions and protocols, to implement such conventions into national jurisdiction, and to cooperate and support other States in prosecuting perpetrators of terrorist acts.


Also expected to be introduced was a resolution on the rule of law at the national and international levels (document A/C.6/64/L.14).  By that draft, the Assembly would stress the importance of adherence to the rule of law and the need to strengthen support of States toward that end.  It would call on the United Nations system to address aspects of the rule of law in relevant activities and would express full support for the Rule of Law Coordination and Resource Group supported by the Rule of Law Unit.  It would encourage the accordance of high priority to rule of law activities and would invite the International Court of Justice, the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) and the International Law Commission to continue to comment on their activities in the field.


Finally by the draft, the Assembly would stress the need to provide the Unit with the necessary funding and staff for functioning.  It would decide to include the item on the agenda of the next Assembly session while inviting States to comment on the sub-topic of their laws and practices in implementing international law.


Introduction of Draft Resolutions


The representative of Canada introduced the draft resolution on measures to eliminate international terrorism (document A/C.6/64/L.12), noting that the text was a simple technical update of last year’s text, and that the next meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee would be held from 12 to 16 April, 2010.


The representative of Liechtenstein introduced the draft on the rule of law at the national and international levels (document A/C.6/64/L.14).


Statement:  President of Law of Sea Tribunal


JOSÉ LUÍS JESUS, President of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, describing the Tribunal to Committee members, said it was “an international court of your own creation” and comprised 21 sitting judges representing each region of the world.  The Tribunal, with specialised jurisdiction over law of the sea disputes -– both contentious and advisory -- had particular jurisdiction over any dispute concerning interpretation or application of provisions of the Convention on the Law of the Sea.


Noting that any opinions he expressed were his own and not attributable to the Tribunal, he gave some facts on its activities.  To date, he said, the Tribunal had addressed 15 cases, 13 of which were resolved.  One had been referred to one of its subsidiary Chambers.  Many of the cases brought before the Tribunal involved urgent proceedings, either addressing provisional measures or the prompt release of vessels and crews.  It took only one State to institute a case before the Tribunal.  Further, he said, the Tribunal in certain circumstances could prescribe provisional measures to protect the rights of the disputant parties or to protect the marine environment against impending damages.


The Tribunal could prescribe provisional measures to protect rights or protect the marine environment, even if the Tribunal was not entertaining a particular case on the merits, so that the rights of the parties or the marine environment were not left unprotected.  As for the prompt release of vessels and crews, the Tribunal’s procedure was, again, unique -– a procedure reserved for two situations of detention of arrest of vessels and crews: for alleged violation of the fisheries of the coastal State, or for alleged violation of national or international laws and regulations for the prevention, reduction and control of pollution of the marine environment.


He then turned to the issue of article 287 of the Law of the Sea Convention -- which referred to the choice of means of dispute settlement -– and its Annex VIII, relating to the arbitral tribunal mechanism.  More than thirty States chose to engage article 287.  However, he observed that many did not.  If States chose not make a declaration on means of dispute settlement, by default the dispute went into arbitration in accordance with Annex VII, which was a compulsory means of dispute settlement.  If States wished to avoid compulsory arbitration and the considerable expense incurred from that procedure, he urged that they consider making a declaration by choosing a tribunal as a means of dispute settlement.


Speaking on future work, he heralded the wide range of disputes that the Tribunal and the Seabed Dispute Chambers had addressed and raised the question as to why more cases had not been referred to the Tribunal since its inception 13 years ago.  Perhaps this was due to the traditional ways States dealt with disputes, and a tendency to avoid courts or tribunals, a circumstance not exclusive to the Law of the Sea Tribunal.  He also observed that, judging from the six or seven cases of maritime disputes before the International Court of Justice and the 13 cases the Tribunal received, “the absence of more Law of the Sea cases is a phenomenon that applies to both courts.”   Perhaps the Tribunal and its Seabed Dispute Chambers would become more engaged in dispute settlement as the utilization of seabed resources develops.


To become more visible, as well as to enhance knowledge of the Convention’s dispute-settlement system, he said, the Tribunal organized seven regional workshops on its procedures, the most recent in Cape Town for southern African countries.  It also, with the Nippon Foundation, had established in 2007 an annual capacity-building and training programme for Government officials and researchers.


Interactive Dialogue


In an interactive dialogue between the Committee and the President of the Law of the Sea Tribunal, the representative of Trinidad and Tobago noted that his country was one of those which had made use of the article 287 declaration mechanism in dispute settlement.  He said exploitation of deep sea resources would increasingly create disputes that would call for settlement by the Tribunal. Argentina’s representative agreed and noted the dispute-settlement mechanisms offered.  How did the process of arbitration operate?  The delegates of Liberia and Ghana also took part in the dialogue centred on arbitration and declarations.


Responding, the President said that if a State did not make a declaration under article 287 of the Convention, then by default the State was subject to binding arbitration under Annex VII of the Convention.  Once the dispute process was instituted, States were bound by the procedure unless the instituting party withdrew from the process.  That incurred extra costs and was the price of failing to make declarations in response to a dispute declaration.


The failure to make declarations in cases of dispute was a deliberate policy on the part of certain Governments, but in most situations it was a case of governments not paying attention to the need to make declarations if they wished to avoid binding arbitration.  To avoid the costly process of binding arbitration, States must make a responding declaration.


MOURAD BENMEHIDI ( Algeria), Chairman of the Sixth Committee, noted the freedom of choice given to States with regard to mechanisms and forums in settling disputes.  An aspect the President should consider for his next visit, he said, was the impact on the fragmentation of law.  Would the range of choices lead to States turning to too many forums and coming away with different judgments on disputes?  The question was of particular interest to the Legal Committee, which was committed to promoting a consensus and a common understanding of law.  How would the actions of the dispute settlement mechanisms contribute to reinforcing activities related to the development and codification of international law?


Statements on Programme of Assistance


EBENEZER APREKU ( Ghana) said his delegation had chaired the Advisory Committee dialogue on 16 October, where it had been announced that the audiovisual law library had received the 2009 Best Website Award from the International Association of Law Librarians at its annual meeting in Turkey in October.  That greater distinction had been achieved despite the hindrance on progress from the absence of funding from the regular budget.  Delegations should give appropriate consideration to providing for supplementary funding from the regular budget.


EVA SURKOVA ( Slovakia) said she had taken part in the International Law Fellowship training programme for lawyers in The Hague this summer.  The two-fold purpose of those sessions was to update legislative professionals around the world on new developments so as to deepen knowledge about international law and at the same time to allow members of the international legal profession to get to know the United Nations system.  States should call for more such programmes and should recommend promoting them.  They should also promote the lending of financial support toward such events.


EDEN CHARLES ( Trinidad and Tobago) said his delegation was a member of the Advisory Committee and was also a contributor to the fund.  It participated in regional workshops on promotion of international law, including one that had been held in St. Vincent and the Grenadines this summer.  States should contribute to the various trust funds aimed at promoting the Programme’s activities.


MARK SIMONOFF ( United States) said the Programme made a great contribution to knowledge of international law, which was a core element of spreading the rule of law.  Through the Programme, lawyers, judges and other juridical professionals learned about legal systems throughout the world.  The Programme and its activities deserved support.


ALEJANDRO ALDAY ( Mexico) said the Programme was fundamental to the promotion of international law, which was a keystone of the work of the United Nations.  The audiovisual library presentation made to the Committee had been very impressive in getting across the scope and depth of the Organization’s work in the field of international law.  Every possible way of strengthening support for the library should be examined.  Of particular interest was the proposal in paragraph 89 of the report to provide the library with funding from the regular budget.  Views on the proposal should be forwarded.  The content of Annex 2 on the Amerasinghe Fellowship was satisfactory.


ROSA ZULUAGA ( Colombia) said she fully supported the Programme as a key component in promoting the spread of international law and, through that, the rule of law.


MR. APREKU ( Ghana), speaking in his capacity as Advisory Committee Chairman, recalled that the audiovisual presentation had made reference to the digitization of two volumes of work on the treaty process, which reaffirmed the value of the digitization process.  Those with capabilities in the field should share the knowledge with the Codification Division.


In conclusion, he said the time had come to acknowledge the primacy of international law in international affairs.  International law should be put to the forefront of concerns by all States and it should be put at top of the United Nations agenda as the fourth pillar of development.  The African Union Commission on International Law was likely to have its first meeting before the end of the quarter.  Its aim was to promote the rule of international law within Africa and to conduct outreach contacts with other international bodies so as to advance the rule of law throughout the world.


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