|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Meeting of States Parties
to Law of Sea Convention
159th & 160th Meetings (AM & PM)
Annual Meeting of States Parties to Convention on Law of Sea Concludes
with Agreement on Reduction in Tribunal’s Proposed Budget
Some Favour ‘No Strings’ Approach to Reduction; Others Caution
Against Modifying Caseload; Commemoration of Treaty’s 30 Years Continues
The twenty-second Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on the Law of the Sea concluded its annual session today with the approval of a 3 per cent reduction in the proposed budget of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea for the biennium 2013-2014, bringing the total figure to €21,239,130, an increase of just over 4 per cent from the Tribunal’s previous budget.
The decision rounded out six days of discussion on the recent work of the mechanisms established by the Convention — the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, the International Seabed Authority and the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf — during which many delegations praised the increasing prominence of the three bodies.
Among the common refrains echoed throughout the meeting were accolades for the Tribunal’s first ever maritime boundary dispute settlement and concerns over the Commission’s rapidly increasing workload, with many delegations expressing concern that that body required more time and resources to meet the mounting demands of States parties. As the Tribunal’s budget continued to dominate informal negotiations throughout the session, formal sessions also saw the election of 20 new members to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.
In the decision this afternoon on the Tribunal’s budget, agreed after lengthy consultations among the States parties, the Meeting, begun 4 June, also agreed that the contribution by the European Union to the budget would be €96,000 per year during the biennium.
While a number of delegations spoke of the consensus that resulted in the decision, several others said that there had not been any consensus but that they had agreed to go along with the decision. The representatives of the European Union, Guatemala and Canada said that they had joined the consensus on the understanding that the envisaged reductions would not be obtained by an adjustment in the Tribunal’s caseload. In addition, they proposed that, in future, the Tribunal’s budgets should be presented based on actual expenditures seen in the previous budgetary period rather than the approved amounts.
The Registrar, said Canada’s representative, should provide a progress report on the budget halfway through the next budget cycle, as ignoring actual expenditures had led to a series of surpluses, and the budget ended up having little to do with the Tribunal’s actual needs.
Striking a different tone, however, was Argentina’s delegate, who, along with several others, rejected any unilateral interpretation of the decision. The majority of States parties, he said, had only agreed to it because they believed that it was appropriate given the circumstances and that there needed to be a cut due to the insistence of some delegations. However, they felt that it should be left to the institutions to decide how the reduction should be implemented.
The representative of Brazil said that, although he had joined the consensus, he would have rather approved the budget as first proposed. His delegation remained concerned about the reduction as it was the first time the Meeting had taken such an action. The General Assembly’s Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) had not approved such a cut, he reminded the States parties.
In addition to approving the decision, the Meeting also took note of the report on budgetary matters for the financial periods 2009-2010 and 2011-2012 (document SPLOS/242) and approved the revision of the special allowance of the President of the Tribunal, and of its Vice-President, when acting as President, to $25,000 per annum and $156 per day, respectively, as of 1 July.
It also approved the appointment of the firm of Ernst and Young as the auditing firm for the period 2013-2016.
Also addressing the meeting on budgetary matters were the representatives of Egypt (on behalf of the African Group), Russian Federation, Trinidad and Tobago, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine, France, Japan, Lebanon, Australia, Haiti, and Bahamas.
Earlier, the Meeting heard additional statements in commemoration of the Convention’s thirtieth anniversary. The representative of South Africa said that few people today would quibble with the framework it created. Noting that the treaty sought to establish a legal order for the world’s seas and oceans, he said, “We here in the room are the converted”. To those who argued that the Convention had not kept up with new challenges facing the world’s oceans, he pointed out that article 311 allowed for agreements between States parties, a provision that could be used as a tool to further evolve the framework. Other provisions encouraged cooperation among States parties in the implementation of the Convention.
In his contribution, the representative of Trinidad and Tobago said that the Treaty’s regime had been particularly useful in the Caribbean region, where there were many overlapping claims to maritime areas. As a result of the Convention, his country had been able to declare itself as an archipelagic State. Moreover, the treaty’s comprehensive nature allowed for the settlement of disputes where negotiations had failed. Trinidad and Tobago had availed itself of that arbiter role in a dispute it had with a neighbouring State.
Ecuador’s delegate announced that, on 22 May, his country had decided to accede to the Convention, a historic decision and the result of a 10‑year national process of negotiation. Ecuador viewed the move as a step to protect its maritime space and marine environments, some of which were particularly vulnerable.
Drawing attention to the more than 4,800 seafarers that had been held hostage by pirates since 2006, a representative of the Center for Seafarers Rights of the Seamen’s Church Institute said there had been a great reduction in the number of ships captured by pirates in past years, owing to the Convention’s operation and the cooperative efforts of States parties. He said the maritime industry also deserved some of the credit for its best management practices.
Statements in that discussion were also made by the representatives of Iceland, Mexico, Tunisia, India, Uruguay, Nigeria, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, El Salvador, Angola, Guatemala and Haiti. Also addressing the Meeting was the representatives of the Asian African Legal Consultative Organization.
Sergei Tarassenko, Director of the Division of Ocean Affairs and Law of the Sea, made a statement on the Hamilton Shirley Amerasinghe Memorial Fellowship programme, which is run by the Division.
Concluding statements were made by the Meeting President Isabelle Picco ( Monaco) and the representatives of Argentina and Brazil.
The twenty-second Meeting of States Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea met today to conclude its work for the session, which began on 4 June. The Meeting was expected to continue its consideration of budgetary matters of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, for which it had several reports, namely, the report on budgetary matters for the financial periods 2009-2010 and 2011-2012 (document SPLOS/242), which was presented by the Registrar of the Tribunal (Press Release SEA/1969 of 5 June), the Draft budget proposals of the Tribunal for 2013-2014 (document SPLOS/2012/WP.1), and a note on the Appointment of Auditor for financial years 2013-2016 (document SPLOS/243).
The Meeting was also expected to continue hearing statements to commemorate the Convention’s thirtieth anniversary, including in the context of World Oceans Day (Press Release SEA/1973 of 8 June).
The representative of Iceland announced that the opening of the Convention for signature was one of the greatest achievements of the United Nations. Iceland had played an important role in the evolution of the Law of the Sea and had since been a strong participant in the implementation of the Convention, and it had been the first Western country to have ratified it. His country considered that issues settled at the Law of the Sea Conference should not be reopened. The Convention had stood the test of time and the three bodies established under it were functioning well. They had also become more active in their work than ever before.
The representative of Mexico said that the universal nature of the Convention had represented an essential condition for the Law of the Sea. It underscored the commitment of States parties to the principles and values underlying the Convention. There was growing pressure on marine resources, which had renewed the need for greater international cooperation, including to reorganize the fishing industry in a sustainable manner. Existing sea law still left significant challenges in the protection of the marine environment. The preparatory discussions for the Conference on Sustainable Development ( Rio+20) had shown the challenges ahead. Mexico believed that initiating negotiations on Law of the Sea challenges in the United Nations required prompt decision and implementation. States parties should not remain mere observers.
The representative of Tunisia said that the Convention represented an unprecedented effort, which had not since been repeated in the codification of international sea law. It contributed to international peace and security, as it had forged rapprochement and cooperation among States. Only the United Nations Charter was more important than the Convention in that respect. Tunisia accorded great importance to the discussions of the States parties and welcomed the progress by the three bodies established by the Convention. It hoped the current Meeting of States Parties would strengthen those institutions.
The representative of India said that, today, the Convention enjoyed a universal character and was a key international instrument. It represented the codification of customary law and progressive development of international law. The international community, therefore, should feel indebted to the Convention, in particular, for the gift of the common heritage of mankind. India had been contributing actively to its implementation. States parties and the international community had greatly benefited from the Convention, and the three organs created under it were functioning satisfactorily within their mandates.
The representative of Uruguay said that the Convention was important for its impact. As a legal act, it was a true constitution on matters of the sea. It was also a normative system that was in full evolution. Through the actions of the three bodies set up under the treaty, new acts had been built and consolidated, and were contributing to honing opinions on sea-related issues. There had also been a consolidation of peace among nations.
The representative of Nigeria recalled that the Convention had come into force in Nigeria in 1994. Prior to the Convention, there had been an international need for an effective regime over the seabed and ocean floor. In that regard, Nigeria felt that the Convention was one of the most successful international agreements since the founding of the United Nations. Commenting briefly on the three instruments created by the Convention, he said there were a growing number of cases on the docket of the Tribunal. The workload of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf had grown tremendously—and would continue to do so. States parties should take more pragmatic actions to help the Commission meet those ever-increasing demands. Member States must support all instruments of the Convention and ensure that developing countries were assisted with capacity-building and technology transfer. In addition, the necessary inputs should be made to reflect current realities.
The representative of Malaysia said that the Convention was a comprehensive document that set out the legal framework through which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out. It was without precedent in history and had rightly been regarded as the “constitution of the oceans”. Malaysia renewed its commitment to supporting the work of the three bodies. It had signed the treaty in 1992 and ratified it in 1996, and it was fully aware of its responsibilities to ensure that its maritime zones were safe and secure. In addition to physical activities, it had instituted electronic sea surveillance and monitoring systems. Incidents of piracy had decreased over the years. There had been 102 incidents of piracy and armed robbery at sea reported worldwide, but no such incidents had been reported in the Straits of Malacca in the first quarter of 2012. Malaysia would continue to take actions to ensure the safety of its maritime zones, and he called upon States that had not yet become parties to the Convention to do so, as its effectiveness depended upon its universal acceptance.
The representative of Sri Lanka expressed his delegation’s solidarity with all those States that had become parties to the Convention. He called, in that vein, on others to ratify the treaty so that it could become “truly universal”. Sri Lanka had helped to finalize the treaty, defining the breadth of principles relating to the freedom of the sea. The country would continue to play an active role, especially in the area of marine biological diversity beyond national jurisdiction. Sri Lanka was a coastal State with a narrow shelf. In that regard, Sri Lanka was pleased that the Convention addressed the inequities that would have resulted if the width of shelves had not been addressed by the Convention.
The representative of South Africa recalled that the Convention sought to establish a legal order for the world’s seas and oceans. “We here in the room are the converted,” he said, and few present today would quibble with the framework created by the Convention. Others, however—who were not parties to the treaty—had a number of concerns. Some argued that the Convention had failed to keep up with the new challenges facing the world’s oceans. Countering that complaint, he said that its article 311 allowed for agreements between States parties, which could be used as a tool to further evolve the framework. There were also other provisions encouraging cooperation among States parties in implementing the Convention. Additionally, the possibility to further the concrete development of the treaty—a task for the General Assembly—ought not to be missed. Inappropriate attempts to alter the Convention had been made in other forums, he warned, adding that the treaty’s appropriate development must take place in order to ward off such actions.
The representative of Trinidad and Tobago said that his country had recognized certain provisions of the Convention as representing international law even before its entry into force. The treaty’s regime had been useful in the Caribbean region, where there were many overlapping claims to maritime areas. Moreover, as a result of the Convention, the country had been able to declare itself as an archipelagic State and had deposited the requisite coordinates with the Secretary-General.
He noted that the comprehensive nature of the treaty allowed for the settlement of disputes where negotiations had failed. Trinidad and Tobago had availed itself of that arbiter in a dispute with a neighbouring State. The country had also played an active part in the functioning of the three bodies established by the Convention. In that regard, he pointed to last week’s re‑election of Francis Charles to the Commission. “Thirty years is a significant milestone,” he said; States parties should be proud of the instrument’s work in promoting the rule of law in the world’s oceans and seas. Furthermore, he added, they must proceed with efforts to conclude an agreement on biological diversity beyond national jurisdiction as a matter of priority.
The representative of Ecuador announced that, on 22 May, his country had decided to accede to the Convention, a historic decision and the result of a 10‑year national process of negotiation. Ecuador, a maritime country, viewed the move as a new step to protect its maritime space and its marine environments, some of which were particularly vulnerable. The country would use its marine resources, such as fishing, optimally, and would support scientific research on marine environments. It also wished to consolidate work on the extension of the continental shelf around its Galapagos, and hoped to promote the preservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity beyond the areas of its national jurisdiction and within full respect for the world’s common heritage. The commemoration of the thirtieth anniversary was very important to Ecuador, and his delegation hoped that, at the next meeting, the country would be able to participate as a States party.
The representative of El Salvador said that Reynaldo Galindo-Pohl, one of the founding fathers of the Law of the Sea, had died in El Salvador on 5 January. He had been the chair of many conferences related to the Convention and his work had addressed many areas, to which he had brought balanced solutions. He had contributed to the economic well-being of mankind. The Meeting of States Parties should offer respect to those jurists who had made important contributions to the legal framework for the Law of the Sea, and he requested that the Meeting observe a minute of silence in memory of Mr. Galindo-Pohl.
Meeting President PICCO ( Monaco) said that the Meeting paid tribute to Dr. Galindo-Pohl for his contributions.
The representative of the Center for Seafarers Rights of the Seamen’s Church Institute said that the most fundamental achievement of the Convention had been in providing order and predictability for people in the maritime world. It had tools for protecting seafarers, upon whose labours the world’s prosperity depended. One of the threats that seafarers endured was piracy. Today, there were 213 seafarers and seven merchant vessels being held hostage by pirates. More than 4,800 seafarers had been held hostage by pirates since 2006. In the past years, thanks to the cooperative efforts of both State and non-State parties, in accordance with the Convention’s article 100, as well as the maritime industry’s implementation of best management practices, the number of ships captured by pirates had been greatly reduced.
He noted that his organization, along with the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, was conducting a clinical study on the effects of piracy on the mental health of seafarers. Although progress had been achieved by the industry in caring for seafarers affected by piracy, more could be done by States parties. Some seafarers, long after being released from captivity, had not been paid their earned wages or compensated for their personal property stolen by the pirates. A more difficult challenge was overcoming the stigma of mental health care, which deterred seafarers from taking advantage of effective therapy.
The representative of the Asian African Legal Consultative Organization said that his had been the first international organization to champion exclusive economic zones and had made significant contributions to the issue of archipelagic waters and passage through straits. He noted that the Convention required States parties to register the baselines of their exclusive economic zones and to give publicity to their coordinates, but that only a limited number of States had done so. There was a need, therefore, to find ways to resolve the difficulties that many States encountered in complying with that requirement, such as assistance in preparing the required data. Depositing and giving due publicity to the baselines, however, could provide critical evidence, including with regard to shrinking landmass. Turning to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, he said that it had the competence to give advisory opinions when requested. That was a useful avenue for Member States for settling maritime disputes without having to go through contentious proceedings.
The representative of Angola commended the States parties for the way the Meeting was being conducted and expressed the hope that appropriate recommendations would be adopted.
The representative of Guatemala offered her country’s condolences on the death of Mr. Galindo-Pohl, the eminent jurist from El Salvador. She also paid tribute to other jurists who had participated in negotiations during the third conference on the Convention and who had passed away.
The representative of Haiti commended the conduct of the Meeting and called for reflection on how the international community could move forward on the question of exclusive economic zones and the limits of the continental shelf.
Report on Budgetary Matters
In line with the results of the Meeting’s informal consultations, a draft document on the consideration of budgetary matters for the financial periods 2009‑2010 and 2011-2012 was circulated among the States parties.
Taking the floor, the representative of Guatemala asked for clarification from the Registrar regarding details on budgetary transfers, as contained in the circulated document.
The Registrar described standard practices in that regard.
The Meeting then decided to take note of the report on budgetary matters for the financial periods 2009-2010 and 2011-2012 (document SPLOS/242) and approved the revision of the special allowance of the President of the Tribunal and that of its Vice-President when acting as President, to $25,000 per annum and $156 per day, respectively, as of 1 July 2012.
Appointment of Auditing Firm
Turning to the appointment of an auditing firm for the period 2013-2016 (document SPLOS/243), the representative of Canada recommended that States parties consider retaining the internationally recognized firm Ernst and Young. That firm had submitted the lowest bid for its services, he said.
The representative of Guatemala also endorsed the firm Ernst and Young for the position.
The Meeting then decided to retain Ernst and Young as its auditing firm for the period 2013-2016.
The Meeting then took up the budget of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea for the biennium 2013-2014 in the amount of €21,239,130, representing a 3 per cent reduction of the proposed budget. The agreed contribution by the European Union to the budget would be €96,000 per year.
The representative of the European Union delegation confirmed that the Union’s agreed contribution would be €96,000 for each year, but said that final instruction on that amount had not been received from Brussels. He was confident, however, that the instruction would be forthcoming.
The Meeting then approved the decision.
Speaking after the approval, the representative of the European Union delegation said that the Union had joined the consensus on the understanding that the envisaged reductions would not be obtained by an adjustment in the number of cases.
The representative of Guatemala said that her country had also joined consensus, subject to the understanding that the reduction would not affect the caseload. She suggested that, in future, the wording of the budget should be on the basis of a calculation based on the previous amount executed rather than the amount that was approved. Financial regulation 3.4 required that the draft budget be conveyed to States parties at least 40 days before it was to be taken up. That had not been the case at the time. Guatemala hoped that next year it would receive a progress report on the implementation of the current decision. Such a report was important because today’s decision was the first of its kind. Guatemala also called on States parties to reflect on the current working methods of the Meeting with regard to budget-connected issues.
The representative of Argentina , noting that both the representatives of the European Union and Guatemala had referred to an understanding, said that there was no such understanding on the decision. Argentina opposed the unilateral interpretation of the two delegations and rejected that interpretation. There had been no consensus as the majority of States parties had only agreed to the decision because they believed that it was appropriate, given the circumstances, and that there needed to be a cut due to the insistence of some delegations. They felt that it should be left to the institutions to decide how the reduction should be implemented. Argentina appreciated the transparency in budgetary issues and the exhaustive manner in which the Secretariat had responded on the budget. It did not support the calls to improve the working methods of the Meeting proposed by the United Kingdom and Guatemala. The present situation was an absolutely exceptional one and should not be taken as a precedent for the future.
The representative of Egypt, speaking on behalf of the African Group of States, said that the Group had supported the draft decision approving the budget with a 3 per cent reduction. However, such an understanding was not subjected to a unilateral decision by certain delegations. He encouraged all groups to avoiddivisiveness and “embrace the spirit of consensus”, meanwhile underlining the Group’s full confidence in the Tribunal with respect to the management of the budget reduction.
The representative of Canada said that, like the European Union delegation and that of Guatemala, the country supported the consensus text on the understanding that the savings would not be attained by an adjustment in the number of cases before the Tribunal. He strongly suggested that the next budget presented be based on actual expenditures seen in the previous budgetary period, and urged the Registrar to provide a progress report on the budget halfway through the next budget cycle. Indeed, he said, ignoring actual expenditures had led to a series of surpluses, and the budget ended up having little to do with the Tribunal’s actual needs.
Moreover, the budget debate pointed more clearly than ever to a need for a meeting of some mechanism, committee or body before the Meeting of States Parties each year—to consider the budget and to provide observations and recommendations to inform its debate. The States parties lacked the time to make informed decisions on the budget, particularly when it was not available on the website until only a few days before their Meeting.
The representative of the Russian Federation joined with the positions of Argentina and Egypt, adding that it was categorically opposed to the positions of Canada, Guatemala and the European Union. The “consensus” discussed was only the reflection of the opinion of certain delegations, he said.
The representative of France, recalling that the decisions circulated earlier by the Secretariat had not been translated into the official United Nations languages, said she would have liked to see those decisions, even in a skeletal form, in French.
The representative of Japan welcomed the budget’s approval, with its maximum reduction of 3 per cent. There should be no conditions on how to achieve that reduction, she said; that matter should be entrusted to the Tribunal. She joined others in noting that the decision had not been a consensus one.
The representative of Trinidad and Tobago was pleased that a budget had been approved, and shared the views of Argentina, the Russian Federation, the African Group and Japan, among others. His delegation had indicated its full support to the budgetary proposal presented several days ago by the Tribunal’s President. In the spirit of compromise, however, the delegation had supported the decision approved that afternoon. In that view, the Meeting should not further circumscribe the authority of the Tribunal by prescribing where the cuts should come from. Additionally, in its present form, the Non-Paper of the United Kingdom could not be accepted, he stressed.
The representative of Lebanon believed that the reduction of 3 per cent was a “reasonable and balanced solution”, although the delegation would have rather retained the budget proposal as it originally stood. It applauded the “good compromise” in that regard, and agreed that the budget cuts should be managed by the Tribunal itself. Speaking on behalf of the Arab Group of States parties, she said that there should be no preconditions associated with the budget cuts.
The representative of Australia said that she did not support budget cuts related to case-related costs, particularly when the Tribunal was being increasingly used by States.
The representative of Ukraine supported the statements made by the representatives of the Russian Federation, Japan and other States. It did not support a unilateral interpretation of the budget discussion, he said.
The representative of Saudi Arabia also agreed with Lebanon and Egypt, and stressed that his delegation did not agree with the bilateral interpretation of some States with regard to the budget.
The representative of Brazil joined the consensus, but said he would have rather approved the budget as first proposed. His delegation remained concerned about the reduction itself, as it was the first time the Meeting had taken such an action. The General Assembly’s Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) had not approved such a cut, he reminded States.
The representative of Haiti also joined the position of other delegations such as Argentina and Japan.
The representative of Bahamas was heartened that consensus had been achieved on the issue, but nonetheless also aligned itself with Argentina, the African Group and other like-minded States. She stressed that any restrictions on the source of budget cuts would undermine the Tribunal’s ability to conduct its work.
SERGEI TARASSENKO, Director of Division of Ocean Affairs and Law of the Sea, said that human resources development was central to many States’ efforts in the area of implementation of the Law of the Sea, and the Hamilton Shirley Amerasinghe Memorial Fellowshipprogramme run by the Division was one of the capacity-building efforts in that regard. Twenty-four fellows had benefited from the programme so far and they had contributed to the Convention’s application. However, in the past few years, contributions to the trust fund for the fellowship had declined drastically. Following intensive fundraising in 2011, some contributions had been received, making it possible to award a twenty-fourth fellowship. In 2012, following further fundraising efforts, contributions were received, bringing the available balance to $72,000. The estimated overall cost of the twenty-fifth award was $50,000. He thanked all States that had made contributions in the last several years and said that he counted on States parties for future support so that awards could be made in years to come.
In a concluding statement, President PICCO ( Monaco) expressed appreciation to all the delegates for their collegiality during the decision-making process and thanked the Secretariat for its support. She urged the States parties to continue their work so that the institutions and the Convention would continue to function smoothly.
The representatives of Argentina and Brazil thanked the President for her conduct of the Meeting.
The President then closed the twenty-second Meeting of States Parties.
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