|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference to Mark Occasion of World Oceans Day
Environmental protection rules needed much more rigorous enforcement, and it was to be hoped that next year’s United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) would take a holistic approach to incorporating “green economy” into an oceans-oriented agenda, whereby important marine-based resources could be thought of in terms of a “blue economy”, according to David Freestone, Lobingier Visiting Professor of Comparative Law and Jurisprudence at George Washington University.
Speaking today at a Headquarters press conference to mark the occasion of World Oceans Day, he said that despite having come a long way since the 1970s, and while the Convention on the Law of the Sea was a forward-looking document described as the “constitution of the ocean”, there were issues that the international community needed to discuss.
Mr. Freestone recalled that when the Conference on the Law of the Sea had first begun in 1973, its initiators had had no inkling of the types of discoveries that would be made in the oceans in the ensuing decades. He said he had been taught “many years ago” that ocean plains were essentially deserts, but scientists now knew that not to be the case.
He went on to note that scientists had discovered “amazing wealth” in the seabeds, including cold seeps resources — areas of the ocean floor characterized by the seepage of hydrogen sulphide, methane and other hydrocarbon-rich fluids — many interesting life forms associated with important genetic resources and an estimated half a million yet-to-be-discovered species.
To mark this year’s World Oceans Day, Mr. Freestone said, round table discussions would be held in the afternoon with Chandrika Sharma of the International Collective in Support of Fishworkers (ICSF), Maria Teresa Mesquita Pessôa of the Permanent Mission of Brazil, Rashid Sumaila of the University of British Columbia in Canada and William Mott of The Ocean Project.
World Oceans Day, designated on 8 June by General Assembly resolution 63/111 of December 2008, provides the opportunity to raise global awareness of the ocean-related challenges facing the international community.
Responding to a question, Mr. Freestone said the principle that oceans were a common heritage of mankind had applied to an area beyond national jurisdiction. When the Convention had first been introduced, that area had constituted a 12-mile “zone of confidence” beyond a country’s coast, but today, areas beyond 200 miles would primarily be classified in that way. Rather than being considered as an area “open to all”, it should be seen as an area “common to all”, he stressed, recalling that the International Seabed Authority had been established to govern those areas beyond national jurisdiction.
A contemporary application concerned the mineral resources of the ocean floor, he continued, noting that the “Group of 77” developing countries had been arguing that the concept of common heritage might be applicable to living resources found those areas. While that notion was not part of the Convention, it was currently under discussion, he added.
Asked about piracy off the coast of Somalia, he said the United Nations was well seized of that issue, as the Security Council and the General Assembly had made unprecedented decisions with regard to enforcement.
When asked about the consequences of the United States, Peru or other countries not having ratified the Convention, he said that while the former had not yet ratified the treaty, it did support it as customary international law. If a State’s continental shelf geomorphologically extended beyond 200 miles, that State could lay claim to it, but in order to exploit any resources there, it must pay a tax to the Seabed Authority. The United States had indicated that it would be ready to pay such a tax, although no such exploitation was currently being undertaken, he said.
Asked how to mediate in cases of India and Pakistan “arresting each other’s fisherman”, he said the zone of confidence was clear. The question was one of enforcement and relations between the two countries, which did not necessitate a new international law regime, he stressed.
* *** *For information media • not an official record