GENERAL ASSEMBLY, CONCERNED ABOUT WORLD’S MARINE ECOSYSTEMS, ADOPTS TEXTS ON LAW OF SEA, SUSTAINABLE FISHERIES

17 November 2004
GA/10299

GENERAL ASSEMBLY, CONCERNED ABOUT WORLD’S MARINE ECOSYSTEMS, ADOPTS TEXTS ON LAW OF SEA, SUSTAINABLE FISHERIES

17/11/2004
Press ReleaseGA/10299

Fifty-ninth General Assembly

Plenary

56th Meeting (AM)

GENERAL ASSEMBLY, CONCERNED ABOUT WORLD’S MARINE ECOSYSTEMS,

 

ADOPTS TEXTS ON LAW OF SEA, SUSTAINABLE FISHERIES

The observation of the tenth anniversary of the landmark United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea was capped by the adoption of two resolutions today, following a day and half-long debate in the General Assembly.

The thrust of an omnibus text on oceans and the law of the sea -- adopted by a vote of 141 in favour to 1 against (Turkey), with two abstentions (Colombia and Venezuela) -- emphasized the universal and unified character of the Convention and its fundamental importance for the maintenance and strengthening of international peace and security.  (See annex for voting details.)

In adopting that text, the Assembly called on all States that had not done so to become parties to the Convention, and once more called for harmonization of national legislation with the instrument’s provisions.  It also decided to establish an Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group to study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction

The resolution on sustainable fisheries, adopted without a vote, had the Assembly deplore overfishing of straddling and highly migratory fish stocks in many parts of the world.  The Assembly also expressed concern that illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing seriously threatened to deplete certain fish species and damage marine ecosystems to the detriment of sustainable fisheries, as well as food security and the economies of many States, particularly developing nations.

Addressing the issue of depleted and exploited fish stock, the Observer for the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources underscored that more than 70 per cent of harvested fish stocks worldwide were being overfished or were beyond their sustainable limit.  In deep-sea areas, bottom trawling had destroyed vital coral communities and depleted fish stocks.  Scientific evidence showed that marine species did not recover from overfishing once it stopped.  If the productivity of marine species and ecosystems were to be maintained, an immediate shift had to be made to a more integrated ecosystem approach to ocean and fisheries management.

While the Assembly had explicitly recognized bottom trawling as a destructive fishing practice and threat to vulnerable marine ecosystems, she said, it was regrettable that more forceful action had not been agreed on to prohibit it on an interim basis.  A global process to monitor and assess the state of the marine environment was urgently needed.

Reporting on the work of the International Seabed Authority, its Secretary-General, Satya N. Nandan, said the Authority had attempted to fulfil its mandates in two ways:  by holding technical workshops which brought together internationally recognized scientists, experts, researchers, and representatives of the mining industry and Member States; and by promoting marine scientific research through selected scientific research programmes being undertaken by international scientists.

Such research, he continued, was an essential tool for ocean governance, as it enabled the global community to take sound management decisions concerning its resources.  The knowledge gained was important to ensure that regulations and guidelines adopted were scientifically sound.  Despite progress, the fact was that knowledge of the oceans remained insignificant.  More was known about the surface of the moon than about the ocean on which life on earth depended.

Over the course of the year, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea had devoted two sessions to legal and judicial matters, as well as administrative and organizational issues related to the discharge of its functions, its President, L. Dolliver M. Nelson, informed the Assembly.  He especially drew attention to his organization’s need for more resources, pointing out that international legal proceedings involved expenses for the States concerned. 

In addition, he underlined the fact that only two States had so far made contributions amounting to a total of $55,000 to the Trust Fund established in 2000 to assist developing countries in the settlement of disputes through the Tribunal. 

Statements in this morning’s debate were also made by the representatives of the Russian Federation, Argentina, Cuba and Guyana.

The representatives of Turkey, Venezuela, Chile, Peru, Italy and Iran spoke in explanation of vote.

The Assembly will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 18 November, to elect judges to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Background

The General Assembly met this morning to conclude its joint debate on oceans and the law of the sea, marking the tenth anniversary of the entry into force of the historic 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).  For background, see Press Release GA/10298 issued on 16 November.

Statements

STEPAN KUZMENKOV (Russian Federation) said that the Convention on the Law of the Sea and its Implementation Agreement were a just and balanced reflection of the interests of all States.  The Russian Federation was convinced that the further development of international ocean affairs should proceed on the basis of the foundation that the Convention had laid.  He called on all States to accede to the Convention as soon as possible.  Further, it would be useful to promote international cooperation to strengthen State oversight of vessels flying their flags, he added.

In addition, he informed the Assembly that Russia had recently deposited its submissions concerning its continental shelf and that the relevant ministries were working on resolving bilateral issues that had arisen.  He stressed that since the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf would receive perhaps 10 or more submissions in the coming years, attention should be given to ensuring that body’s smooth and effective functioning.  He also said that States should work to ensure the establishment of a regular process of reviewing the Global Marine Assessment (GMA).  The GMA should be transparent and should not reproduce the work of international organizations operating in similar areas.

GUILLERMO KENDALL (Argentina) said the Convention established the legal framework for activities carried out in oceans and seas and their sustainable development.  The issues were multifaceted, complex and of great interest to his nation.  He wished to thank the coordinators of the draft resolutions on oceans and the law of the sea and fisheries.  Negotiations were a lengthy process in view of the scope of the issues.  For future negotiations, however, he suggested that the calendar of meetings be planned and not overlap with the Sixth Committee.

He said the gaps identified in the report regarding regional fisheries management organizations were not jurisdictional, as implied.  They had to do with the lack of established regional fisheries, and with unresolved sovereignty disputes.

YURI ARIEL GALA LÓPEZ (Cuba) said that the Convention was still as relevant and valid as ever and remained the benchmark for global ocean affairs, as well as in maintaining international peace and security.  He called for strengthened cooperation towards capacity-building and training for developing countries to ensure that UNCLOS was fully implemented.

Despite economic and other hardships, he said that Cuba had continued to enact plans and policies aimed at ensuring the equitable and sustainable management and preservation of its waterways.  He also stressed that matters related to the continental shelf and seabed beyond national jurisdiction should be governed by the principles outlined in the Convention, which called for such usage to be for peaceful purposes and for the benefit of humankind as a whole.  With that in mind, Cuba welcomed the provisions of a draft resolution before the Assembly today, which called for the establishment of an ad hoc working group dedicated to studying marine biological diversity outside national jurisdictions.

LEE KIMBALL, Observer for the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, said more than 70 per cent of harvested fish stocks worldwide were fished at or beyond their sustainable limit.  In deep-sea areas, bottom trawling had destroyed vital coral communities and depleted target fish stocks.  Scientific evidence increasingly showed that marine species did not recover from overfishing once it stopped, and that they were at least as vulnerable to extinction as terrestrial counterparts.  If the productivity of marine species and ecosystems were to be maintained, an immediate shift had to be made to a more integrated ecosystem approach to ocean and fisheries management.

While the General Assembly had explicitly recognized bottom trawling as a destructive fishing practice and threat to vulnerable marine ecosystems, she said, it was regrettable that more forceful action had not been agreed upon to prohibit it on an interim basis.  A global process to monitor and assess the state of the marine environment was urgently needed.  The calls for research were helpful, but the immediate need was for a policy-relevant scientific assessment, based on the best available information to establish a baseline for future research and study, to underscore the stakes and expedite agreement on measures.  In view of the delay in establishing the GMA, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission should collaborate with international and regional bodies to consult with States and prepare an assessment as soon as possible.

Continuing, she said an ecosystem approach in the medium term meant a significant makeover in most regional fisheries management organizations, based on the Fish Stocks Agreement and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.  That would ensure equal treatment for all high-seas fisheries.  For the seabed beyond national jurisdiction, an ecosystem approach meant activities should be held to the same standards of conservation and environmental protection.  Seabed genetic resources beyond national jurisdiction were a new challenge.  The new working group would ensure background preparation as a starting point for discussions.  To implement an ecosystem approach, marine protected area networks were a critical tool.  “UN-Oceans” should be given a defined role in biodiversity conservation in areas beyond national jurisdiction.  Global arrangements regarding flag States, ship owners and others profiting from the sea should be upgraded.

GEORGE TALBOT (Guyana) said the Convention on the Law of the Sea was never intended to be the “be all” and “end all” of prescriptions related to the law of the sea.  The prescriptions that were grounded on the state of human knowledge at a given point in time had, inevitably, to be changed or reinterpreted when the inadequacies and imperfections of that state of knowledge became apparent.  Perhaps the major effect of UNCLOS was to effectuate a more equitable distribution of marine resources worldwide.

He said that the extension of the territorial sea, the creation of the exclusive economic zone, and what was essentially a declaratory codification of the rules governing the continental shelf, as well as the creation of the common heritage of mankind to encompass the seabed and the subsoil in areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction, had largely eradicated the stratification mode of resource allocation in maritime affairs, he stated. 

He believed that the international community should not be imprisoned in the interpretation of a treaty that derived from an incomplete understanding of the pertinent reality.  Rather, it should proceed by analogical reasoning to adapt particular regimes to new circumstances and new understandings.  To proceed otherwise would be retrograde, he added, noting that, in his view, the only just way to proceed was the equitable allocation of marine resources.

SATYA N. NANDAN, Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority, said the Authority had attempted to fulfil its mandates in two ways.  The first was by holding technical workshops which brought together internationally recognized scientists, experts, researchers, and representatives of the mining industry and Member States.  The second was by promoting marine scientific research through selected scientific research programmes being undertaken by international scientists.  Currently, the Authority was associated with the Kaplan Project, which was designed to measure biodiversity, species range and gene flow in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone in the north-east Pacific.  The information gained from that project could be used to determine the potential risks for marine life as a result of mining for manganese nodules.  The first set of detailed results from that project would be available by the summer of 2005.

The Authority would also promote two programmes within the Census of Marine Life, which were being undertaken by the Chemosynthetic Ecosystems Group (ChEss) and the Seamounts Group (CenSeam), both of which covered the environments where polymetallic sulphides and cobalt-rich crusts were found, he said.  Polymetallic sulphides were found at hydrothermal vents sites; cobalt-rich crusts were usually found on seamounts, which often supported fauna endemic to specific seamounts.  The vulnerability of seamount communities and the concern for their protection had clearly been highlighted in recent years through discussions regarding destructive fishing methods on seamounts.  It was important to the Authority to understand the ecology of seamounts and nature of the fauna and flora that existed there, and to determine measures needed to minimize harmful effects from mining-related activities.

Marine scientific research was an essential tool for ocean governance, as it enabled the international community to take sound management decisions concerning its resources, he said.  Such knowledge was important to ensure that regulations and guidelines adopted were scientifically sound.  Despite progress, the fact was that knowledge of the oceans remained insignificant.  More was known about the surface of the moon than about the ocean on which life on earth depended.  Turning to fisheries, he said a review conference for the Fish Stocks Agreement was scheduled for 2006.  At that review, it would be important to consider a number of issues.  While the Agreement was not perfect, it was strong and far-reaching, and the most comprehensive agreement relating to the conservation and management of fish stocks.  Broader participation in the Agreement was necessary, however, in particular by nations that were already members of two or more regional arrangements.  It was interesting to note that of the 14 open-registry nations that had registered the largest number of fishing vessels between 1999 and 2003, 10 were not parties to the Agreement.

There were critical gaps in the Agreement, he continued, most notably in its limited application to straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks.  Some believed it also did not cover sufficiently the problem of discrete high-seas stocks, including deep-sea fisheries.  In addition, coverage of regional fisheries management organizations was incomplete, as some lacked capacity to ensure compliance with conservation and management measures and eliminate the problem of free riders.  It was not enough to rely on a network of such organizations to implement the Agreement.  He added that neither the Agreement nor any of the regional fisheries management organizations were equipped to deal with the problem of allocation of high-seas resources.  The high sea was one of the few remaining global concerns aside from the atmosphere and biosphere.

L. DOLLIVER M. NELSON, President of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, highlighted the Tribunal’s work since his last report, noting that over the course of the year the Tribunal held two sessions devoted to legal and judicial matters, as well as administrative and organizational issues related to the discharge of its functions.  Since his last report, no new cases had been submitted to the Tribunal.  However, on several occasions, requests had been addressed to the Tribunal’s Registry for information regarding the institution of prompt release proceedings.  Also, on more than one occasion, cases were not instituted because negotiations between the parties proved successful, proof that the mere existence of the Tribunal-assisted States to settle their disputes without resorting to litigation.

In all, he said, the Tribunal had dealt with 12 cases during its eight-year existence, in which it delivered six judgements and 26 orders -- a record he considered favourable compared with the record of other international courts and tribunals in the initial stages of their existence.  In that regard, he noted that the Tribunal had already made some contribution to the development of international law with regard to such issues as the nationality of claim reparation, use of force in law enforcement activities, hot pursuit and the question of the genuine link between the vessel and the flag State.

While the Tribunal had competence to resolve a wide range of disputes concerning interpretation or application of the Convention, he stressed that there was no doubt that the Tribunal had not been put to full use by prospective litigants and had, therefore, been unable to develop its potential as the specialized organ for the settlement of maritime disputes.  He especially drew the Assembly’s attention to the Tribunal’s need for more resources, pointing out that international legal proceedings involved expenses for the States concerned.  It was true that, unlike in arbitral proceedings, the parties to a dispute before the Tribunal did not have to share the financial burden relating to the functioning of the Tribunal, since expenses incurred by it in dealing with cases submitted to it were financed by State parties.

Nevertheless, he continued, parties needed to cover expenses for counsel and advocates representing them, as well as for accommodation in Hamburg, where the Tribunal was headquartered.  He further underlined the fact that only two States had so far made contributions amounting to a total of $55,000 to the Trust Fund established in 2000 to assist developing countries in the settlement of disputes through the Tribunal.  In addition, as of 1 November, there was an unpaid balance of assessed contributions to the overall budget of the Tribunal amounting to $2,569,684 for budgets covering the period from 1996/1997 to 2004.  The Tribunal was aware of the difficulties that might arise from that situation with respect to its functioning.

Action on Drafts

The Assembly took up the draft resolution on oceans and the law of the sea (document A/59/L.22), which had been orally revised and technically corrected when it was introduced yesterday by the representative of Brazil, on behalf of the Rio Group.

Before the vote, a Secretariat official made a statement concerning the conference servicing requirements that would be needed to cover the Second International Workshop on assessment of the global marine environment, as well as a meeting of the Informal Consultative Process, both set for June of next year.  Since those meetings were already on the calendar, neither would require any additional appropriations.  The fifteenth meeting of States parties to the Convention would be shortened by three days, and the Workshop would meet during the first three days of the dates originally allocated for the States parties meeting, namely, 13 to 24 June 2005.  Thus, no additional conference servicing would be needed for the Workshop’s three-day meeting, to begin on 13 June.

Speaking in explanation of vote before the vote, CAGATAY ERCIYES (Turkey) said he would vote against the text because some of the elements contained in UNCLOS, which had prevented Turkey from approving the instrument, were present in the resolution.  Turkey believed that UNCLOS did not make adequate provisions for special geographical situations and that it made no provisions for making reservation for specific articles.  Although Turkey agreed with the Convention, its serious shortcomings had caused Turkey not to become a party to it.

Turkey, he added, would also express its support for the draft resolution on sustainable fisheries, but would reaffirm its position that it would be unable to give consent to some of the elements of the text, particularly where it requests States to become party to the Convention.  Turkey would disassociate itself from those paragraphs.

IMERIA NUÑEZ DE ODREMAN (Venezuela) affirmed her country’s commitment to efforts to promote coordination and cooperation in global ocean affairs, but the reasons that had prevented it from becoming a party to the Convention remained in effect.  Similar aspects in the text compelled Venezuela to abstain in the vote.  On the sustainable fisheries text, she detailed Venezuela’s work towards the conservation of fisheries and protection of marine biodiversity in its region and beyond.  But Venezuela would reiterate that its historical reservations about UNCLOS and its Fish Stocks Agreement remained.  Although Venezuela was not a party to the Convention, it would not block consensus on the vote.

IGNACIO LLANOS (Chile) said that he would join consensus on the resolution on sustainable fisheries on the understanding that operative paragraph 66 was in keeping with the rights and sovereignty of jurisdiction established by UNCLOS for coastal States in exclusive economic zones, and that it was up to those States to consider and determine the management and conservation of those areas in accordance with international law.

YELLA ZANELLI (Peru) said she would join consensus on the resolution on sustainable fisheries on the understanding that operative paragraph 66 was in keeping with the rights and sovereignty of jurisdiction established by international law for coastal States, and that it was up to those States to consider and determine the management and conservation of those areas in accordance with international law.

The resolution on oceans and the law of the sea was adopted by a vote of 141 in favour, to 1 against (Turkey), with 2 abstentions (Colombia and Venezuela).  (See Annex.)

The Assembly then took up the text on sustainable fisheries (document A/59/L.23)

Before the vote, a Secretariat representative made a statement on the budgetary requirements for two events called for in the text:  a fourth round of informal consultations of States parties to the Agreement to UNCLOS, and a one-week review conference on the Agreement assessing its effectiveness in securing the conservation and management of straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks, set for the first half of 2006.

The Assembly adopted the resolution without a vote.

Following the adoption, GIUSEPPE NESI (Italy) said he had voted in favour of the text, although this year his country had not been a co-sponsor.  Italy would underline its concern that operative paragraph 7 should have contained a reference to UNCLOS and the Montego Bay Convention, as well as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Convention on Underwater Cultural Heritage.

MOSTAFA DOLATYAR (Iran) said that his delegation had voted in favour of the text, but would disassociate itself from preambular paragraph 17, which took note of the Secretary-General’s report on Oceans and the Law of the Sea (document A/59/62).  Paragraph 28 of that report referred to some news reports that, in Iran’s view, failed to properly or accurately portray certain situations in the Persian Gulf.  He requested that the paragraph be corrected when the Assembly’s work on the matter was finalized.

(annex follows)

ANNEX

Vote on Law of Sea Text

The draft resolution on oceans and the law of the sea (document A/59/L.22) was adopted by a recorded vote of 141 in favour to 1 against, with 2 abstentions, as follows:

In favour:  Algeria, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belgium, Belize, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, China, Congo, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Finland, France, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Honduras, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Latvia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Madagascar, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Mongolia, Morocco, Myanmar, Namibia, Nauru, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Russian Federation, Samoa, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia and Montenegro, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Timor-Leste, Togo, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Tuvalu, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania, United States, Uruguay, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe

Against:  Turkey

Abstain:  Colombia, Venezuela

Absent:  Afghanistan, Albania, Angola, Azerbaijan, Barbados, Belarus, Benin, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Comoros, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Dominica, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Estonia, Grenada, Haiti, Hungary, Kiribati, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Luxembourg, Malawi, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Sao Tome and Principe, Somalia, Swaziland, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu

* *** *

For information media. Not an official record.