Meeting of States Parties
to Law of Sea Convention
77th & 78th Meetings (AM & PM)
states parties to United Nations law of sea convention are encouraged
to use international tribunal for disPute settlement
Review Meeting is Told Only 21 of 145 Signatories Have Gone
To Legal Body; Budgetary Issues, Other Activities Also Discussed
States Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea opened their fourteenth meeting today by welcoming three new States –- Albania, Canada and Lithuania –- to the fold, bringing the total number of Parties to 145. The Convention is celebrating its tenth anniversary since coming into force in 1994.
Often referred to as “the constitution for the oceans”, the Convention governs all aspects of ocean space and maritime issues, from navigational rights, territorial limits and marine scientific research to management of resources, protection of the marine environment and settlement of disputes. (For additional background, see Press Release SEA/1809 of 14 June.)
Opening the meeting with a review of progress in Convention bodies, the newly elected President of the Meeting of States Parties Allieu Kanu (Sierra Leone) noted that the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf had received a submission by Brazil and was expecting several others before the November 2004 deadline. Among other activities, the International Seabed Authority had continued supervising exploration contracts, and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea had delivered judgement on a case involving land reclamation by Singapore in and around the straits of Johor.
Introducing the Tribunal’s report, Tribunal President Dolliver Nelson (Grenada) highlighted the Singapore case, noting Malaysia’s concerns that Singapore’s land reclamation activities were infringing on its rights. Acknowledging that such reclamation work might adversely affect the marine environment in and around the Straits of Johor, the Tribunal had delivered an Order stressing the importance of cooperation between the parties.
Despite such ongoing cases, however, only 34 of 145 States Parties had declared the Tribunal as their forum of choice for maritime dispute settlement, and just 21 had actually chosen to use it, he continued. Stressing that more States should take advantage of the Tribunal’s abilities, he noted that choosing the Tribunal was an alternative to arbitration, allowing States to avoid the procedural costs of settlement, and choose any of its 21 judges to consider their cases.
Mr. Nelson also introduced the Tribunal’s draft budget for 2005-2006, which came to a total of 15.5 million euros, an increase of 284,850 euros compared to 2004. The rise was mainly due to increases in standard costs for staff and in common staff costs, and in the judges’ pension scheme, with seven judges retiring from office in 2005. In addition, last year’s meeting of States Parties had decided to cover Tribunal liability for work-related accidents affecting Tribunal judges, and to reimburse judges for national taxes levied on the remuneration paid to them by the Tribunal.
Regarding financial performance for 2003, he said the Tribunal had remained within its budget, but that increases in costs and exchange rate fluctuations had led to over-expenditures for staff and operations. Warning delegates that this year’s appropriations might not be sufficient to handle maintenance and staff costs, he said the Tribunal would do its best to balance its needs for more funds with savings in other areas. However, a request for additional appropriations would still be submitted.
Adding to the budgetary discussion, Tribunal Registrar Philippe Gautier introduced two documents relating to decisions taken at last year’s meeting on budget performance for 2003 and reimbursement of national taxes. In addition, he presented a draft decision on Tribunal budgetary matters for 2004, which dealt with actions to be taken if the 2004 budget proved to be insufficient.
Also today, the Parties adopted their agenda, as orally amended, after a lengthy debate on an item devoted to article 319 of the Convention, which lists the Secretary-General’s responsibilities vis-à-vis the treaty. It was decided to devote all of Thursday to that item.
At the beginning of the meeting, Parties observed a moment of silence to honour one of the Convention’s creators, Theodore Halkiopoulos (Greece), who had died in March of this year.
The Meeting of the States Parties will meet again at 10 a.m. Tuesday, 15 June to continue with its budgetary matters, and to take up consideration of the International Seabed Authority, the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, and the Report of the External Auditors for 2002.
STANISLAW PAWLAK (Poland), President of the Thirteenth Meeting of the States Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, opened the Fourteenth Meeting by welcoming its new President, Allieu Kanu (Sierra Leone). Mr. Kanu was elected by acclamation.
Summarizing the accomplishments of the last meeting, Mr. Pawlak noted that it had: considered financial and administrative issues related to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea; received information on the work of the International Seabed Authority and Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf; and discussed matters surrounding article 319 of the Convention, which lists the Secretary-General’s responsibilities vis-à-vis the treaty. He said article 319 would remain on the provisional agenda of the current meeting.
Regarding financial issues, the previous meeting had approved the Tribunal’s budget for 2004, as well as additional case-related costs in the event that cases were submitted to the Tribunal in 2003. It also decided to progressively reduce the ceiling of the States parties’ scale of assessment and reimburse the money that had accrued in the staff assessment fund to States parties on a pro rata basis.
Mr. KANU (Sierra Leone), newly-elected President of the Fourteenth Meeting of States Parties, informed the meeting that Albania, Canada and Lithuania had become parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea since the last meeting, bringing the total number of parties to 145. He then called for a moment of silence to honour one of the Convention’s creators, Theodore Halkiopoulos (Greece), who had died in March of this year.
Reviewing progress since the last meeting, Mr. Kanu said the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea had entered the twelfth case on its list, delivering judgement on land reclamation by Singapore in and around the straits of Johor. The International Seabed Authority had continued to supervise existing exploration contracts, prepare the international regulatory regime for future development of the seabed area, and promote marine scientific research. It also planned to set up a geological model for the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture zone in the North Central Pacific Ocean. The Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf had received a submission by Brazil and was expecting several others, including one by Australia, before the November 2004 deadline.
Resuming its work this afternoon, the States Parties adopted their agenda. This after a lengthy debate this morning, on the position of agenda item 16, which concerns article 319 of the Convention. It was decided to devote all of Thursday to the discussion of that item.
Report of Tribunal
DOLLIVER NELSON (Grenada), President of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, introduced the Tribunal’s annual report (SPLOS/109). According to that document, a special meeting had been convened in 2003 to elect Anthony Amos Lucky (Trinidad and Tobago) to the Tribunal, after the death of a judge. The report also stated that, last year, the Tribunal had held two sessions, during which it had considered, among other things, rules and judicial procedures, secrecy of deliberations and financial security. It had also reconstituted its five committees and prepared its draft budget.
Regarding its judicial work, the Tribunal had met to consider a dispute between Malaysia and Singapore. In response to Malaysia’s concerns that Singapore’s land reclamation activities were infringing upon its rights, the Tribunal had delivered an Order that stressed the importance of cooperation between the parties. Also, acknowledging that the reclamation work might adversely affect the marine environment in and around the Straits of Johor, it declared that the two States should establish mechanisms for exchanging information and assessing risks. The Order had been adopted unanimously, and currently the dispute was before an arbitral tribunal, in accordance with annex VII to the Convention. Three members of the arbitral tribunal had been appointed.
Referring to an additional case before the International Tribunal, involving Chile and the European Union and concerning swordfish stocks in the South-Eastern Pacific Ocean, he said an Order had extended the time limit governing case-related objections, to enable the parties to reach a settlement.
Noting that, under article 287 of the Convention, States could declare their choice of the Tribunal as their forum for maritime dispute settlement, he lamented that, out of 145 States parties, only 34 had made such declarations and just 21 had actually chosen to use the Tribunal. In that regard, he expressed hope that more States would take advantage of the Tribunal’s abilities. However, he also reminded delegates that, even if they did not make any declarations, States were still obliged to submit their disputes to a procedure entailing binding decisions. Highlighting the option of submitting disputes to special chambers of the Tribunal, he said such a choice stood as an alternative to arbitration, allowed States to avoid any procedural costs associated with the settlement, and permitted them to choose any of the 21 judges to consider their case.
Telling delegates that only 13 States had ratified the Agreement on the Privileges and Immunities of the Tribunal, he echoed the General Assembly’s recommendations for more States to accede to it. He also said the Tribunal had worked on developing relationships with other international bodies, such as the European Court of Human Rights and the International Labour Office. Turning to financial matters, he regretted that there was a large unpaid balance of assessed contributions to the Tribunal.
Introduction of Tribunal Budget
Introducing the Tribunal budget for 2005-2006, MR. NELSON noted that it had been prepared for the first time in euros, covering a two-year period. Since the Tribunal had its seat in the euro zone, and most of its expenses were incurred in euros, the change to euros should give better stability in terms of financial management.
In drawing up its budget proposals for 2005-2006, the Tribunal had followed an approach aimed at optimizing efficiency, and had also been guided by the principle of zero growth in planning expenditures. The proposed budget for 2005-2006 totalled 15.5 million euros, an increase of 284,850 euros compared to the 2004 budget. The increase should not be viewed as a departure from zero growth, since it was due to circumstances beyond the Tribunal’s control. Those included the increase in standard costs for staff and in common staff costs, and the increase in the judges’ pension scheme resulting from the expiry of the terms of office of seven judges in 2005. In addition, a small amount had been envisaged to account for inflation.
Continuing, he noted that last year’s meeting of the States Parties had decided to cover the liability of the Tribunal in the event of work-related accidents affecting Tribunal judges. It had also decided to create a new provision to reimburse judges for national taxes levied on the remuneration paid to them by the Tribunal. Those two provisions had been merged into a new budget line called “Common costs” under “Section 1: Judges”. It was also proposed to place common costs of the President under a new budget line. Pursuant to the same decision of the thirteenth meeting, a new budget line called “Reimbursement of national taxes” under “Section 2: Staff costs” was included in the proposed 2005-2006 budget to reimburse Tribunal officials for national taxes levied on their remuneration paid by the Tribunal.
He also drew attention to budget items where amounts being requested per annum were lower than 2004 levels. Decreases in judges’ annual and special allowances, compensation to judges ad hoc and representation allowance were due to
the depreciation of the United States dollar against the euro over the past year. Reductions in general temporary assistance, communications, external printing and binding and purchase of equipment, and purchase of equipment had been envisaged on the basis of the experience of 2003.
With regards to financial performance for 2003, he said the Tribunal had remained within its budget. Nevertheless, because of increases in costs and exchange rate fluctuations, there had been over-expenditures in the areas of staff and operations. An external audit had already been completed and would be officially transmitted to the next Meeting of States Parties. Warning delegates that this year’s appropriations might not be sufficient to handle maintenance and staff costs, he said the Tribunal would do its best to balance its needs for more funds with savings in other areas. However, a request for additional appropriations would still be submitted.
* *** *