Delegates Offer Differing Views Regarding Workload of Commission on Limits of Continental Shelf as States Parties Continue Twenty-First Meeting

14 June 2011

Delegates Offer Differing Views Regarding Workload of Commission on Limits of Continental Shelf as States Parties Continue Twenty-First Meeting

14 June 2011
Meetings Coverage
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Meeting of States Parties

 to Law of Sea Convention

142nd & 143rd Meetings (AM & PM)

Delegates Offer Differing Views Regarding Workload of Commission on Limits


of Continental Shelf as States Parties Continue Twenty-First Meeting


As the States parties to the Convention on the Law of the Sea continued their annual session today, delegates expressed diverging views on the workload of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, hearing a presentation by the Coordinator of the Working Group established in 2009 to address that body’s burgeoning responsibilities.

The Meeting also adopted the report of the Credentials Committee (document SPLOS/228), which was presented by its Chair, Robert Eric A Borje (Philippines).  It also took note of the information provided yesterday by Harald Brekke (Norway), Acting Chairperson of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.

Eden Charles (Trinidad and Tobago), Coordinator of the Open-Ended Working Group of the Whole on the Workload of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, said the body had held a series of meetings since June 2010 to take up the request by the twentieth Meeting of States Parties that the Commission take urgent steps to address its workload as a priority.

She said that on 27 May 2011, the Working Group had agreed in principle to recommend that the Commission meet for six months annually in a non-sequential manner.  It had held a subsequent meeting to discuss pending matters, to receive information from the Secretariat relating to staffing needs and projected assignments for the incumbents of additional posts, and to finalize a recommendation for submission to the twenty-first Meeting of States Parties.  During that meeting, delegates from India, Mauritius and Morocco had presented an amendment to the draft recommendation, which would have the Commission meet for 21 weeks annually instead of six months.

On 10 June 2011, delegates had agreed on a draft decision for presentation to the States parties, she continued, expressing hope that the Meeting would approve it.  Approval would “provide greater certainty to the Commission as far as the workload is concerned” before the twenty-second Meeting of States Parties in June 2012.

The ensuing discussion featured near-unanimous agreement on the urgent need to expand the Commission’s capacity, with a number of delegations describing the financial and technical hardships they faced as they awaited — often for years — the Commission’s recommendations on their submissions.  Several speakers from countries that had received the recommendations in a timely manner agreed that it was neither fair nor reasonable to expect developing countries to wait a decade or more for the Commission’s conclusions.

In that context, Australia’s representative underscored the value creating legal and jurisdictional certainty, in perpetuity, regarding the limits of a country’s continental shelf, saying that his Government had contributed $500,000 to the trust fund so as to allow greater participation by developing countries.  Australia was also contributing a further $500,000 to help developing countries implement the 1995 Fish Stocks Agreement, he added.

Japan’s representative announced that her Government had also decided to provide $211,000 to the trust fund to help defray the costs of members from developing countries.

Preferences diverged as to whether to implement a full-time or a six-month schedule, with several delegates stressing that the latter must be a minimum commitment.  Others said that any changes in the Commission’s work must preserve its quality and ensure the ability of members to attend longer sessions.  Canada’s representative said that while it was desirable to accelerate the consideration of submissions, it was difficult to see how the Commission could work for significantly longer periods of time without additional resources.  He pointed out that resources available in the trust funds were not always used.

Noting the sharp increase that had already occurred in the time that the Commission had spent working at Headquarters, India’s representative said he favoured working from 21 to 26 weeks a year, divided into at least three non-consecutive sessions, on the practical basis that a longer schedule would limit the pool of potential Commission members.

Pointing out that the Commission was already meeting for an average of 22 weeks a year, Brazil’s representative supported the draft decision’s proposals that the Commission meet full time in New York, and no less than six months annually.  The financing for the Secretariat’s heavier workload should come from the United Nations regular budget, she said.

Suggesting that the problem was not financial but legal, Argentina’s representative pointed out that the Convention on the Law of the Sea did not limit the Secretariat’s work or the Commission’s obligation to consider all presentations made.  In addition to being legal in nature, the problem had an extremely important political component, he emphasized.

Asked by Cuba’s representative for an estimate of how much the Commission could accomplish in the two different scenarios, Mr. Brekke suggested that an additional 20 recommendations a year would be possible in an expanded work scenario.  However, there were many uncertainties in that number since it assumed that submissions were addressed in a smooth and orderly manner, which was not always the case.

A number of other speakers shared concerns expressed yesterday by China’s delegation regarding those geographic formations that could form the basis of recommendations on the limits of a State’s continental shelf.  The representative of the Republic of Korea said coastal countries should not encroach upon the seabed area on the basis of the existence of a rock, warning that such expansion would lead to the area’s “substantial diminishment” as the common heritage of humankind.  Like others, China strongly believed that the Commission should take no action until the resolution of different legal interpretations as to whether or not a certain feature was a rock.

The representatives of Belarus, Kenya, Russian Federation, Indonesia, Pakistan, Mauritius, Bangladesh, Philippines, Chile, Dominican Republic, India, Uruguay, Angola, Senegal, Guinea and Morocco also spoke, as did a representative of the European Union delegation.

The States parties will reconvene at 10 a.m. Wednesday, 15 June, to continue the twenty-first Meeting.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.