General Assembly Commemorates Thirtieth Anniversary of Opening for Signature of United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea

10 December 2012
GA/11323

General Assembly Commemorates Thirtieth Anniversary of Opening for Signature of United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea

10 December 2012
General Assembly
GA/11323
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-seventh General Assembly

Plenary

49th & 50th Meetings (AM & PM)

General Assembly Commemorates Thirtieth Anniversary of Opening

 

for Signature of United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea

 

Secretary-General Hails ‘Constitution for the Oceans’, Based on Rule of Law;

Speakers Say, While Not Perfect, Near-Universal Treaty Has ‘Stood Test of Time’

The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, acting as a “constitution for the oceans”, guided every aspect of maritime affairs and set out a delicate balance of rights and duties, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today as the General Assembly celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of the opening for signature of the nearly universal treaty.

“Indeed, the treaty was a firm foundation — a permanent document providing order, stability, predictability and security — all based on the rule of law,” the Secretary-General said, opening the commemorative meeting, which heard from nearly 40 speakers and featured a video presentation on the history of the Convention. 

Mr. Ban hailed the treaty as a testament to the power of international cooperation, multilateral negotiation and consensus-building, and said that with 164 States parties, it was nearing the goal of universality set out by the Assembly.  He went on to pay tribute to pioneers that had brought the instrument to life, including the late Ambassador Arvid Pardo of Malta, who had launched the concept of the international seabed as the common heritage of mankind.

While it worked every day to contribute to international peace and security and ensure equitable and efficient use of ocean resources, the Convention was also an important tool for sustainable development, he said.  Yet, oceans continued to face many challenges — pollution, acidification, over-exploitation of resources, piracy and maritime boundary disputes.  Addressing those issues should compel Member States to strive for the full implementation of the Convention, he said, declaring:  “Let this be our goal as we mark 30 years of achievement, and look to the next generation of opportunities, challenges and hopes on the high seas.”

Tommy Koh, President of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, pointed out that the Convention represented a careful balance of the interests of all States, developed and developing, seafaring and landlocked.  “The balance in the Convention has worked well.  It has stood the test of time,” he stressed, calling therefore for States to avoid taking actions of questionable legality in order to fulfil short-term gains.  In that vein, he said that some States were taking advantage of ambiguous language in the Convention and pointed to a number of examples in that respect.

Referring to the Secretary-General’s new “Ocean Compact” initiative unveiled in August, he said that plan had three objectives:  to protect vulnerable people and the health of the oceans; to restore the health of the oceans and ensure their full food production; and to improve knowledge and oceans management.  The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) had repeatedly called the world’s attention to the crisis in the world’s fisheries, caused by overfishing, unreported and illegal fishing, and by the ineffectiveness of regional fishery organizations, among other challenges.  Subsidies to the fishing industry should be phased out, he stressed in that regard.

As for climate change, he said that one of its deleterious impacts was that oceans were becoming warmer and more acidic, which would have a devastating impact on the world’s coral reefs.  The welfare of 150 million people living in coastal communities would be affected if the reefs were allowed to die, he stressed.  In addition, there was the challenge of sea level rise.  “The problem is not theoretical, it is real.”  As a result of such changes, millions of people would be forced to leave their homes as “ecological refugees”, he warned.

Along with interventions by Member States and parties to the Convention, the meeting also included statements by officials from the three main bodies created by the Treaty, the International Seabed Authority, the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, whose President Shunji Yanai said the Convention’s adoption had been one of the pivotal moments in the development of international law.

The Convention had established a comprehensive legal framework that regulated the most important resource on the planet and had offered a broadly mandatory mechanism for dispute settlement.  One “ingenious mechanism” — the “Montreux Formula” — had been devised as a compromise.  Under that provision, a State party could accept, in the form of declaration, one or more settlement instruments:  the Tribunal itself; the International Court of Justice, an arbitral tribunal or a special arbitral tribunal.  To date, 47 States had made declarations, with 34 of them opting for the Tribunal as a means of settlement.  He encouraged States to mark the Convention’s thirtieth anniversary by making such declarations.

Lawrence Awosika, Chair of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, noted, however, that the environment surrounding the Convention had changed since its inception.  Indeed, the treaty’s drafters had no way of anticipating the monumental scale of the work that the Commission would face; while it had been expected that about 30 coastal States might have a continental shelf extending beyond 200 nautical miles, some 61 submissions had been received. 

He also pointed out that scientific understanding of the sea-floor and the subsurface had progressed by leaps and bounds.  “Today’s knowledge of geology, geophysics, geomorphology, hydrography has shown us the real face of the structure of the earth beneath the oceans, a very different one from that which the negotiators of the Convention had in mind,” he said.  Those factors had resulted in a dramatic increase in the Commission’s workload, he added, stressing the need for consistent financial and other support for the body.

Among the delegations taking the floor was the representative of Australia, who said his country — the planet’s largest island State — had the third-largest marine jurisdiction in the world and was home to the Great Barrier Reef, which held the largest repository of marine biodiversity.  Straddled by three oceans — the Pacific, the Indian and the Southern — Australia relied on maritime transport for over 80 per cent of its international trade.

The Convention, he continued, was of crucial importance to his country’s national security, continuing prosperity and relations with other countries.  Further, Australia was helping developing countries to implement the 1995 United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement which aimed to enhance fisheries management.  Multilateral pledges also supported food security, poverty alleviation and environment initiatives, including $25 million for the Pacific Oceanscape Framework and $13 million for the Coral Triangle Initiative, he added. 

The representative of Jamaica, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said that protection and preservation of the marine environment remained an important issue for the sustainable development of his region’s economies.  To that end, he commended the Convention’s focus on sustainable exploitation of the seabed’s natural and non-renewable resources.  “From the days of piracy to the attempts to explore for minerals, including oil offshore, the ocean and the sea have been a source of economic potential,” he said.  In that regard, United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea had done much towards levelling the playing field, which then had afforded opportunities to developing countries, including those in his region.

Speaking more reservedly about the Convention was Cyprus’ representative, who said that while the treaty was generally acknowledged as having acquired the status of customary rules of international law, it “could not, and did not, fully satisfy all delegations in all respects,” despite the clarity it did provide on issues of jurisdiction.  Ambiguities where there should have been clarity, complexities where there could have been streamlining and exceptions where there could have been general rules contributed to the dissatisfaction among delegations, he said.  It had to be accepted that compromises, necessitated by the need to arrive at consensus, were the price for reaching a successful conclusion of a complicated and ambitious undertaking.

Also speaking today were the representatives of the Central African Republic (on behalf of African States), Republic of Korea (on behalf of Asia-Pacific States), Georgia (on behalf of Eastern European States), Canada (on behalf of Western European and other States), Lao People’s Democratic Republic (on behalf of the landlocked developing countries) and the Federated States of Micronesia (on behalf of the Pacific Small Island Developing States).

Statements were also made by the representatives of Malta, United States, Paraguay (on behalf of Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago), Argentina, Trinidad and Tobago, Senegal, Cuba, Philippines, Brazil, South Africa, Chile, Japan, Thailand, Mexico, Iceland, Uruguay, Greece, Sweden and Indonesia. 

Assembly Vice-President Rodney Charles (Trinidad and Tobago) also addressed the meeting on behalf of Assembly President Vuk Jeremić, as did the President of the twenty-second meeting of States parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Monaco), the President of the eighteenth session of the Assembly of the International Seabed Authority (Mauritius), the Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority and a judge from the International Court of Justice.

The General Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 11 December, to continue the commemoration and also take up the issues of marine renewable energies and sustainable fisheries.

Background

The General Assembly met today to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the opening for signature of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Opening Remarks

RODNEY CHARLES (Trinidad and Tobago), Vice-President of the General Assembly, speaking on behalf of Assembly President Vuk Jeremić, said that the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) represented a success story for the Organization.  Prior to the treaty’s entry into force, the oceans had been largely regulated by customary international law.  Commemorating the late Ambassador Arvid Pardo of Malta who was considered to be the “founding father” of the Convention, he said Mr. Pardo’s legacy had been elaborated as the “highly complex and far-reaching treaty” being celebrated today.

He went on to note that 164 countries were now State Parties to the Convention that addressed issues ranging from navigation rights, maritime zones and deep sea mining, to the protection of the marine environment and dispute procedure.  Three processes and working groups had been established in the General Assembly on the issue, including the United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea; the Regular Process for Global Reporting and Assessment of the State of the Marine Environment, including Socioeconomic Aspects; and the Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group. 

The recently launched initiative by the Secretary-General, “The Oceans Compact:  Healthy Oceans for Prosperity”, had set forth a strategic vision of the Organization’s system to deliver ocean-related mandates.  At the recent United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development ( Rio+20), exploitation of the oceans had been a critical issue.  Untapped marine renewable energies could play a significant role in meeting sustainable development goals, enhancing energy security and creating jobs.  However, he stressed that “mankind has put the oceans at risk of irreversible damage”. 

Overfishing, pollution, climate change, ocean acidification, unsustainable coastal area development, and resource extraction, he said, had resulted in the loss of biodiversity and damage to habitats.  Small island States had been greatly threatened by climate change and oceanic acidification, putting their survival at serious risk.  He called on all Member States to implement agreed commitments on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  Now, more than ever, he stressed, it was critical to protect and improve the ecological health and resources of the oceans, and he urged all Member States who had not done so to ratify “this seminal Convention”.

United Nations Secretary-General, BAN KI-MOON, recalled that when the Convention was opened for signature in 1982, it had been called a “constitution for the oceans”.  Indeed, the treaty was a firm foundation - a permanent document providing order, stability, predictability and security - all based on the rule of law.  It was the legal framework that guided every aspect of management of the oceans and seas, he said, adding that the Convention was an acknowledgement that the many challenges and uses of the ocean were interrelated and needed to be considered as a whole.

Forged through negotiation among more than 150 States, the treaty was a testament to the power of international cooperation, multilateral negotiation and consensus-building, he continued.  Paying tribute to pioneers who helped bring the instrument to life, he noted that the late Ambassador Arvid Pardo of Malta had launched the concept of the international seabed as the common heritage of mankind.  He also sited the efforts of late Ambassador Shirley Hamilton Amerasinghe of Sri Lanka, who had served as the first President of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, and, of course, Ambassador Tommy Koh, its last President.

Their leadership and diplomatic skills had been instrumental in creating the legacy being celebrated today.  The codification and progressive development of the law of the sea had provided a flexible and evolving international legal framework, guiding Member States through the settlement of disputes, the delineation of the outer limits of the extended continental shelf, and the administration of the resources of the international seabed.  Every day, he said, it continued to contribute to international peace and security, as well as the equitable and efficient use of ocean resources.

In short, the Convention on the Law of the Sea was an important tool for sustainable development, as affirmed this year at Rio+20.  However, the oceans continued to face many challenges - pollution, ocean acidification, over-exploitation of resources, piracy and maritime boundary disputes.  Addressing those issues should compel Member States to strive for the full implementation of the Convention.  With 164 parties, including the European Union, it was nearing the goal of universality set out by the General Assembly.  “Let us work to bring all nations under the jurisdiction, protection and guidance of this essential treaty,” he said.

TOMMY KOH, President of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, said that 30 years ago — after a decade of patient and painstaking negotiations — the Convention had been adopted.  On 10 December 1982, the treaty had been opened for signature, and 119 States had signed it on its very first day.  However, he said, one of the States still not a party to the treaty was the host country of today’s celebration, the United States.  In that regard, he expressed his hope that “we will not have to wait much longer” for the United States to sign on to the Convention.

Indeed, that treaty had become the “constitution of the world’s oceans”, establishing a stable legal order.  The only parts of the world’s oceans in which there were disputes that threatened international peace were the East and South China Seas, he said, calling on all parties to those conflicts to resolve their disputes peacefully, and in accordance with the Convention and other international laws.  “Negotiations should always be our first preference,” he said, but if those did not work, he recommended that States refer their cases to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea or the International Court of Justice. 

He pointed out that the Convention represented a careful balance of the interests of all States, developed and developing, seafaring and landlocked.  That balance had been arrived at through an open, transparent process through which all States, large and small, had contributed.  “The balance in the Convention has worked well.  “It has stood the test of time,” he stressed, calling therefore for States to avoid taking actions of questionable legality in order to fulfil short-term gains.  In that vein, he said that some States were taking advantage of ambiguous language in the Convention, and pointed to a number of examples in that respect.

Referring to the Secretary-General’s new “Ocean Compact” initiative unveiled in August, he said that plan had three objectives:  to protect vulnerable people and the health of the oceans; to restore the health of the oceans and ensure their full food production; and to improve knowledge and oceans management.  The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) had repeatedly called the world’s attention to the crisis in the world’s fisheries, which was caused by overfishing, unreported and illegal fishing, and by the ineffectiveness of regional fishery organizations, among other challenges.  Subsidies to the fishing industry should be phased out, he stressed in that regard.

He said that the world could learn from the experiences of Iceland and New Zealand, with regards to their management of fishing resources.  In addition, regional fishery management organizations should be empowered to take more decisions, certain highly destructive methods of fishing should be banned, and the FAO ethical code of conduct on fishing should be strengthened.

One impact of global warning was that the oceans were becoming warmer and more acidic, which would have a devastating impact on the world’s coral reefs.  The welfare of 150 million people living in coastal communities would be affected if the reefs were allowed to die, he stressed.  In addition, there was the challenge of sea level rise.  “The problem is not theoretical, it is real”, he emphasized in that regard, noting that countries including Bangladesh, the Maldives and others were already experiencing loss of land due to rising seas.  As a result of such changes, millions of people would be forced to leave their homes as “ecological refugees”, he warned.

CHRISTOPHER GRIMA ( Malta) read a special tribute to the late Ambassador Arvid Pardo, who, he said, had made a “historic contribution” to the United Nations’ role in oceans and the law of the sea.  He recalled that, in an unforgettable 1967 speech to the General Assembly’s First Committee (Disarmament and International Security), Mr. Pardo had “captured the imagination” of delegations and had set in motion a 15-year process which culminated in the adoption of the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea.  The speech had concluded with an expression of hope that the Assembly would adopt a resolution embodying a number of concepts, including that “the seabed and the ocean floor are a common heritage of mankind and should be used and exploited for peaceful purposes and for the exclusive benefit of mankind as a whole”.

With the advent of Malta’s initiative, there had been a general feeling at the United Nations that the world body “had become involved in a new subject, one of profound importance but great complexity and fascination, which would command the attention of delegates and officials for many years to come”.  On 7 November 1967, Mr. Pardo had informed the Committee that agreement had been reached on a draft resolution that was later adopted by the First Committee by a recorded vote.  A few days later, on 18 December 1967, the resolution was adopted by the General Assembly, this time by consensus.

On that occasion, Mr. Pardo stated that the resolution was “an expression of the collective sense of responsibility of all States for the vast expanse of the ocean bed”.  It was a “sound beginning”, and an indispensible first step; however, “principles must be formulated, a treaty negotiated”.  Moreover, while some had considered that goal to be too ambitious, Mr. Pardo had persisted, and, while not entirely satisfied with the end result, he had been pleased to see the Convention of the Law of the Sea opened for signature in Montego Bay on 19 December, 1982, 30 years ago today.

CHARLES-ARMEL DOUBANE (Central African Republic), speaking on behalf of African States, recalled that, 30 years ago, the Convention had been opened for signature in Jamaica, with a record number of countries signing on the first day.  He said many events had been held, encouraging still other events aimed at promoting the importance of the Convention, which was one of the most comprehensive treaties, through which everyone could share the vast resources of the oceans and seas that covered more than two-thirds of the Earth’s surface. 

After three decades, the number of signatories had reached 164, he said, describing how the Convention helped resolve disputes over territorial boundaries and marine resources.  The framework had provided not only legal instruments, but also offered a guide for sustainable development, including the eradication of poverty, food security and provision of decent work, all in the interest of mankind.  The “constitution” had stood the test of time.  Now capacity-building was one of the most important challenges.  For development in Africa, he recognized the importance of the Trust Fund established for such purposes.

KIM SOOK (Republic of Korea), speaking on behalf of the Group of Asia-Pacific States, said that, the Convention had resolved a number of critical issues that had “proved elusive and contentious for centuries”, including the breadth of the territorial sea at 12 nautical miles; according coastal States resource jurisdiction in a 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone; declaring mineral resources of the seabed beyond national jurisdiction to be “the common heritage of mankind”; and providing mechanisms for the settlement of disputes.

However, he continued, long-standing problems had become more serious, including the degradation of the environment and an over-exploitation of resources.  The world of 2012 was much different than that of 1982 when the Convention had been established, he pointed out, and new problems such as climate change and the need to protect marine biodiversity needed to be addressed.  He called for a strengthening of cooperation to do so, not just regionally, but globally.  The Convention, “a living document” that lent itself to the further development, had served the goal of ocean use over the past 30 years, and many of its provisions were now widely regarded as reflecting customary international law, and therefore legally binding on all States.  In tackling the challenges and threats to the world’s oceans, the Convention’s prominent role would only continue grow.

VAKHTANG MAKHAROBLISHVILI (Georgia), speaking on behalf of Eastern European States, said that although UNCLOS had already reached universal and unified character, States that had not yet done so should become parties to the treaty and its implementing agreements in order to achieve the goal of universal participation.  He stressed the need for enhanced security in the world’s oceans and coasts and said that his delegation remained concerned over transnational organized crime committed at sea, including the problem of piracy, armed robbery and over the sense of impunity of the perpetrators of those acts.  The Convention had enormous significance in terms of advancing sustainable development and much had been achieved during the last 30 years to that end.  However, much more needed to be done to ensure conservation and sustainable use of the oceans and seas and of their resources for sustainable development.

Health of oceans and the maintenance of marine biodiversity were negatively affected by marine pollution, he said, adding that the preservation and management of fish stocks remained of utmost importance.  He called on the international community to enhance efforts to address current challenges, such as illegal or unregulated fishing; lack of protection of world’s deep waters, including the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction; threats posed by ocean acidification; and the need for international agreement on proposed moratorium on shark finning.  Stronger cooperation and further capacity-building were paramount to sustaining and maintaining the limited resources of the oceans and seas.

GUILLERMO RISHCHYNSKI (Canada), speaking on behalf of Member States of the Western Europe and Others group, said that the Convention was exceptional for its scope and the comprehensiveness of the legal regime it had established for use of the world’s oceans and seas.  It also provided a framework for many aspects of oceans governance - ranging from navigation to marine pollution, and from dispute settlement to the management of living and non-living marine resources.  Of particular note was the Convention’s successful blend of zonal and functional approaches and its balance of rights and obligations, its gathering of Coastal States, flag States and landlocked States under one overarching instrument, he said.

The 30 years following the Convention’s opening for signature demonstrated that the full and effective implementation of the treaty had not yet been achieved and that there was still work to be done.  For example, as evidence of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing showed, flag States must do a better job to complement actions taken by coastal and port States.  Furthermore, he said that preservation and protection of the marine environment would undoubtedly figure as one of the main priorities in years to come.  Given the broad-based, wide-ranging and interconnected nature of ocean activities, he called for international coordination and coordination at the bilateral, regional and global levels.  Better integration among a wide range of actors constituted a valuable objective to move the collective oceans governance agenda forward.

ROSEMARY DICARLO ( United States), speaking on behalf of the Host Country, said that the world had benefitted greatly from the adoption of the Convention.  It was worth recalling a time, before 1982, when there had been fundamental questions about States’ responsibilities with regards to the oceans, which had been answered by the Convention.  The treaty — together with the 1994 agreement related to deep sea mining and the 1995 agreement related to straddling fish stocks – had codified international regulations on the oceans and the sea, she said.

In addition, the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf had received over 60 submissions to date, and was making progress in providing advisory opinions to States.  “Of course, we continue to face many challenges in and on the oceans,” including those related to illegal, unreported fishing, ocean acidification, the sustainable use of maritime resources and maritime security, among others.  However, the United States was confident that such challenges would be addressed on the basis of the Convention.  Assuring the Assembly that accession to the Convention was a priority for United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the rest of President Obama’s administration, she welcomed today’s “historic event in international law”.

ISABELLE PICCO (Monaco), President of the twenty-second meeting of States Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, said that Member States had adopted a declaration at that meeting – held in New York from 4 to 12 June –recognizing the historic importance of the Convention, which had provided the legal framework in ocean affairs, as well as its contribution to peacekeeping and justice.  The declaration had also paid tribute to the contributions of Arvid Pardo, the late Ambassador of Malta. 

The text had also welcomed the work done by international tribunals and the treaty bodies established by the Convention.  The number of States Parties to the Convention’s 1994 agreement on deep seabed issues, which had then been signed by 60 States Parties, had reached 164, including the European Union.  The International Seabed Authority, which had been established by the Convention, managed seabed minerals.  The Authority had now approved 17 exploration contracts.  She went on to call Member States’ attention to the increasing work load of the Authority.  She also emphasized the success of the twenty-second meeting of States Parties to the Convention.  Quoting from a statement made in 1982 by Tommy Koh, then Ambassador of Singapore, she said the General Assembly was celebrating today “the human solidarity and interdependence of nations symbolized by the Convention”.

MILAN MEETARBHAN ( Mauritius), President of the eighteenth session of the Assembly of the International Seabed Authority, said that the Convention had been a “milestone” in the establishment of a new economic world order, as well as in international cooperation.  The negotiations leading to its adoption would be remembered for a number of substantive and procedural innovations, which had persuaded parties to work together, he added, pointing, in that regard, to the unprecedented “package deal” concept that had characterized much of the work of the Convention.

Today’s commemoration celebrated, in particular, the concept of the common heritage of mankind.  Certain articles of the Convention had stated that the Area - defined as the sea-bed and ocean floor beyond the limits of continental jurisdiction - was part of man’s common heritage, and had therefore “changed forever the international governance of the oceans”.  The Convention had also stipulated that all activities in the Area should be carried out in the benefit of the global community as a whole.  In doing so, it had outlawed the exercise of sovereign rights over any part of the Area.

Another “first” associated with the adoption of the Convention had been the establishment of the International Seabed Authority, which was set up to exist in a “non-existent domain” set up by the Convention itself.  In an uncommon move, the Authority had been granted both regulatory and commercial jurisdictions.  It issued contracts related to deep-sea mineral resources and allowed parties to get involved in deep sea research.  The Convention remained a “great monument” to international good will, he stressed.  Today, the world was getting ready to begin mining operations on the sea-bed on a scale never before witnessed.  He therefore urged all parties to protect those resources.  “Let us hope that all nations will make of this venture an example of international peace and cooperation,” he added in that regard.

NII ALLOTEY ODUNTON, Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority, said as UNCLOS marked its thirtieth anniversary, his institution also celebrated 18 years of its existence.  The first achievement of the Authority had been to resolve the institutional issues necessary to ensure its independent functioning as an international organization.  That had taken several years.  Indeed, the body had not begun to function as an autonomous entity until 1997, three years after the entry into force of the Convention. 

The second achievement was the conversion of all the claims to exploration sites registered under a resolution into legally binding contracts of limited duration in accordance with the Convention and the 1994 Agreement.  He said that the third major achievement had been to fulfil its mandate to protect the marine environment from the harmful effects of seabed mining.  While the basic obligation on all States to protect the marine environment was contained in the Convention, the obligation was elaborated further in the 1994 Agreement.  Immense challenges remained for the future.  No commercial mining had yet taken place and no financial benefits had accrued from the Area, he added.  

SHUNJI YANAI, President of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, said that the adoption of the Convention had been one of the pivotal moments in the development of international law, establishing a comprehensive legal framework that regulated the most important resource on the planet, defined the status of different maritime areas, and offered a broadly mandatory mechanism for dispute settlement.  To that end, the Tribunal played a key role and engaged an innovative jurisdiction, ratione personae, in which State Parties were not the only entities authorized to appear before it.

Under the Convention, he continued, the Tribunal was also open to other entities and to international organizations, offering as an example the dispute between the European Union and Chile before an ad hoc Special Chamber of the Tribunal.  The Sea-bed Disputes Chamber, in which the Tribunal sat in restricted composition, as well, was open to entities other than State Parties, including States, International Sea-bed Authority, and natural or legal persons.  In its 16 years, the Tribunal had had 20 cases before it that had covered a broad spectrum of legal questions of delimitation of maritime areas, and of activities at sea, including, among others, legal status of ships under international law, use of force, and protection and preservation of the marine environment.

The “Montreux Formula”, he pointed out, was an “ingenious mechanism” of the Convention that had been devised as a compromise.  Under that provision, a State Party could accept, by means of a declaration, one or more of the following means for settling disputes:  the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea; the International Court of Justice, an arbitral tribunal or special arbitral tribunal.  To date, 47 States had made declarations, with 34 of them opting for the Tribunal as a means of settlement.  He encouraged States to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the Convention by making such declarations. 

There had been concerns, he noted, that allowing States to choose one or more international courts or tribunals would fragment international law and offer conflicting judgements.  However, that fear had proved unfounded, with the Tribunal regularly referring to judgements of the International Court of Justice and its predecessor, the Permanent Court of International Justice, and to decisions by other courts and tribunals.  Further, adjudication by the Tribunal had played an important role in maintaining peace, taking an impartial decision on the grievances underlying a dispute and thus, defusing international tensions, as in the example of the judgement on the maritime boundary between Bangladesh and Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal, in March of this year.

The Tribunal, he went on to say, also dealt with urgent proceedings quickly, usually within one month from the submission of the request or application to the decision.  There had been a degree of success in the 15 cases brought before it and bore witness to those proceedings’ usefulness.  He said in conclusion that the Tribunal was “busier than ever”, a situation which he welcomed.  The Tribunal, he stressed, must respond to the needs of the international community and remain consistent in its interpretation of the Convention.  By balancing continuity and change, it would continue to be the benchmark in the settlement of disputes relating to the seas and oceans.

LAWRENCE AWOSIKA, Chair of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, said that the body was of the three institutions set up under Convention.  Its functions were twofold:  first, it considered submissions made by coastal States and made recommendations; and second, it provided scientific and technical advice.  The initial work of the Commission had focused on developing two of its most important documents, namely its rules of procedure and its scientific and technical guidelines.  The drafters of the Convention, however, could only work with the information and knowledge available at the time and had no way of anticipating the monumental scale of the work that the Commission would face decades after the treaty entered into force.

He said that while it had been expected that about 30 coastal States might have a continental shelf extending beyond 200 nautical miles, some 61 submissions had been received by the Commission.  The scientific understanding of the sea-floor and the subsurface had progressed by leaps and bounds.  “Today’s knowledge of geology, geophysics, geomorphology, hydrography has shown us the real face of the structure of the earth beneath the oceans, a very different one from that which the negotiators of the Convention had in mind when they devised legal concepts like the foot of the continental slope, submarine elevations, submarine ridges, among others,” he said. 

He said that the drafters of the Convention could not have anticipated the sheer volume of data collected to document the configuration of the continental shelf.  Those factors had resulted in a dramatic increase in the Commission’s workload.  He said that new working methods were being tried to manage the heavy workload, but stressed the need for consistent financial and other support for the Committee.

CHRISTOPHER GREENWOOD, Judge, International Court of Justice, addressing the meeting on the Court’s behalf, noted that its President had been unable to attend as he was presiding over the Case concerning the maritime Dispute between Peru and Chile, the second such dispute to be heard by the Court this year and highlighting the close relationship between the Court and the law of the sea.  He said that there was much to celebrate today.  The Convention was a legal order of the oceans that made possible “a reconciliation of the different interests of States and the establishment of a common heritage of mankind”.  He was pleased to pay tribute to those who had helped make the vision of the Convention a reality and noted that the International Court of Justice had given 30 judgements relating to the area.  The Court had explained the role of equitable principles as part of the law determining the continental shelf of neighbouring States and had stressed the need for States to negotiate in good faith to achieve agreement on maritime boundaries. 

In the 30 years that followed the establishment of the Convention, he said, the Court’s judgements had discussed the Convention’s provisions on the extent of the territorial sea, the delimitation of the territorial sea between neighbouring States, the continental shelf, the exclusive economic zone, fisheries, the legal regime of islands and navigational rights.  There had been occasions when cases involved parties to the Convention, meaning its provisions had been applied as a matter of treaty law, while on other occasions provisions of the Convention reflected current customary international law.  That had resulted in the development of a substantial body of jurisprudence, he said.

He pointed to “remarkable harmony” between pronouncements by the Court, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and Annex VII arbitration tribunals, which had ran counter to the concerns of some critics at the time of the Convention’s adoption.  On the continental shelf and the exclusive economic zones, he said the Court’s work had been followed up and applied by the tribunals.  That reflected a consistent determination to achieve a clear and coherent jurisprudence across all relevant bodies.  He added that the resolution of competing national claims to the continental shelf and exclusive economic zone was a major achievement of the last 30 years.  The principles laid down in the Convention had allowed the substantial enlargement of coastal States’ rights to seabed and waters to proceed without destabilising international relations, and the Convention had made possible the peaceful resolution of a remarkable number of cases in that regard. 

RAYMOND WOLFE (Jamaica), speaking on behalf of Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said that the thirtieth anniversary of the Convention had special significance to his delegation’s Member States, as many had contributed to the Convention’s success.  Further, it was Guyana that had deposited the sixtieth instrument of ratification which then brought the Convention into force.  Hailing UNCLOS as one of the most successful and inspiring examples of a multilateral treaty, he also noted that it offered an important frame of reference for initiatives in global political and economic development and for the advancement of international peace and security.

Noting the near universal adherence to the Convention, he pointed out that Jamaica and wider CARICOM were hosts to the headquarters of the International Seabed Authority.  He heralded the progress achieved by the Authority in developing a framework of cooperation in the management of seabed resources, including, among others, the development of regulations on prospecting and exploration of polymetallic sulphides and cobalt rich ferromanganese crust, as well as annual workshops offering training on scientific and technical aspects of deep-seabed mining, and in the critical area of protection and preservation of the marine environment.  Calling on Member States to honour their obligations to the Authority, he urged that they attend its annual sessions in order to enhance the efficacy of its work. 

The protection and preservation of the marine environment, he emphasized, remained an important issue for the sustainable development of his region’s economies, as its history and socio-economic development had been closely tied to the sea.  To that end, he commended the Convention’s focus on sustainable exploitation of the seabed’s natural and non-renewable resources.  “From the days of piracy to the attempt to explore for minerals, including oil offshore, the ocean and the sea have been a source of economic potential,” he said.  In that regard, the Convention had done much towards levelling the playing field, which then had afforded opportunities to developing countries, including those in his region.

SALEUMXAY KOMMASITH (Lao People’s Democratic Republic), speaking on behalf of the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries, said the Convention should promote the peaceful use of the oceans, the equitable and efficient utilization of its resources, and maritime environmental protection.  He also stressed the necessity to account for the needs of mankind as a whole, in particular the special needs and interests of developing countries, whether coastal or landlocked.  Geographical location constrained landlocked countries from obtaining the huge potential benefits of the oceans, with the 16 members of the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries that were parties to the Convention facing “formidable obstacles”, particularly in the realm of seaborne trade, where they were at a distinct disadvantage compared to countries with coastline and deep-sea ports. 

Landlocked States were forced to enter into agreements with coastal States to secure transit rights and to use port facilities.  They were also impacted by inadequate transport infrastructure, cumbersome customs procedures and high transport and trade costs.  Transport costs were three times higher for landlocked States than for coastal States, he said, with export profits diminished, import prices inflated, investment discouraged and an overall negative effect on development and increased marginalisation of landlocked States apparent. 

In that context, he called for full and effective implementation of Part X and Part XI of the Convention.  Part X ensured the right to access to and from the sea, and freedom of transit through transit countries by all means of transport, as well as elimination of unnecessary charges and delays.  Effective implementation would end trade barriers, eliminate unnecessary import and export procedures and would shorten transport delays, boosting access to the world market and to foreign direct investment.  Part XI meanwhile would enhance landlocked countries’ participation in the Area, and in activities such as seabed mining.  Although the high seas were open to all States, landlocked countries had been underutilizing them, because of limited knowledge and capacity and the long distances to the high seas.  He hoped for increased awareness of the constraints faced by the most disadvantaged Member States like landlocked developing countries, with studies and best practices to show how the convention’s provisions could best be utilised by landlocked developing countries.

JANE J. CHIGIYAL ( Federated States of Micronesia) said that “the […] Convention on the Law of the Sea represents one of the greatest achievements of the United Nations”.  Today and in years to come, “it remains, and will continue to be, a shining beacon of hope for us all”.  Focusing on several examples of the Convention’s historical landmarks, she said that one of its most fundamental achievements was the establishment of the exclusive economic zone.  That had effectively transformed small island developing States into “Large Ocean States”, she said.  The Convention not only helped to multiply potential resources for those States, but also formalized, to some extent, their traditional role as stewards of the oceans.  Another important advancement was the definition of the extended continental shelf and the establishment of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, at which a number of Pacific small island developing States had filed claims.

The Convention had helped those States to build, and continue to consolidate, national capacities and capabilities on highly technical issues to secure their claims, she said.  In most cases, such work was still ongoing; the Pacific small island developing States looked forward to its conclusion and trusted that the Commission was provided adequate resources and would conduct its work efficiently to determine claims in a timely manner.  Turning to the concept of the common heritage of mankind, she stressed that there existed a significant gap in the implementation of the Law of the Sea.  In that regard, biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction needed to be addressed through an implementing agreement under the Convention as soon as possible.

JOSÉ ANTONIO DOS SANTOS (Paraguay) spoke also on behalf of Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago.  He said that UNCLOS had been opened for signature in Jamaica and had come into force after being signed by Guyana, showing the Convention’s importance to Latin America and the Caribbean countries.  The region had also been very active in developing the standards that governed the law of the sea today and had had a decisive influence during three preparatory conferences.  Countries of the region had shown great interest in development of the law of the sea because of its importance to trade expansion, transportation and food resources. 

Latin American and Caribbean countries had been particularly active with regard to the consolidation of the legal regime of the territorial seas, the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf.  The limit of 200 nautical miles had emerged from Latin American and Caribbean countries based on a conception of the sea as a development factor, aiming to preserve and protect marine resources and to ensure the permanent sovereignty of the resources and its adequate exploitation in order to benefit the people.  Noting several of the Convention’s legal contributions, he encouraged in particular the effective implementation of Part X of the Convention, giving access to the sea to landlocked states.

MARÍA CRISTINA PERCEVAL ( Argentina) emphasised the relationship of the evolution of the law of the sea to developing Coastal States, like Argentina, and said the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea had set several records.  It was the first Conference to include broad participation of new Member States and non-governmental organizations and the first time a conference had resulted in a consensus “package deal”.  It was also the first to provide a comprehensive regime for the protection and preservation of the environment.  The Convention aimed to “settle […] all issues relating to the law of the sea” in a single instrument, she said. 

Notable among the Convention’s elements were establishment of the exclusive economic zone and the sovereignty of Coastal States over their continental shelf, she said.  However, the most revolutionary aspect of the Convention was Part XI, which had established the ocean floor beyond national jurisdiction as “the common heritage of mankind”.  The Convention had also established the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, which needed support in order to work expeditiously and effectively, as well as the International Seabed Authority, which had established norms relating to prospecting, exploration and exploitation of the minerals of the Area, and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. 

The Tribunal had handled 20 cases dealing with different aspects of the law of the sea and had provided an advisory opinion in 2011 on the “Responsibilities and obligations of States sponsoring persons and entities with respect to activities in the Area”.  She said that the Tribunal’s jurisprudence had consolidated its role as the specialised tribunal for law of the sea as foreseen in the Convention.  She called on States to adhere to the Convention in order that it could achieve its goal of balancing rights, obligation and interests in relation to the oceans.

EDEN CHARLES ( Trinidad and Tobago) said that his delegation had signed the Convention on 10 December 1982, when it was opened for signature.  Over the past 30 years, “we have witnessed the almost universal reach of [the treaty], which has, more than any other agreement, established a firm basis for the preservation and promotion of the rule of law in our oceans and seas”.  As a State party, Trinidad and Tobago was able to declare itself as an archipelagic State, he said, and the creation of the 200 nautical mile zone continental shelf had allowed the country to expand its hydrocarbon production beyond land-based sources and areas closer to the shore, to areas on the continental shelf.  “It is our expectation that jurisdiction over our continental shelf would go even further,” he added in that regard, noting that Trinidad and Tobago was awaiting a recommendation from the Commission based on its 2009 submission.

Noting, among other things, that some States were not geographically advantaged as coastal States, he stressed the fact that the Convention made a provision for them to benefit from the resources of the seabed and subsoil in the areas beyond national jurisdiction – widely accepted as the common heritage of mankind.  “ Trinidad and Tobago accepts that the Convention is not a perfect instrument,” he said, adding, however, that “it is an accord unlike any other”.  He listed a number of priorities for the next 30 years, including that article 82 of the Convention be implemented in an equitable manner and that States assist the International Seabed Authority in the efficient management of the area so that mineral resources benefited humanity as a whole.  In addition, he said, the international community must also agree on the conclusion of an Implementing Agreement under the Convention to cover marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

BARRY HAASE ( Australia) pointed out that the Convention, a “triumph of international diplomacy and international law”, had been one of the longest and complex lawmaking negotiations in history.  Thirty-years later, the Convention and its norms now were part of the core group of international instruments viewed as ‘universal’.  His country, the sixth largest country by land area and the planet’s largest island State, had the third-largest marine jurisdiction in the world and was home to the Great Barrier Reef, which held the largest repository of marine biodiversity.  Straddled by three oceans – the Pacific, the Indian and the Southern, Australia relied on maritime transport for over 80 per cent of its international trade.

The Convention, he underscored, was of crucial importance to his country’s national security, continuing prosperity and relations with other nations, particularly its neighbours.  Noting that Australia had been the third country to become party to the Convention, he highlighted its continued commitment to the treaty’s system, including, among others, offering technical and legal assistance to countries in the region regarding the limits of the Continental Shelf, and encouraging compliance with the Convention by sharing information, doing outreach and participating in on-the-water cooperation with Pacific and Southern Ocean partners in order to thwart the theft of finite and valuable marine resources.

Further, he said, through financial assistance, Australia was helping developing countries to implement the 1995 United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement which aimed to enhance fisheries management.  Multilateral pledges also supported food security, poverty alleviation and environment initiatives, including $25 million for the Pacific Oceanscape Framework and $13 million for the Coral Triangle Initiative.  Concluding, he said that international law of the sea had not “stood still”, but continued to evolve as new challenges emerged.  He called for all Member States to address the critical issues of conserving marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction and to agree on a timeframe in which a decision on whether or not to develop an international instrument under the Conventions should be taken.

ANDREAS JACOVIDES (Cyprus) said that as his country was at the crossroads of three continents, Europe, Asia and Africa, he was deeply concerned with the legal regulation of the uses of the sea in a just and orderly manner, ensuring fairness and predictability.  “Our past, present and future are inexorably meshed with the sea and its uses,” he said.  Having played an active role during the Conference, Cyprus had been among the first to sign and ratify UNCLOS and subsequent Agreements.  With currently 164 States Parties and hopefully more to come soon, the Convention had achieved near universality and it was generally acknowledged that its provisions had acquired the status of customary rules of international law and thus binding on all States.

However, the Convention could not and did not fully satisfy all delegations in all respects, despite the clarity it did provide on issues of jurisdiction.  Ambiguities where there should have been clarity, complexities where there could have been streamlining and exceptions where there could have been general rules contributed to the dissatisfaction among delegations, he said.  It had to be accepted that compromises, necessitated by the need to arrive at consensus, had to be the price for reaching a successful conclusion of a complicated and ambitious undertaking.  Based on the proclamation of the exclusive economic zone and the relevant Delimitation Agreements, Cyprus exercised sovereign rights and jurisdiction in relation to areas beyond and adjacent to its territorial sea for the purposes set out in article 56 of the Convention, which also reflected customary international law.

In addition, he pointed out that Cyprus had, as a matter of international law, inherent sovereign rights over the continental shelf covering the same area, which it exercised in conformity with article 77 of the Convention.  In relation to hydrocarbon resources, the Republic of Cyprus had exclusive sovereign rights for the purpose of exploration and exploitation in its exclusive economic zone and over its continental shelf.  He reminded that sovereign rights in the zone belonged to internationally recognized Governments, not to national communities or minorities within a state.  He believed that all States should mutually respect the lawful exercise of their neighbours’ rights in the sea areas where each State had sovereignty or sovereign rights and/or exercises jurisdiction in accordance with the Convention.

FATOU ISIDORA MARA NIANG ( Senegal) paid tribute to the pioneers who drafted the Convention, which she said was one of the most complete systems of international law and which created a safe environment for the settlement of disputes.  However, for the “noble goals” of the Convention to be achieved, its bodies needed sufficient resources to carry out their mandates.  The oceans and seas, she said, covered the largest part of the planet and had enormous economic potential.  They contributed to global prosperity and food security, as well as offering ways of carrying out trade. 

However, current situations were straining their resources.  Actions and approach must lead to coordinated efforts for sustainable management to become a reality.  In that regard, she stated that she was please with the recent Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea that focused on renewable marine energies, especially in light of the worrisome energy crisis.  Thus, that work was in line with the Millennium Development Goals, as renewable energies seemed imperative to recent times.  She expressed hope that the result of those meetings would be noted by the General Assembly.

She went on to say that safeguarding of the finite resources of oceans for future generations must always be balanced with the conservation of marine biological life.  Unregulated fishing, unsustainable fishing and pollution were threats, with the depletion of fish stocks and habitats one of the most worrisome issues for developing countries which did not have resources to combat those challenges.  In that regard, supplemental resources were needed.  She concluded, stating that the spirit of the Convention established that the resources of the oceans and seas should be governed by the principle of the common heritage of mankind, ensuring a fair and equitable share to all people throughout the world.

OSCAR LEÓN GONZÁLEZ ( Cuba) said that the Convention was of fundamental importance for the maintenance of international peace and development, and that it embodied an appropriately recognized international framework through which to carry out all activities related to the world’s oceans and seas.  Given that Cuba was an island located in the delicate ecosystem of the Caribbean Sea, such matters were of special importance to it, he said.  Despite the longstanding economic blockade imposed against it, Cuba had ensured a progressive implementation of the treaty.  It had strong laws against crimes at sea, including the illegal trafficking of drugs and persons, as well as piracy.  Cuba had also worked to strengthen international and bilateral cooperation, safeguarding due respect for sovereign States over their Exclusive Economic Zones.

It was important to preserve the integrity of the Convention, and it was therefore not acceptable for Member States to address matters of the oceans and seas through parallel initiatives outside of the General Assembly.  Moreover, marine resources were not the exclusive patrimony of a wealthy group of States, he stressed, calling for Member States to ensure that the benefit from such resources be shared equitably.  Cuba was concerned about policies that undermined the Convention, and such decisions that might be taken outside of the General Assembly.  Finally, his country had long warned about the dramatic consequences of climate change, he said.  The Convention must become the tool of the international community to avoid such irreparable damage.  The continuous rise in sea levels threatened the territorial integrity of many states, especially small island developing States, which were threatened with their very disappearance.

EDUARDO JOSE DE VEGA ( Philippines) called on all Member States that had not done so to ratify the Convention and contribute towards its universality.  The “constitution for the oceans” was anchored in the rule of law, governing the rights and responsibilities of all nations, whether they were rich, poor, big, small, coastal or landlocked, in their use of the world’s oceans.  However, the cooperation for common development, envisioned in the Convention, would only be possible if the agreed maritime zones it carefully demarcated were honoured in good faith.

The establishment of the Convention reflected the “common heritage” of mankind.  Recalling the recent high-level meeting on the rule of law, he pointed out that the Declaration that came out of that meeting had recognized the institutions, working methods and relationships that made the rule of law relevant to peace and security, human rights and developments.  The Convention, included in the process of rule of law, had never been more important to developing States, such as his country, as it was now with overlapping maritime claims that threatened his region’s peace and prosperity. 

He stressed that the rules-based approach was “the way forward” in addressing maritime disputes.  He reiterated his call to Member States to avail themselves of the Convention’s dispute settlement mechanism.  “In this day and age, the sea should no longer be a source of conflict,” he said in conclusion.  If the rule of law and the Convention taught anything, it was that the weak, if their cause was just, should not fear “the mighty”.  Great economic, political and even military power should be used with care, wisdom and generosity and he emphasized that moral leadership that sought to build peace was “none other than responsibility”, the foundation of both regional and international harmony and stability.

REGINA MARIA CORDEIRO DUNLOP ( Brazil) said that the Convention’s “principle of equity” underscored the treaty’s transformative character and aimed at a legal order that would facilitate international communication, promote the peaceful uses of the seas and oceans, the utilization of their resources, conservation of living resources and the preservation of the maritime environment, among others.  The words “equity” and “equitable”, she pointed out, appeared almost 32 times in the Convention, especially in areas of maritime boundary delimitation, sharing of resources, and the rights of landlocked States and geographically disadvantaged States, to name a few.

The Convention’s general obligation to protect and preserve the maritime environment, she continued, reflected the central principle of sustainable development and of “intergenerational equity”.  However, at the time the Convention had been negotiated, marine biological diversity had not been fully appraised.  Those resources, particularly in the pharmaceutical industry, could benefit humanity as a whole.  Thus, it was urgent to develop an implementing agreement under the Convention applicable to the conservation and sustainable use of the biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction. 

Turning to the bodies established by the Convention, she said that the on-going work of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf was of particular relevance in light of the large number of submissions by coastal States.  As well, the work of the International Seabed Authority was commendable with the completion of three mining codes and approval of five new plans for exploration of marine minerals.  She called for adequate support to continue for the Commission so that it could fulfil its mandate, and she urged that the human and financial resources employed by coastal States be kept in mind when preparing and submitting information to the Commission on the limits of their respective continental shelves beyond 200 nautical miles. 

DIRE DAVID TLADI ( South Africa) said that the powerful speech by Arvin Pardo in 1967 had spoken both of the potential benefits and the incalculable dangers that technological advancements in deep sea capabilities held.  The speech also demonstrated what had inspired Mr. Pardo, and what had become the founding rationale for the Convention:  the twin desires of ensuring the survival of life on earth while ensuring a better life for all those who lived in it.  “These twin desires translate into inter- and intra-generational equity and constitute the essence of sustainable development,” he said in that regard.  The Convention contained an impressive catalogue of provisions aimed at giving effect to those twin desires, while also creating institutions to oversee its objectives, he added.

While the principle of the common heritage of mankind was the most important contribution that the Convention had made to international law, perhaps its most enduring quality was its “constitution-like” character.  That character did not derive purely from its comprehensiveness but also from the hierarchy it created, which was quintessential of constitutionalism.  Like any constitution, the Convention reserved for itself a place of primacy; however, it also created possibilities for a “detailed normative mosaic” established by States and organizations through agreement.

FERNANDO ZEGERS SANTA CRUZ ( Chile) said that UNCLOS was a “monumental diplomatic and legal achievement” which regulated human activity on more than two-thirds of the planet.  Practically all of the world’s nations had participated in the preparation of the Convention and were now participating in maintaining its legal vigour.  The Convention, which enjoyed a general consensus, had led to a “proper legal system”, he added, recalling that the Convention was a binding legal framework for all ocean- and sea-related activities.  Highlighting several of the key achievements of the treaty, he pointed to the unprecedented establishment of a mandatory dispute settlement system, the creation of a regimen and Authority for the seabed and resources beyond national jurisdiction; and the definition of the extension of proper land sovereignty up to 12 miles or Territorial; among other things.

In addition, Latin America had participated decisively in the conception, negotiation and success of the 200-mile exclusive economic zone, including an important contribution by Chile.  His had been the first State in the world to declare a 200-mile maritime area under its jurisdiction in 1947, which was later characterized as an Exclusive Economic Zone.  The related 1952 treaty between Chile, Peru and Ecuador had established that maritime space among and between those countries and universally, he said, adding that Colombia had joined that South Pacific Pact and that it was followed by other individual statements of jurisdiction.  The Convention, as it had been affirmed by the Meeting of States Parties and now by the Assembly, was alive and active.  “It legally rules the seas and oceans and has led to a broad and working system of law,” he stressed in that regard.

TSUNEO NISHIDA ( Japan) said that as a maritime country surrounded by the sea, Japan held significant stakes in the various uses of the ocean, including fishing, transportation and the utilization of marine resources.  Since the establishment of a legal order for the seas and oceans under the Convention some thirty years ago, Japan had actively contributed to the work of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, the International Seabed Authority and the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.  Furthermore, Japan had promoted the rule of law in international society including in the maritime sector.  Most recently, Japan firmly reiterated the importance of international courts and tribunals as a means to settle international disputes peacefully in accordance with the law.  Japan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs called upon all States that had not yet done so to accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice and to accede to the UNCLOS. 

In order to enhance the rule of law in the oceans, it was of crucial importance that the mechanism of the peaceful dispute settlement of UNCLOS was effectively operated.  For the last 30 years, the Convention had continuously faced new challenges arising from exigencies of the era.  Having passed the test of time of 30 years, the Convention had attained, both in name and substance, status as “the constitution for the oceans”, serving as the very basis of international legal order for the oceans, he said.  Japan believed that, in order to maintain legal certainty, it was crucially important for the international community to continue addressing the emerging issues of the law of the sea within the existing framework of UNCLOS.

NORACHIT SINHASENI ( Thailand) said that the Convention was one of the most sophisticated and comprehensive international treaties, and agreed with other speakers that its conclusion had been a milestone for the law of the sea.  Thailand was proud to be one of the countries that had actively taken part in the drafting process.  In addition, it had been very active in contributing to the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, held between 1973 and 1982, which had led to the conclusion of the Convention.

He pointed out several “groundbreaking” aspects of the Convention, which clearly defined the rights and duties of coastal and non-coastal States with specific scopes of jurisdiction by clearly dividing maritime zones into five categories, namely internal waters, territorial sea, exclusive economic zone, continental shelf and the high seas.  At the same time, it integrated well-balanced provisions between the rights of developed States, developing States, geographically disadvantaged States and landlocked States.  It also provided an overarching framework for the conservation and preservation of the marine environment and natural resources and enhanced cooperation between Member States, whether or not they were potentially capable of exploiting natural resources, by establishing the International Seabed Authority to manage those resources.  The Convention should also be recognized as exceptional for stipulating several optional and compulsory procedures in its dispute settlement regime.

YANERIT MORGAN ( Mexico) said that the Convention was one of the most important legal instruments of the United Nations, as it was the fundamental basis for the development of activities and law of the sea.  As one of the first signatories of the treaty - its third ratifying country - Mexico was pleased to see the universal nature of the Convention, and reaffirmed the existence of the regime of the oceans, which had contributed to the rule of law, peace and development cooperation.  Advances made in the settlement of disputes, among other elements, were universally recognized.  The International Seabed Authority, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf had had an integral role of play in those regards, she said.  The Commission, for its part, was performing its functions in a “dynamic and efficient” manner.

Together with those institutions, she recognized the International Court of Justice, the International Maritime Organization and other partners that had a significant part in the Convention’s success.  In that vein, she stressed that the opening for signature of the “constitution of the oceans” had represented the spirit of cooperation, which was necessary to make such unprecedented legal progress.  It provided one of the best examples of global governance.  However, there remained significant challenges, including matters related to marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction, among other things.

TOMAS HEIDAR (Iceland), noting that the Convention was one of the biggest achievements in the history of the United Nations, said that no other treaty had contributed so much to peace, security and the rule of law as that of the Law of the Sea.  “It is difficult to imagine what the situation would be like today without [it],” he said.  He commended the recent ratification of the Convention by Ecuador and Swaziland and welcomed the statement by the representative of the United States who spoke of her country’s support for the Convention.

Turning to the three institutions established by the Convention, he noted the substantial growth of activities before them, as well as the complexity and variety of those matters.  In particular, the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf had received 61 submissions from coastal States, including from Iceland, regarding the establishment of the outer limits beyond 200 nautical miles.  Although the Commission was not a decision-making body, its recommendations carried a particular weight as they formed the basis for establishing final and binding outer limits by the coastal State. 

Because Iceland was “overwhelmingly dependent on the oceans”, he said that long-term conservation, management and sustainable use of living marine resources, and the obligation of States to cooperate were significant issues to his country.  Notably, the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement was of paramount importance as was the draft resolution before the General Assembly on sustainable fisheries.  He called upon Member States to ratify the Agreement. 

Concluding, he quoted the British writer, Arthur Clarke, stating:  “How inappropriate to call this planet Earth, when it is quite clearly Ocean.”  Acknowledging the increased awareness that oceans, seas and coastal areas formed an integrated and essential component of the Earth’s ecosystem and was critical to sustaining it, he expressed hope that the international community would continue to deal with current issues in the spirit of cooperation and consensus, thus, following in the footsteps of the founders of the Convention 30 years ago.

JOSÉ LUIS CANCELA ( Uruguay) said UNCLOS was of great importance and significance to the international sphere, particularly in encouraging a progressive development of international law, in accordance with article 13 of the Charter of the United Nations.  He reaffirmed that that Convention formed the legal framework to regulate all activities taking place in the seas and oceans.  Distinguishing between different parts of the ocean, the Convention gave each a specific legal system, establishing two technical bodies relating to the seabed and the ocean floor, namely the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf and the International Seabed Authority and one jurisdictional body, the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea. 

In addition, he noted that the Convention enshrined innovative legal concepts such as the common global ownership of seabed and the ocean floor.  Those three bodies provided a fully evolving normative system, reflected in the actions of each body, he said, adding that their actions continually improved and strengthened the law of the sea.  He added that the Convention had proven to be a suitable instrument to pursue its goal, which was the consolidation of peace among nations.

ANASTASSIS MITSIALIS (Greece) said the drafters of the Convention had not only succeeded in adopting a comprehensive treaty dealing with almost every aspect of the oceans, but had created an instrument capable of adapting to new realities and challenges, whether involving new uses of the seas or traditional ones, or new conditions, new technological developments or new needs.  That framework promoted stability of the law and the maintenance of international peace and security, as reflected in its universal language and purpose and by its almost universal participation by 164 Member States.

Referring to the view that the Convention was not capable of dealing with new challenges such as piracy, illicit trafficking of narcotic drugs and human beings, protection of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction or genetic resources, he stressed that the Convention might have inadequacies and shortcomings or a lack of specific regulations, but that there were no legal gaps.  The Convention dealt with each jurisdictional zone separately with residual regimes.  Activities that were not specifically regulated by the Convention were not being carried out in a legal vacuum, but governed by general principles or residual rules.

Further, he said, with respect to protecting the marine environment, the Convention incorporated by reference international rules and standards established through the competent international organization or diplomatic conference.  In the case of general principles not adequate to deal with new realities, he pointed out that the adoption of the Convention had not stopped the development of international law.  On the contrary, it had addressed its relationship with other international agreements, both existing and future ones by taking the form of an implementing agreement, as in the case of the 1995 United Nations Straddling Fish Stocks Agreement.

MÅRTEN GRUNDITZ ( Sweden) said that his country had long been a strong supporter of the Convention on the Law of the Sea, regarding it as the legal framework applicable in areas of great importance, such as the Arctic Ocean and the Pacific region.  Although noting that with very few exceptions the Convention reflected existing customary law, he stressed the high value and power of a binding international convention.  The risk of “creeping jurisdiction” was more easily avoided if a large number of States were bound by identical rules that clearly defined rights and obligations.  He therefore actively encouraged States that had not yet done so to accede to the Convention, as it had proven to be a powerful instrument to avoid and settle disputes.

The Convention, he said, was also a powerful and comprehensive instrument for the protection of the marine environment.  In that regard, he stressed that the technical possibility to exploit the mineral resources in the oceans must be accompanied by careful environmental and biological considerations.  In addition, in regard to commercial fishing, he urged all States to contribute constructively to the ongoing process for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction. 

YUSRA KHAN (Indonesia) recognized that the number of States parties to the landmark Convention on the Law of the Sea was increasing significantly, and said that, before its adoption, the world had been confronted by many problems and conflicts related to the use of the seas and oceans.  There were troubles when many States universally claimed extensive maritime zones, and when countries declared themselves to be archipelagic States without considering their land-water ratio.  Those claims were generally opposed by other countries, which continued to rely on the principle of the freedom of the sea, either with regard to their resources or their use of their maritime space.  Nevertheless, “our great predecessors were able to turn these troubles into an opportunity”, he said.  They had assembled and created law and order regarding the use of the oceans, their resources and environment.

Among other things, the Convention provided general rules for addressing environmental degradation, which had become a new problem for the oceans.  But those general rules should be complemented by further strengthening cooperation at the regional and global levels.  Indonesia believed that the first step, in that regard, was through a comprehensive implementation of the Convention, including its ratification by countries that had not yet done so.  Along those lines, Indonesia also felt compelled to push forward the idea of the sustainable development of the oceans.  “For the sake of our future generations, a balance between economic, social and environmental aspects of oceans must become our immediate agendum,” he said.

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