|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Meeting of States Parties
to Law of Sea Convention
168th & 169th Meetings (AM & PM)
States Parties to Convention on Law of the Sea Conclude Session
By Approving Proposed Budget for International Tribunal
Meeting also Considers Disputes over South China Sea, Somalia’s Fishing Waters
Delegates concluded the twenty-fourth Meeting of States Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, approving a budget and adopting a draft decision, while tackling difficult maritime disputes over international waters.
After extensive discussions, the Meeting approved a proposed budget of €18.886 million for the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea during the 2015-2016 biennium, noting the reduction of €1.153 million, a decrease of €2.312 million from the 2013-2014 budget. The proposed budget was based on the expected volume of judicial work, the Tribunal’s administrative work and the operation of its premises. With the exception of case-related expenditures, the level of which was always dependent on the Tribunal’s judicial workload, the proposed 2015-2016 budget reflected an overall zero-growth approach.
“Collectively, we are winners,” said Kingsley Mamabolo ( South Africa), President of the Meeting, acknowledging the ability of delegates to reach agreement by the tradition of consensus. Furthermore, that difficult process illustrated the importance that States parties attached to the Tribunal’s work. “You have proved everyone wrong,” he said. “Friday the thirteenth is not always a bad day; it is a good day.”
James Ndirangu Waweru ( Kenya) and Thomas Heidar ( Iceland), co-coordinators of the working group on the matter, presented the “draft decision regarding the conditions of service of the members of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf” (document SPLOS/L.74). Mr. Heidar said that Commission members were spending half their year in New York, and very few had medical insurance coverage, let alone adequate decent coverage, particularly those from developing countries. The draft decision would urge that options for medical coverage be sought, and that States contribute to the Voluntary Trust Fund for the purpose of defraying the costs of participation of Commission members from developing States in its meetings.
The representatives of Argentina and France expressed concern about language that required different wording in Spanish and French, respectively, and offered alternatives. The Meeting then adopted the decisions, as orally amended.
Mr. Heidar ( Iceland) said his delegation’s tenure as co-coordinator was drawing to an end, and called for a successor, proposing the representative of New Zealand as a successor.
Alexandra Lennox-Marwick ( New Zealand) accepted the proposal.
The Meeting also took up the “Report of the Secretary-General under article 319 for the information of States parties on issues of a general nature, relevant to States parties, which have arisen with respect to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea” (documents A/68/7/Add.1, A/68/7/Add.1/Corr.1 and A/69/71).
Several delegations brought up incidents occurring in the South China Sea, with Viet Nam’s representative — referring to that body of water as the East Sea — saying that China, a signatory to the Convention, had placed an illegal oil drilling rig and large numbers of vessels, including military ships, in his country’s exclusive economic zone, among several activities. Viet Nam had exercised restraint and engaged in 30 communications on all platforms asking to remove its equipment and vessels. China had not responded positively, he said, calling for the dispute to be settled through negotiation or other peaceful means.
“It behoves us to protect the Convention,” said the representative of the Philippines, as he called for the Convention’s tenets to be fully realized, including clear definition of maritime zones. China had entered the Philippine exclusive economic zone, imposing fishing bans in some sectors and taking over specific reefs. There was great concern that China was forcing a change in the regional environment, and its actions breached international and regional agreements, he said. The challenge was to preserve the Convention’s integrity through the peaceful settlement of disputes, and for China to refrain from altering the status quo. Furthermore, States parties should use historical or other instruments to back up their claims.
China’s representative emphasized that the Meeting was not a venue for discussing bilateral issues, a position echoed by the representatives of the Russian Federation and Pakistan. Nonetheless, he pointed out that Viet Nam had sent armed vessels to the drilling site situated inside the contiguous zone of China’s Xisha Islands, which were an inherent part of that country’s territory since ancient times. Vietnamese Governments before 1974 had formally acknowledged that, he said, adding that China also had undisputable sovereignty over the Chigua Reef and the Huayang Reef, to name a few.
Somalia’s representative also spoke, noting that the civil war that had devastated her country prevented full engagement of the treaty. Somalia had some of the world’s richest fishing waters, but due to the political and civil unrest, those waters were unprotected, which enabled criminal activities to occur, including illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and the dumping of toxic materials off the coast. Somalia was losing $450 million annually due to those activities. While establishing initiatives to address those issues through dialogue and by engaging the youth and law enforcement systems, the Somali Government would no longer stand by idly, she emphasized, while thanking those Member States that had stood by her country as it rebuilt itself.
Delegations took the floor in exercise of the right of reply, with Viet Nam’s representative emphasizing that historical evidence proved his country’s established sovereignty over the contested island “when that island belonged to no one”.
A representative of the Philippines stressed that his country had very clear measurements over its waters to prove its sovereignty. Demanding that China clarify its claim “with latitude and longitude”, he said that country’s information was like “shifting sands” and that the Philippines had exhausted all efforts, and that was why it was going to the Permanent Court of Arbitration. A peaceful settlement must be pursued, but it must be based on the principle of “right is might, not might is right”, he said. “We are there to shake hands, but please don’t step on our foot.”
A representative of China, reiterating that the Meeting should only address elections, budgetary and other matters, said the issue of the South China Sea was about the illegal occupation of islands and reefs, and the Convention contained no provisions on land issues.
The representative of the Philippines then pointed out that they were not land, but rocks — “low-tide elevations” – and the Philippines was aware of what the Convention said. The Permanent Court must come up with a durable solution, he said.
China’s representative noted that the Philippines had illegally grounded a battleship on a Chinese reef in 1995, which it had said it would remove, but had then refused, intending to construct permanent facilities on that reef instead.
A representative of Somalia emphasized that States parties could not “cherry-pick” what they wanted when it came to the Convention. Referring to comments made about the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, she pointed out that her country’s objection before it was well within its rights to withhold consent. Furthermore, such business had no place in the Meeting and parties should come to the negotiating table.
Delegations also addressed the United Kingdom’s proposal for “a mechanism to scrutinize budgets of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea” (documents SPLOS/260 and SPLOS/260/Corr.1). Several representatives emphasized that, other than the open-ended working group, a new method of discussion was not necessary. Costa Rica’s delegate stressed that, despite comments by her counterpart from the United Kingdom, there had been enough time and space to allow for questions and contact with the Tribunal’s Registrar. Algeria’s representative also expressed concern that another mechanism would jeopardize transparency on budgetary matters. Kenya’s delegate emphasized that the open-ended working group was “the way to go” and what mattered was to make the process more efficient.
However, Guatemala’s representative stressed that the Meeting needed a mechanism that would provide a more constructive atmosphere with sufficient time allotted between States and the Registrar. She urged delegations which disagreed with the proposal to offer better alternatives. The status quo was not the best way to hold discussions, she said, a stance echoed by Canada’s delegate, among others.
Nonetheless, discussions on budget “always has been and always will be difficult”, said Ecuador’s representative, who said that he also served on the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary). Ecuador did not see any evidence that a new format was needed, he said, emphasizing that the recent discussions on the budget had been “normal and healthy”, and had enabled the raising of questions, as well as the reaching of consensus.
Responding, the United Kingdom’s representative stressed that her delegation’s intention was to be flexible. The proposal’s objective was to improve the process and to maintain transparency. It sought to find a way forward that would provide the space to ask questions and allow for earlier informals, among other things. She said she would continue to consult widely with other delegations and return next year with another proposal.
The Meeting then placed that item on the agenda for its next session.
Turning to other business, Haiti’s representative reminded the Meeting, that his country still required assistance for rebuilding its maritime structure after the devastating 2010 earthquake. He called upon Member States to help meet Haiti’s “vast challenges”.
The Director of the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea informed Member States about the procedure for placing maritime charts on the Division’s website, budgetary issues and the financial status of scholarships and voluntary trust funds, including the Hamilton Shirley Amerasinghe Memorial Fellowship on the Law of the Sea, among others. She said that, although the Fellowship had received contributions totalling $69,000 from Monaco and Slovenia, they could only cover one scholarship costing $50,000. After 2014, it would no longer be available unless it received further contributions.
Also speaking today were representatives of Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Nicaragua, Uruguay, Japan, Ireland, Cuba, Denmark, Monaco, Cyprus, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Costa Rica and El Salvador.
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