10 December 1982 - Montego Bay, Jamaica

    On 10 December 1982, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea was opened for signature at Montego Bay, Jamaica. This marked the culmination of over 14 years of work involving participation by more than 150 countries representing all regions of the world, all legal and political systems, all degrees of socio-economic development. They comprised coastal States, States described as geographically disadvantaged with regard to ocean space, archipelagic States, island States and land-locked States. These countries convened for the purpose of establishing a comprehensive regime "dealing with all matters relating to the law of the sea, . . . bearing in mind that the problems of ocean space are closely interrelated and need to be considered as a whole." The fruits of their labours are embodied in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

UNCLOS - Opening for signature in Montego Bay    On that first day, signatures from 119 delegations comprising 117 States, the Cook Islands (a self-governing associated state) and the United Nations Council for Namibia, were appended to the Convention. In addition, one ratification, that of Fiji, was deposited that day. Never before had such overwhelming support been demonstrated so concretely on the first day that a treaty was opened for signature. The Convention's first achievement in its own right was unprecedented in the history of treaty law. In total, the Convention has been signed by 159 States (including the former German Democratic Republic and the former Yugoslavia) and has been ratified or acceded to by more than 140 States and the European Community.

    The Convention is multifaceted and represents a monument to international cooperation in the treaty-making process: the need to elaborate a new and comprehensive regime for the law of the sea was perceived, and the international community expressed its collective will to cooperate in this effort on a scale the magnitude of which was unprecedented in treaty history. The elaboration of the Convention represents an attempt to establish true universality in the effort to achieve a "just and equitable international economic order" governing ocean space.

    These ideals were transformed through the treaty-making process into the substance of the text, which itself is of unique nature. It comprises 320 articles and nine annexes, governing all aspects of ocean space from delimitations to environmental control, scientific research, economic and commercial activities, technology and the settlement of disputes relating to ocean matters. An examination of the character of the individual provisions reveals that the Convention represents not only the codification of customary norms, but also and more significantly the progressive development of international law, and contains the constituent instruments of two major new international organizations.Signing the Final Act in Montego Bay

    It is, however, the conceptual underpinnings of the Convention as a "package" which is its most significant quality, and has contributed most distinctly to the remarkable achievement of the Convention. Its quality as a package is a result of the singular nature of the circumstances from which it emerged, including the close interrelationship of the many different issues involved, the large number of participating States and the vast number of often conflicting interests which frequently cut across the traditional lines of negotiation by region. In addition, the strong desire that the Convention allow for flexibility of practice in order to ensure durability over time to avoid encroaching upon the sovereignty of States was recognized as another important consideration. All of these factors necessitated that every individual provision of the text be weighed within the context of the whole, producing an intricately balanced text to provide a basis for universality.

    The concept of the package pervaded all work on the elaboration of the Convention and was not limited to consideration of substance alone. It became the leitmotiv of the Conference and in fact permeates the law of the sea as it exists today.

Prepared by the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, Office of Legal Affairs, United Nations.

Copyright 2012 United Nations - Office of Legal Affairs
United Nations All Rights Reserved Worldwide

The use of this web site constitutes agreement with the terms and conditions of use of United Nations web sites.

United Nations Privacy Notice

Oceans and Law of the Sea Home Page

United Nations Home Page

Search Oceans and Law of the Sea site

Comments and suggestions?

Mail to DOALOS