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GA/9193
9 December 1996

GENERAL ASSEMBLY SEEKS MAXIMUM SUPPORT FOR LAW OF SEA CONVENTION; NON-SIGNATORY STATES ASKED TO JOIN

9 December 1996


Press Release
GA/9193


GENERAL ASSEMBLY SEEKS MAXIMUM SUPPORT FOR LAW OF SEA CONVENTION; NON-SIGNATORY STATES ASKED TO JOIN

19961209

Other Texts Express Concern at Over-Fishing; Violations Of Global Moratorium on Use of Large-Scale Drift-Nets on High Seas

The General Assembly this afternoon called upon States that had not already done so to become parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. A draft resolution, adopted by 138 in favour to one against (Turkey), with four abstentions (Ecuador, Peru, Tajikistan and Venezuela), also contained provisions on the settlement of disputes and the funding of the International Seabed Authority (see Annex).

In two related drafts adopted without a vote, the Assembly expressed its concern that many important fish stocks continued to be overfished, and it called upon members of the international community to impose appropriate sanctions on those who violated the global moratorium on all large-scale pelagic drift-net fishing on the high seas.

The Assembly thus concluded its consideration of the item entitled "Law of the Sea".

The representative of Malaysia said unauthorized fishing in zones of national jurisdiction had been a long-time problem for Malaysia, including the encroachment of foreign fishing vessels into its exclusive economic zone. Such action was obviously a threat to Malaysia's sustainable fisheries development and for that reason his Government called for urgent international action on that issue. Malaysia had also become the victim of illegal dumping of toxic wastes and sludge by irresponsible ship navigation through the Straits of Malacca.

Explaining his vote, the representative of Turkey said the Convention on the Law of the Sea did not make adequate provisions for special geographic situations. As a consequence, it was not able to establish an acceptable balance between conflicting interests. He said the Convention made no provision for registering reservations on specific clauses, and for that reason Turkey could not become party to the Convention, despite approving the general intent of the text.

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The representative of Tunisia underlined the importance of the choice of procedure established in article 287 of the Convention on the Law of the Sea by which a State, upon signing the Convention, declared its choice for one or several of the listed options for the settlement of disputes. Until today, he noted, only 16 States had made such a declaration.

Statements were also made by Argentina, Guatemala, India, Kenya, Malta, Paraguay, Russian Federation, Ukraine, United Republic of Tanzania, Uruguay and Viet Nam. China and Viet Nam spoke in right of reply.

The Assembly meets again tomorrow, 10 December, at 10 a.m. to hear statements on International Human Rights Day, and to consider the item on the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

Assembly Work Programme

The General Assembly met this afternoon to continue consideration of its agenda item on the Law of the Sea. The Assembly had before it three reports of the Secretary-General, one on the Law of the Sea and two others relating respectively to the conservation and management of straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks and to large-scale pelagic drift-net fishing (documents A/51/645, A/51/383 and A/51/404 respectively). (For further information, see Press Release GA/9192 issued today.) The Assembly also had before it three related draft resolutions.

By the draft resolution on the Law of the Sea (document A/51/L.21), the Assembly would call upon all States that have not done so to become parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and to ratify, confirm formally or accede to the Agreement relating to the implementation of Part XI of the Convention. It would also call upon States to harmonize their national legislation with the provisions of the Convention. It would reaffirm the unified character of the Convention, recall its decision to fund the budget for the administrative expenses of the International Seabed Authority initially from the regular budget of the United Nations and reaffirm the importance of ensuring the uniform and consistent application of the Convention. It would also encourage States parties to consider making a written declaration choosing the different means of settlement of disputes set out in article 287 of the Convention (the Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, the International Court of Justice or a special tribunal). A further report from the Secretary-General would be requested, and an item entitled "Oceans and the law of the sea" would be included in the agenda of the fifty-second session of the Assembly.

By a draft resolution on the Agreement on highly migratory fish stocks (document A/51/L.28), the Assembly would recognize the importance of the agreement on fish stocks and call upon all States and other entities to ratify or accede to it, and to consider applying it provisionally. It would note with concern that many commercially important straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks have been subject to heavy and little-regulated fishing efforts, and that some stocks continue to be overfished. It would urge States and relevant agencies and organizations to provide information to the Secretary-General. It would also request a further report on all major fishery-related activities and would include a sub-item on fish stocks in the item "Oceans and the law of the sea".

By a third draft resolution on large-scale pelagic drift-net fishing (document A/51/L.29), the Assembly would reaffirm the importance it attaches to the full implementation of the global moratorium on all large-scale pelagic drift-net fishing on the high seas of the world's oceans and seas, including enclosed seas and semi-enclosed seas. It would also urge all authorities of members of the international community to take greater enforcement

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responsibility to ensure full compliance with the global moratorium on drift- net fishing (General Assembly resolution 46/215 of 1991). It would reiterate its call on development assistance organizations to make it a high priority to improve the monitoring and control of fishing activities and the enforcement of fishing regulations. It would also request a further report from the Secretary-General to be submitted at the fifty-second session, and biennially thereafter, and would include a sub-item related to large-scale pelagic drift- net fishing under the item "Oceans and the law of the sea" in the agenda of the fifty-second session.

Statements

ANATOLI M. ZLENKO (Ukraine) said the annual review by the Assembly of matters relating to the Law of the Sea was an appropriate occasion for Member States to express their views on current aspects of ocean affairs. Ukraine, a coastal State on two semi-enclosed seas with a 2782-kilometre coast, but also a geographically-disadvantaged State under the Convention, took a particular interest in those matters. The fishing industry was an important sector in its economy, and since the catch from coastal and inland waters did not meet the needs of the country's population, oceanic fishing remained an important source of nutriment.

Besides offering a positive contribution to the maintenance of international peace and security, the Convention on the Law of the Sea was also an important means to promote the economic and social development of all States. He said the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, the International Seabed Authority and the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf were essential components in the global system for the rule of law in the oceans and in the maintenance of peace and security. However, he continued, the entry into force of the Convention and the establishment of its institutions in no way diminished the pivotal role the United Nations had always played in activities concerning the oceans. He stressed the importance of technical and legal support it provided to States, helping them to implement the Convention at the national level.

SILVIA FERNANDEZ DE GURMENDI (Argentina) said 1996 had been a particularly fruitful year for the Law of the Sea. Argentina, she noted, had participated fully in all the stages that led to the Convention, and welcomed the important progress achieved in the institutions it provided for. There was fertile ground for cooperation between those institutions and the United Nations. Argentina welcomed the observer status granted to the International Seabed Authority and supported the same status for the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea. Argentina appreciated the scope and quality of the report submitted by the Secretary-General and hoped that the Division for Ocean Affairs would have sufficient resources to continue its work.

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HASMY BIN AGAM (Malaysia) said his Government supported a moratorium on the use of large-scale drift-net fishing. Unauthorized fishing in zones of national jurisdiction had been a long-time problem for Malaysia, including the encroachment of foreign fishing vessels into its exclusive economic zone. Such action was obviously a threat to Malaysia's sustainable fisheries development, and for that reason his Government called for urgent international action on the issue.

Malaysia had also become the victim of illegal dumping of toxic wastes and sludge by irresponsible ship navigation through the Straits of Malacca, he continued. It was incumbent upon the owners of those ships, as well as upon flag States, to ensure full compliance with pollution prevention measures and to accept the final responsibility. Malaysia had voiced serious concern about the transshipment of radioactive material through international waterways. He noted the recent efforts of the Commonwealth Ministerial Group on Small States to address the dangers of ships carrying nuclear and hazardous waste through the busy sea lanes of small States. He supported the calls of coastal States, including those of the South Pacific forum, for consultations on such transshipment.

He said that reports related to the current topic failed to mention the effects of nuclear tests in the South Pacific. Malaysia believed the matter was well within the purview of the reports; full scientific assessment was needed of the immediate, medium-and long-term effects of those underground nuclear tests on the marine ecosystem of the South Pacific.

JOSE FELIX FERNANDEZ ESTIGARRIBIA (Paraguay) said the future work of the institutions established under the Convention would ensure the maintenance of the marine resources for future generations. The establishment of the Tribunal would allow for the peaceful settlement of disputes. Paraguay, a land-locked country, placed great importance on the recent agreement on straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks.

PHAM QUANG VINH (Viet Nam), noting the many accomplishments relating to the law of the sea during the past year, said the international community must now work to enhance the effectiveness of the recently established institutions. The Convention made it obligatory for the States parties to respect the sovereignty of coastal States and those States' jurisdiction over their continental shelf and exclusive economic zone.

At a recent regional meeting, Ministers of the member countries of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) had expressed concern over the situation in the South China Sea. Regarding the declaration made by China in May on its baselines, he said the position of Viet Nam had been made public. Specifically, Viet Nam reaffirmed its sovereignty over Hoang sa (Paracel) and Truong sa (Spratly) archipelagoes. Viet Nam's consistent position on that matter had been that the dispute should be settled through negotiations in the spirit of equality, mutual respect and understanding.

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Such a settlement must be based on the sovereign rights and jurisdictions of all coastal States over their continental shelf and exclusive economic zone. While negotiating on a long-term solution, the parties should maintain stability on the basis of the status quo, refraining from any act that might further complicate the situation and from the use of force or the threat of force.

JOSEPH CASSAR (Malta) said the Convention enhanced international peace and security, and served as a tool for the peaceful settlement of disputes in an area not lacking in competition. The Convention covered an area unprecedented in terms of legal reach. The International Seabed Authority, as the depository of the common heritage, was to act on behalf of all of the global population, to whom the resources of the oceans belonged.

The elaboration of such a concept depended on the ability of such institutions to function effectively in the common interest of humankind. The adequate functioning of the Authority became more important as technological advances made exploitation of marine resources more feasible. An awareness of the environmental impact surrounding such advances was an intrinsic aspect of the international community's efforts.

SLAHEDDINE ABDELLAH (Tunisia) welcomed the establishment of the International Seabed Authority and the election of the members of the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea, but he said the amount of time required to approve and establish both institutions had been considerable.

Tunisia, he continued, attached particular importance to the peaceful settlement of conflicts and wished to underline the importance of the choice of procedure, established in article 287 of the Convention on the Law of the Sea, by which a State, upon signing the Convention, declared its choice for one, or several, of the listed options for the settlement of disputes. Until today, only 16 States had made such a declaration; even though the Convention itself did not impose a deadline, States parties would do well to state their preference as soon as possible.

The present task, he said, was to provide these institutions with adequate resources. Tunisia wished to ask the Assembly to approve the necessary appropriations, which could be taken from the Contingency Fund, for the budget of the International Seabed Authority so that it could recruit the staff it needed and start substantive work.

It should be noted that some industrialized nations and maritime Powers had still not ratified the Convention. Universal participation in that Convention could not be achieved if they did not sign. It was also necessary that States parties harmonize their national legislations along the lines of the Convention. Tunisia had set up a permanent Law of the Sea Commission for that purpose.

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ROBERTO LAVALLE VALDES (Guatemala) said the "Constitution for the oceans" was already a household word and was a very appropriate manner of characterizing the Convention on the Law of the Sea. That Convention had a constitutional nature and was directly related to the United Nations Charter, since its purpose was also international peace and security. Guatemala welcomed the universal character of the Convention, as highlighted by the Assembly in its resolution 50/23. It was regrettable that some States had acceded to the Convention, but not to the Agreement on Part XI. Guatemala would accede to both texts as soon as possible.

JULIO BENITEZ SAENZ (Uruguay) said that because of the importance of fishing to his country's economy, Uruguay had worked actively on the development of sea law. He said the Convention on the Law of the Sea alone proved the importance of the United Nations. As one of the States with a continental shelf beyond 200 miles, his Government looked forward to the establishment of the Commission on the Continental Shelf.

Uruguay supported the three draft resolutions before the Assembly, he said. The depletion of species by illegal means in coastal areas where States had established limits must be stopped. Uruguay would support efforts to establish international means to prevent such illegal activities. The transport of atomic waste could not be justified by the freedom of navigation on the high seas. If there were to be an accident on the high seas, many States would be affected. Thus, it was a matter that the international forum must address.

DAUDI MWAKAWAGO (United Republic of Tanzania) said that for the International Seabed Authority and the other related institutions to work effectively they would need the undivided political support of the international community and the requisite financing. The Authority would need political support to bring it closer to the deliberative and decision-making organs of the United Nations. That support was important to ensure greater appreciation and involvement of the international community in the activities of the Authority. He called upon States parties to work to give life to those institutions.

NALIN SURIE (India) said the oceans had always been and would remain eternally important to mankind, providing a massive, relatively untapped resource base critical for the sustenance of the global environment. The importance of the Law of the Sea Convention of 1982 had to be seen in that perspective. Its significance also lay in the manner in which it had revolutionized and democratized maritime relations among nations in a comprehensive manner. He expressed satisfaction at the establishment of the International Seabed Authority and the other institutions. He spoke of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, and noted that the constitution of the Continental Shelf Commission next year would complete the establishment of the new Convention bodies.

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He pointed out issues of particular interests to his delegation. He said small-scale and subsistence fisheries should be protected in view of their social, economic and cultural importance. There should be technical and financial assistance for the development of fisheries in developing countries. On the role of the United Nations, he said the collection and dissemination of information on Law of the Sea matters was an important function of the Secretariat.

NJUGUNA M. MAHUGU (Kenya) said the Convention on the Law of the Sea was an important part of the global system of peace and security of which the United Nations Charter was the foundation. By exerting a dominant influence on the conduct of States, the Convention had had a profound political, economic and legal effect in marine-related matters and maritime practice. Kenya, as a coastal State, was aware of its responsibilities and obligations in both the marine and maritime fields, and had firmly embodied the provisions of the Convention in its national laws in a manner consistent with its commitments as a ratifying State.

Since the entry into force of the Convention, he pointed out, the international community had devoted its main attention to the creation of two core institutions, namely the International Seabed Authority and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. With the establishment of the Tribunal and the swearing-in of the judges a few weeks ago, the international community had entered a new era.

He said Kenya remained committed to seeking a permanent solution to the problem of poaching, and other "predacious and illegal fishing practices". During the last decade or so, pressure on the Exclusive Economic Zone and high seas fishing had grown rapidly, to alarming proportions. There had been over- exploitation and depletion of marine resources. The 1995 Agreement on the conservation and management of straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks, adopted in August 1995 by the United Nations Conference on Fish Stocks, signalled a growing desire among governments to improve global cooperation in that area. He appealed to those States who had yet to accept the Convention to give their full and concrete support at the earliest opportunity.

SERGUEI N. KAREV (Russian Federation) said his country remained a major maritime Power and had made all efforts to improve relations between States based on international maritime law. Now that the institutions relating to the Convention on the Law of the Sea were becoming operational, such maritime law could be strengthened. The Russian Federation was currently working to ratify the Convention and the related Agreement. Work was also under way to bring national legislation into conformity with the Convention. The question of the ratio of outlay in support of the functioning of the International Seabed Authority and the effectiveness of its work remained an issue of concern.

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The Law of the Sea Convention could not reflect the growing concern of the coastal States regarding living marine resources, he said. Welcoming the agreement on straddling and highly migratory fish stocks, he said the separate agreement sought to regulate those living resources on the basis of responsible fishing practices. The Russian Federation supported the three draft resolutions.

Action on Drafts

Prior to action on the drafts, a representative of the Secretariat informed the Assembly that should it adopt the draft on the Law of the Sea, the Assembly would, by its terms, approve the provision by the Secretary- General of such services as may be required for the two meetings of the International Seabed Authority to be held in 1997, from 17 to 28 March and from 18 to 29 August. Also, the Assembly would request the Secretary-General to convene the meetings of States parties to the Convention from 10 to 14 March and from 19 to 23 May 1997. He noted the estimated conference- servicing costs for the meetings of the International Seabed Authority in the amount of $1,400,000, as addressed in the Note by the Secretary-General and in the document on the Pattern of Conferences (document A/C.5/51/22). As indicated in those documents, he said, conference services could be provided from within the overall resources available in the programme budget. The meetings of the States parties to the Convention were already indicated in the Calendar of Conferences.

The Acting President of the Assembly, HARCOURT L. TURNQUEST (Bahamas), announced that the following Member States had joined as co-sponsors of the draft on the Law of the Sea: Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Cape Verde, Chile, Côte d'Ivoire, Croatia, Cyprus, Grenada, Guinea-Bissau, Iceland, Japan, Malta, Mozambique, Namibia, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Sweden, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom and the United Republic of Tanzania.

Joining as co-sponsors of the draft on the Agreement on highly migratory fish stocks were Argentina, Belize, Philippines, Samoa and the Solomon Islands. Additional co-sponsors to the draft on drift-net fishing were Argentina, Belize, Philippines, Samoa, Singapore, Solomon Islands and Trinidad and Tobago.

Explanation of Vote

YESIM BAYKAL (Turkey) said that her delegation would vote against the draft resolution on the Law of the Sea. This was because elements of the Convention, which had prevented Turkey from approving the Convention itself, were retained in that draft. Turkey supported the international efforts to establish a regime of the sea based on the principle of equity and which could be acceptable to all States. However, the Convention did not make adequate

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provisions for special geographical situations and, as a consequence, it was not able to establish an acceptable balance between conflicting interests. Furthermore, the Convention made no provision for registering reservations on specific clauses. Although Turkey agreed with the Convention in its general intent, and with most of its provisions, it was unable to become a party to it because of those serious shortcomings.

The Assembly, by vote of 138 in favour to 1 against (Turkey), with 4 abstentions (Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru and Tajikistan), adopted the resolution on the Law of the Sea.

The Assembly then adopted, without votes, the resolution on straddling and highly migratory fish stocks, and the resolution on drift-net fishing.

Right of Reply

ZHANG KENING (China) said that the Hoang sa archipelago (Paracel) and the Truong sa (Spratly) archipelago in the South China Sea were Chinese territory; China exercised absolute sovereignty over those islands and that fact was also recognized by international practice and international law. Secondly, China had consistently promoted a peaceful settlement of the dispute regarding these islands, with the governments concerned. This was the most feasible way to handle the dispute. China was ready to work with the countries concerned, according to the basic principles of international law, including the Convention on the Law of the Sea. Thirdly, China was against the proposal of internationalizing the question of these islands. It would not be conducive to the settlement of the question and would be against the principles concerning the peaceful settlement of disputes.

NGUYEN DUY CHIEN (Viet Nam) said his delegation wished to reaffirm its position. Viet Nam had the indisputable sovereignty over the Hoang sa archipelago (Paracel) and the Truong sa (Spratly) archipelago islands. There were historical reasons behind that fact. Viet Nam's territorial sovereignty was violated, and his Government wished to reaffirm its sovereignty. It was Viet Nam's consistent policy that a durable solution needed to be sought. Restraint should be exercised so as to not make the situation more complicated and threaten peace and stability in the region.

(annex follows)

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General Assembly Plenary Press Release GA/9193 77th Meeting (PM) 9 December 1996

ANNEX

Vote on Law of the Sea

The draft resolution on the Law of the Sea (document A/51/L.21) was adopted by a recorded vote of 138 in favour to 1 against, with 4 abstentions, as follows:

In favour: Algeria, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Chad, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominica, Egypt, El Salvador, Estonia, Ethiopia, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Finland, France, Gambia, Germany, Ghana, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kazakstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Latvia, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Samoa, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovak Republic, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Sweden, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania, United States, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

Against: Turkey.

Abstaining: Ecuador, Peru, Tajikistan, Venezuela.

Absent: Afghanistan, Albania, Angola, Azerbaijan, Barbados, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burundi, Colombia, Comoros, Congo, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Gabon, Georgia, Greece, Guinea, Iran, Jordan, Kyrgyz Republic, Lesotho, Nicaragua, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Sao Tome and Principe, Slovenia, Swaziland, Syria, Thailand, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Zaire.

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For information media. Not an official record.