Law of Sea Parties Grapple with Decisions on Judges’ Selection to Key Treaty Bodies, Continental Shelf Commission Workload, Budgetary Matters

25 June 2009

Law of Sea Parties Grapple with Decisions on Judges’ Selection to Key Treaty Bodies, Continental Shelf Commission Workload, Budgetary Matters

25 June 2009
Meetings Coverage
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Meeting of States Parties

to Law of Sea Convention

130th & 131st Meetings (AM & PM)



As the States parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea continued their annual session today, delegates noted progress made in their consultations on budgetary matters, the allocation of judges’ seats on the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, and reducing the Commission’s workload, but said they needed more time to reach agreement on those outstanding contentious issues.

Meanwhile, States parties took note of the views expressed in 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, that had arisen with respect to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and decided to include that item in the provisional agenda of their twentieth meeting in 2010.

Meeting Vice President Eden Charles (Trinidad and Tobago), who coordinated the informal consultations on the allocation of seats on the Commission and the Tribunal, said the Asian Group and African Group had prepared another proposal, bearing in mind the SPLOS/L.61 document already presented by the Western European and other States Groups, which aimed to reach a compromise between the two. 

Having coordinated the informal consultations on the Commission’s workload, Meeting Vice President Scott Sheeran ( New Zealand) said delegates had agreed to prepare a draft SPLOS decision on the Commission’s workload for adoption at the formal meeting on Friday. 

Similarly, Meeting President Somduth Soborun (Mauritius) said informal consultations of the open-ended working group on budgetary matters had also made considerable progress on discussions concerning annex II of SPLOS/194, pertaining to adjusting the remuneration of Tribunal members in line with that of judges of the International Court of Justice.

Representatives of the following States parties also spoke today:  Brazil, Iceland, Norway, China, Guatemala, Côte d’Ivoire, Congo, Canada, Belarus, Republic of Korea, Bahamas, Japan, Romania, Nigeria, India, Algeria, Indonesia, Suriname, Bangladesh, Ghana, Argentina, Barbados, Sri Lanka, Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, Kenya, Pakistan, United States, United Kingdom and the Philippines. 

The meeting will reconvene on Friday to conclude its nineteenth session.


The States parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea met today to consider 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, that have arisen with respect to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Also today, States parties were expected to continue their consideration of the workload of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, the allocation of seats on the Commission and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, and budgetary matters of the Tribunal, including adjustment of the remuneration of members of the Tribunal.

At the outset of the meeting, its President, SOMDUTH SOBORUN (Mauritius) drew attention to the fact that following the eighteenth meeting of States parties, two documents had been submitted to States parties pursuant to article 319 of the Convention, including the Addendum to the Report of the Secretary-General on oceans and the law of the Sea (document A/63/63/Add.1) and the Report of the Secretary-General on oceans and the law of the sea (document A/64/66).  The addendum provides an updated overview of developments relating to implementing the Convention and the work of the United Nations, its specialized agencies and other institutions in the field of ocean affairs and the law of the sea since the preparation of the March 2008 report (document A/63/63).

The addendum focuses on, among other things, the status of the Convention and its implementing Agreements, recent developments on maritime space, international shipping activities, seafarers and fisheries, maritime security, marine science and technology, conservation and management of marine living resources, marine biological diversity, protection and preservation of the marine environment and sustainable development, mitigating and adapting to the impact of climate change on the oceans, settlement of disputes at the International Court of Justice and the Court of Justice of the European Communities, international cooperation and coordination on assessing the state of the marine environment, and capacity-building activities of the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea.

The second document provides an overview of the creation and functioning of the United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea, as well as a summary of the outcomes of its meetings.  It also reviews how those outcomes have generally been incorporated into relevant General Assembly resolutions and what subsequent major actions have been taken in such areas as marine science and technology, marine fishery resources, new sustainable uses, marine biological diversity, marine environment, maritime safety and security, management approaches, capacity-building, and cooperation and coordination.  In addition, it summarizes the views expressed on the achievements and shortcomings of the Consultative Process at its meetings and in contributions to the report.

Consideration of Secretary-General’s Report

The meeting then considered its agenda item on 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, that have arisen with regard to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (document A/63/63).

The representative of Brazil expressed concern that the updated portion of the Secretary-General’s current report was not due out until August this year, which made the meeting’s debate difficult, as the complete report published in 2008, therefore, was not up to date.  It might be more useful to reflect on the possibility of publishing reports somewhat earlier in the year.  If all reports were published by March, for instance, they would then encompass all the work that had been done up to that point, and if necessary, be updated with an addendum.

The representative of Iceland said his country attached great importance to preserving the integrity of the Law of the Sea Convention, the only treaty dealing comprehensively with the sea law.  He stressed that there was also a need for proper interpretation and application of the Convention.  Towards that goal, he affirmed the General Assembly as the global forum with the competence to undertake an annual review and evaluation of the Convention’s implementation and other developments related to oceans and the law of the sea.  That was greatly facilitated by the comprehensive annual report of the Secretary-General on the oceans and the law of the sea to the General Assembly.

Norway’s representative said the General Assembly in 2008 had adopted a resolution on oceans and the law of the sea, which had asked developed States parties to assist developing States in preparation of their submissions, because developed states had the necessary scientific, technical and financial means.  Norway, in fulfilment of that request, had made substantive contributions to, and even fully financed some of the 11 African member countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).  Additionally, Norway had provided support to a shelf programme of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).  He pledged continued assistance to developing States in cooperation with ECOWAS and other organizations.  He appealed to developed States participating at the meeting to get involved.  That primarily entailed provision of financial assistance to developing countries to ensure proper functioning of the Convention.

The representative of China, noting that many milestones and experiences had been recorded during the 27 years since the Convention’s adoption, said there was a need to define the scope of the international seabed and coastal areas.  He joined previous speakers in highlighting the urgency and importance of addressing present and future challenges concerning matters pertaining to the regulation of the oceans, seabed and the continental shelf.  Upcoming meetings of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf should continue to examine facilitating its current workload.  He hoped the international community would together endeavour to avoid any “hidden problems” in the future because the same issues might arise again in the future if left unresolved today.

The representative of Guatemala expressed support for the views of the Brazilian delegation, adding that Guatemala was convinced that the meeting would effectively address all matters before it.  The majority of challenges before the States parties could not be resolved unless they were approached with a common purpose.  She assured participants that her delegation would work to promote the Convention’s proper implementation.

Côte d’Ivoire’s representative commended the quality of the Secretary-General’s report, observing that the document allowed the meeting to become acquainted with the necessary follow-up action.  He noted that 2009 had also seen the expiration of the observance of the 200-mile continental shelf limit, and as a coastal state, Côte d’Ivoire thanked the Norwegian Government and others for their assistance in facilitating its submissions.  He urged all members to take all necessary measures to lessen the backlog of continental shelf submissions.

The representative of the newly admitted State party, Congo, pledged his country’s commitment to working with the rest of the members of the Commission.

The representative of Canada said the Commission was one of the key bodies, whose important work had his country’s full support.  As its work intensified, Canada was pleased to see it make progress on many fronts.  All States had an interest in each other’s progress when it came to the delineation of the continental shelf.  It was clear that the Commission would need the support of all of its members in order for it to be effectively serviced in all areas, including technical, financial and software, among others.  All States parties should ensure that they rigorously implemented the Convention, as it was only through full compliance that the Commission’s full potential would be achieved.

The representative of Belarus hoped that future meetings of the States parties would continue to address the important issues emanating from the Convention.  It was cardinal and indispensable to manage the issues of the international seabed zones and oceans for the benefit of all humankind.  He stressed that those areas should be used purely for peaceful means, and he called on all States parties to act with consistency in ensuring that outcome.

The Republic of Korea’s representative said the exchange of views and discussions among participants on various matters of a general nature regarding implementation of the Convention would greatly facilitate its implementation.

The Bahamas’ representative said the Convention had to balance the competing interests of States’ rights to coastlines with the freedom of navigation and the rights of neighbouring States.  The issue of piracy deserved attention as it was a threat to the international legal regime.  In accordance with Security Council resolution 1838 (2008), the Bahamas had provided security for French-owned vessels.  Piracy must be tackled through comprehensive coordination and cooperation.  The Bahamas was acutely aware of the need to balance commercial interests with environmental sustainability, including through a sustained focus on the human elements of the equation.  The International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Bill of Rights of Maritime Workers was a benchmark development.  The 2006 Maritime Labour Convention, which set solid and uniform rules for workers and employers, was a model for addressing globalization’s most pressing challenges.

Japan’s representative said the meeting’s discussion on Wednesday on the Commission’s workload had been constructive, but as an immediate task, the meeting should address the points actually raised by the Commission in draft resolution SPLOS/195.  He underscored the importance of effective use of the trust fund to facilitate Commission members’ participation in Commission meetings.  Concerning references made to the significance of article 121 of the Convention, States parties should tread carefully when interpreting it.  Discussing a sensitive article of the Convention would almost invariably lead to a reopening of interpretation of other articles.  There was no understanding now of how the meeting would deal with or not deal with SPLOS/L.60 in the future.  How that issue would be addressed should be duly reflected in the report.

Romania’s representative said that, according to article 121 of the Convention, rocks which could not sustain human habitation or economic life had no continental shelf of their own.  That determination was beyond the Commission’s mandate.  The Commission was not the appropriate body to take up that matter, nor was the meeting of States parties an appropriate forum in which to discuss it.

Nigeria’s representative said sustainable development in Nigeria was inextricably linked to the well-being and sustainable management of the oceans.  The Secretary-General’s report provided useful information of a general nature.  He believed strongly in the usefulness of the Consultative Process and hoped that its mandate would be extended.  Nigeria had fully integrated into the regional maritime capacity-awareness programme.  Like many developing countries, it faced challenges to marine and maritime issues.  He supported a comprehensive and meaningful discussion of the substantive issues raised in the Secretary-General’s report.

India’s representative said the long-term sustainability of the oceans was critical.  The 1982 Convention seemed capable of coping with new ocean uses and challenges, but its possibilities and limits must be further explored.  Member States must devise a mechanism to ensure the timely processing of submissions presented to the Commission.  They should not have to wait 20 years for their submissions to be considered, and new ways must be explored to address the backlog.  The Secretariat’s requirements for more computer software and hardware must also be addressed.

Algeria’s representative said the meeting could not restrict itself to a purely administrative and financial discussion, as it could not convene in any other formal format.  It must be able to discuss substantive issues.

Indonesia’s representative said the meeting should play an important role in discussing any issue on ocean affairs that might affect the Convention.  Article 121 was an issue of implementation of the Convention, which merited further intervention of States parties.  Article 121 provided basically clear restrictions on the continental zone.   Rocks which could not sustain human habitation or economic life of their own were not entitled to have a maritime economic zone.

Suriname’s representative also expressed concern that many submissions to the Commission would not be considered for 20 years.  The meeting must address ways to enable the Commission to deal with the backlog.  Suriname, at great financial cost, had presented its submission in 2008, and he hoped that the Commission would soon consider it.

Bangladesh’s representative said Bangladesh would hand in its submission in July 2011, but it did not know when the Commission would consider it.  Appropriate steps should be taken to ease the Commission’s workload promptly, so that States parties’ institutional memory would not be lost.

Ghana’s representative said the draft resolution mainly addressed reimbursement of expenses, but failed to address how to manage the backlog of submissions.  That issue should be a priority in the meeting’s work.

The representative of Argentina said the Convention did not authorize or empower the Commission to take action on matters of territorial or maritime disputes, and as such, he objected to those aspects involved with, or linked to the obligations of States parties with regard to territorial or maritime disputes, for which it believed the Commission was neither empowered nor mandated.

He said there was no legal foundation or mandate, on the basis of which the Commission would be able to determine whether or not there was a dispute, or the type of dispute that might exist.  However, his delegation was fully prepared to undertake any consultations necessary with any State party during the current meeting in order to find common ground on any points of disagreement.

The representative of Barbados said the protection of marine environment and the sea were of vital importance to his country which, as a small island nation, was heavily dependent on the sustainability of the ocean and the marine environment, as well as maritime protection for its economic survival.  Promoting the sustainable management of coastal and marine resources was, therefore, of utmost importance.

Barbados would soon be signing a memorandum of understanding with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with regard to the transportation and movement of hazardous materials, he told the meeting, adding that Barbados appreciated the value of those programmes that promoted cooperation among developing and developed States. Pointing out that all Members had a responsibility and vested interest in having the Commission function at the highest standards, he urged that it be provided with all the resources and the best tools and personnel it needed to carry out its work efficiently and effectively.

Sri Lanka’s representative said the meeting was competent to address all issues related to the law of the sea.  He stressed the importance of the participation of developing States, particularly the small island developing States, especially in informal consultations.  They were presently not able to participate in the preparatory process; further measures were needed to ensure their participation.  He added that future meetings should enhance cooperation and coordination, and ensure efficient use of available resources, especially by developing and small island States.

The representative of Cuba was happy to note that the international character of the Commission had been maintained.  She particularly appreciated the attention given to matters of concern to developing countries.  Those issues were relevant to Cuba, including because of its location.  The meeting should remain the appropriate forum for discussing substantive issues pertaining to the law of the sea.  It should not be restricted to discussing only budgetary and administrative matters, without including issues of particular concern to developing States.

The representative of Trinidad and Tobago reiterated his delegation’s earlier position that the Commission was competent to discuss all matters brought before it under its mandate, but it did not have the competence to discuss matters that were currently before other organs and which were outside its mandate.

However, that notwithstanding, he affirmed that treaty obligations had to be fully carried out, and he called on States to exercise their obligations in good faith and in a manner that did not encroach on the rights of other members.

In his intervention, the representative of Kenya called on the Commission to find ways to hasten the scrutiny of submissions.  He decried the fact that his country had continued to suffer the scourge of piracy on its coastal areas.  That had serious economic consequences for Kenya, as well as for the economies of the other countries of the region.  He called for international action to find a durable solution to the problem.

Pakistan’s representative felt that the issues of capacity-building and technology transfer should to be taken to a new plane.  Until and unless new capacity-building measures, particularly technological capacity-building steps, were ensured, advances in the area of continental shelf delineations and issues pertaining to maritime environment and protection would not be possible.

The representative and observer delegation of the United States said, however, that the Convention clearly laid out the areas of competency for the meeting, defining what it could and could not do with regard to its role insofar as the law of the sea was concerned.  The treaty did not empower or mandate members to interpret or engage in discussing issues that were not within its scope, as outlined in its text.

The meeting took note of the views expressed and decided to include the item “Report of the Secretary-General under article 319 for the information of States parties on issues of a general nature, relevant States parties, that had arisen with respect to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea” in the provisional agenda for the twentieth meeting of States Parties next year.

Updates on Informal Consultations

Meeting Vice-President SCOTT SHEERAN (New Zealand), coordinator of the informal consultations on the Commission’s workload, said that, during meetings earlier today and on Wednesday, there had been a productive exchange of views, and some progress had been made.  They adopted a decision that elements be included in the meeting from the SPLOS/195 draft regarding the expenses of Commission members.  They also agreed to prepare a draft SPLOS decision on the Commission’s workload.  The informal working group might wish to meet tomorrow to finalize a decision and then be able to submit it to the formal meeting for adoption.

Argentina’s representative said the reference to the “Falkland Islands” in SPLOS/INF/22 should be changed to “Falkland Islands (Malvinas)”, as had been the standard practice in United Nations documents.

The United Kingdom’s representative said he had no objection to the islands being referred to that way in any Secretariat document.  However, he rejected Argentina’s claim that the United Kingdom was illegally and militarily occupying the Falkland Islands, and the South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

Meeting Vice-President EDEN CHARLES (Trinidad and Tobago), coordinator of the informal consultations on the allocation of seats on the Commission and the Tribunal, said progress had been made among the regional groups, but that further consultations were needed.  He said he would meet with the coordinators of the regional groups at 6 p.m.  In accordance with the Asian Group’s proposal, a draft resolution was ready to be circulated to the meeting.

The Philippines’ representative said that, in the interest of reaching a decision, the Asian Group and African Group were presenting another proposal, bearing in mind the SPLOS/L.61 document.  The proposal was a compromise and a way to meet halfway the proposal of the Western European and other States Group (document SPLOS/L.61).

The meeting President then encouraged all delegates to work towards compromise and flexibility to reach a conclusion on the issue of the allocation of seats on the Tribunal and the Commission.

Next, he reported on the informal consultations of the open-ended working group on budgetary matters, saying that, during earlier meetings today and on Wednesday, considerable progress had been made on discussions concerning annex II of SPLOS/194.  Delegates had agreed to insert a paragraph, but two issues were left pending.  The working group intended to reconvene Friday morning to conclude consultations.

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