Secretary-General Urges Recommitment to ‘Constitution for the Seas’ as States Parties Begin Twenty-fourth Meeting

9 June 2014

Secretary-General Urges Recommitment to ‘Constitution for the Seas’ as States Parties Begin Twenty-fourth Meeting

9 June 2014
Meetings Coverage
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Meeting of States Parties

to Law of Sea Convention

166th & 167th Meetings (AM & PM)

Secretary-General Urges Recommitment to ‘Constitution for the Seas’

As States Parties Begin Twenty-Fourth Meeting


Commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the entry into force of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, as well as World Ocean Day, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today urged Member States to adhere to the treaty’s provisions in order to ensure sustainability as oceans and seas increasingly became sources of development.

Speaking as the twenty-fourth Meeting of States Parties to the Convention opened at Headquarters, he told delegations that, “at this crucial moment for action” towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals and beyond, and in light of the grave risks posed by climate change and ocean acidification, all States parties must recommit to implementing the “the Constitution for the seas”.  The treaty provided the basis for peaceful cooperation, which was critical to conserving living and non-living marine resources, ensuring their equitable use, and safeguarding their crucial role in promoting humanity’s economic and social advancement.

“People everywhere continue to look to the oceans for food security, and as a source of jobs and prosperity and well-being”, he continued, describing the Convention as one of the most significant and visionary multilateral agreements of the twentieth century.  The treaty had lived up to the expectations of the international community, its principles having stood the test of time and its provisions now widely recognized as customary international law.  Through effective policies and practices, the oceans and the seas could be safeguarded for all existing as well as future generations of humanity.

Kingsley Mamabolo ( South Africa), newly appointed President of the Meeting of State Parties, and Ferit Hoxha ( Albania), the outgoing President, echoed the Secretary-General’s message, observing that the Convention had improved friendly relations among nations, in line with the United Nations Charter.  It enjoyed near-universal adoption, with 166 Member States having signed up.

Delegates hailed the Convention throughout the day-long opening session, with the representative of the European Union Delegation pointing out that it was capable of adapting to new realities and challenges resulting from new conditions, technological developments or even new needs.  Its unprecedented, almost universal participation reflected international acceptance of its provisions as either embodying or reflecting customary international law.

Many delegations, however, called for broader approaches to the economic development of small island developing States and the rights of coastal States, as well as greater adherence to the Convention and its subsidiary bodies, among other things.  “The Convention ensures that the use is governed by the rule of law rather than by the whims of individual States,” said the representative of the Federated States of Micronesia, who spoke on behalf of Pacific Small Island developing States.  The upcoming third International Conference on Small Island Developing States would focus on the need for urgent, specific, forward-looking actions in support of healthy, productive oceans and seas.

The representative of Mauritius called for a global ocean strategy that would expand economic space for all nations while ensuring the sustainability of the living and non-living ocean resources.  That approach, while committing to an overarching post-2015 sustainable development agenda, would allow individual States and the private sector to decide on policies and investments.

New Zealand’s delegate emphasized that empowering small island States to realize the full potential of marine resources was essential for their sustainable development.  Their contribution to the Convention’s entry into force should not be overlooked, particularly during the twentieth anniversary, and more work must still be done when it came to small island developing States.

Sri Lanka’s representative recalled that, during the Convention’s elaboration, knowledge of the oceans had been “simply not extensive at the time” as it was today.  The current regime was not adequate to address biological diversity beyond national jurisdictions.  According to current forecasts, fish stocks would run out in 40 years if left unaddressed, he noted.  Any marine research or technology must focus on intergenerational equity.

The Meeting also heard reports on the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and the International Seabed Authority.

Shunji Yanai, President of the International Tribunal, said in his detailed report on that body’s activities, that cases before it raised a number of complex issues.  He went on to describe the progress and status of several cases, including the “urgent procedure” of the Arctic Sunrise case (Kingdom of the Netherlands v. Russian Federation), and the M/V “Virginia G” case between Panama and Guinea-Bissau, as well as a new case on the Sub-regional Fisheries Commission, in which seven West African States had requested an advisory opinion concerning illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities, and the rights and obligations of coastal States in the management of fish stocks

The Tribunal had also dealt with organizational, administrative and budgetary matters, he said, noting that, among its many capacity-building activities, the Tribunal’s internship programme gave young Government officials and students work experience.  Special trust funds, with assistance from the Korea Maritime Institute and the China Institute of International Studies, had been established to enable applicants from developing countries to participate.  In addition, the Nippon Foundation had helped to establish a nine-month capacity-building and training programme on dispute settlement under the Convention.  The Summer Academy, held annually, had 36 participants from 33 countries.

Nii Allotey Odunton, Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority, said that seven pending applications for exploration contracts in the area to be considered at that body’s upcoming twentieth session in July was “the most important substantive issue” before it.  To date, 16 exploration contracts were in force in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans.  If they were all approved, 26 exploration contracts would be in force, requiring a “significant shift” in the workload of the Authority’s Secretariat, as well as its Legal and Technical Commission.  In order to ensure sufficient resources, the Authority had adopted a decision requiring all contractors to pay an overhead charge of $47,000, he said, adding that the annual payment would be reviewable every two years for new applicants.  Data and information required from contractors must be standardized, he added.

He went on to recall that contractors attending a workshop had requested training in the various techniques of taxonomic identification.  As a result, the Authority now had a digital atlas of the megafauna associated with polymetallic nodule deposits in the Clarion Clipperton Zone of the Pacific Ocean.  A similar workshop would be convened in the Republic of Korea to standardize the taxonomy of macrofauna, and one on meiofauna would be held in 2015.  Still, no ocean mining mineral classification system existed and it was essential to establish one, he stressed.  He also urged 43 members of the Authority in arrears for contributions dating back two years or more to remedy the situation as soon as possible.

Delegations commended the work of the subsidiary bodies in both dispute-settlement and capacity-building, among other fields, with Japan’s representative announcing that his country would be donating €230,000 to the Tribunal Trust Fund through the Nippon Foundation.

Nonetheless, a representative of the European Delegation pointed out that it was distressing that 52 Member States parties had not made payments to the Tribunal’s budget in 2013, bringing total arrears to €995,000.

The Meeting also held elections, appointing the following four Vice-Presidents by acclamation:  Melivia Demetriou (Cyprus), from the Asia-Pacific States; Aleksas Dambrauskas (Lithuania), Eastern European States; Particio Troya (Ecuador), Latin American and Caribbean States; and Anniken Enersen (Norway), Western European and Other States.

It also appointed nine members, again by acclamation, to the Credentials Committee:  Angola, Argentina, Czech Republic, Iraq, Kenya, Paraguay, Viet Nam, Denmark and Australia.

Seven members are expected to be elected to the International Tribunal and one to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, at a later date.

Also among today’s speakers were representatives of Argentina, Republic of Korea, Germany, China, Niger, Jamaica, Cyrus, Mexico, Singapore, Australia, Iceland, Lesotho, Philippines, Algeria, Trinidad and Tobago, Monaco, Morocco, Brazil, Uruguay, Canada and Thailand.

The Meeting of States Parties will conclude its work on Friday, 13 June.

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