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GA/12224
10 December 2019
Seventy-fourth Session, 42nd & 43rd Meetings (AM & PM)

General Assembly Adopts 2 Resolutions on Law of the Sea, Straddling Fish Stocks amid Calls to Restore Plastic-Strewn Oceans, Reduce Anthropogenic Noise

Representatives of China, Togo, India Encourage Focus on ‘Blue Economy’ to Spur Inclusive Growth, Responsible Fishing Practices

The General Assembly today adopted two resolutions on the oceans and seas linked to implementation of the landmark 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, with speakers asserting during their annual debate that threats to the world’s marine ecosystem require firm political commitment and action.

By the terms of the resolution “Oceans and the law of the sea” (document A/74/L.22) — adopted by a recorded vote of 135 in favour to 1 against (Turkey), with 3 abstentions (Colombia, El Salvador, Venezuela) — the Assembly called on States that have not done so to become parties to the Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.  It further called on them to harmonize national legislation with the Convention, and for capacity-building initiatives to consider the needs of developing countries.  It also urged all States to combat piracy and armed robbery at sea and ensure freedom and safety of navigation.

Singapore’s representative, who introduced the omnibus text, said it is among the Assembly’s most important annual resolutions.  By its terms, the Assembly will encourage the International Seabed Authority to continue its work as a matter of priority.  The text also touches on the issues of climate change and sea-level rise, addresses the ongoing process of negotiating an agreement on marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, notes preparations for the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) and includes revised paragraphs on capacity‑building aimed at improving the resolution’s overall coherence.

Explaining his vote against the text, Turkey’s delegate said his country is not party to the Convention and does not agree that it has a “universal and unified character”.  It is not the only legal framework regulating ocean activities.  “The Convention does not provide sufficient safeguards for particular geographical situations and, as a consequence, does not take into consideration conflicting interests and sensitivities stemming from special circumstances,” he said.

The General Assembly also adopted a consensus resolution, titled “Sustainable fisheries, including through the 1995 Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, and related instruments” (document A/74/L.21).

By its terms, the Assembly reaffirmed the importance of the long-term conservation, management and sustainable use of living marine ocean resources and State obligations to cooperate to this end.  It urged States to increase their reliance on scientific advice in developing, adopting and implementing conservation and management measures.

Regional cooperation is crucial for ensuring better coordination and policy coherence, said Norway’s representative introducing the draft.  Pointing to the arrangement between the OSPAR Commission for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic and the North‑East Atlantic Fisheries Commission as a good example of such cooperation, she said the experience gained could serve as a model for other regions to strengthen a cross-sectoral approach.

In the ensuing debate, Papua New Guinea’s delegate, speaking for the Pacific small island developing States, lamented that in both resolutions, the Assembly was unable to reach consensus on paragraphs related to the findings of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change special report, stressing that it is not enough to simply note the special report with concern.  The Assembly must cite specific findings about the impact of climate change on the ocean and cryosphere, as well as any actions that must be taken to address them.  “Anything less is a disservice to the critical work of the [Intergovernmental Panel] and an inaccurate reflection of the importance that a vast majority of Member States place on such work,” he said, warning that “the future is bleak unless global efforts are mobilized”.

Echoing that concern was Belize’s representative, speaking for the Alliance of Small Island States, who said climate change will not be solved by simply “noting” such findings.  Rather, ambitious global action is needed to counter deleterious effects on oceans and coastal communities.  “The world’s oceans belong to all of us, so we all must rise to the challenges of protecting them,” he said.

Grenada’s delegate, speaking for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), also expressed serious concern over the special report’s findings.  Of particular importance are its conclusions about the deleterious impact of climate change on low-lying islands, especially small island developing States, coasts and communities.  The report stands as a timely reminder of what must be done by all countries, especially developed ones, to address this challenge, she said.  In broad agreement, the European Union’s representative added that “the science is clear that climate change represents an existential threat to life on Earth”.

Many delegates also raised the issue of marine waste, with the representative of the Maldives warning that negligence has allowed trillions of pieces of non-biodegradable plastic to float around the world, endangering natural equilibriums and ecosystems.  Despite a comprehensive plan to phase out single-use plastics by 2023, the Maldives needs the help of likeminded Governments and the private sector to tackle the issue, he said, stressing that efforts to protect the ocean rely on effective regulation, as represented by the “major advancement” of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The representative of Argentina said issue of marine waste must be dealt with in the General Assembly, noting that the Convention outlines the topic in detail.  As innovation and new technology must be harnessed for the responsible production and disposal of plastics, Argentina, for its part, established guidelines for the sustainable management of plastics use.  In that vein, Mexico’s representative said countries must do more to address pollution from land sources, particularly plastics and anthropogenic noise.

Updating the Assembly were Michael Lodge, Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority, and Jin-Hyun Paik, President of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.  Mr. Lodge emphasized that a global system for protecting the marine environment will not be complete without a long-term engagement to deliver on capacity-building needs.  The Seabed Authority secretariat alone will be unable to meet all the goals without the committed engagement of the international community.  Mr. Paik recalled cases the Tribunal is deliberating, its capacity-building activities and stressed the importance of the dispute-settlement system to be included in the new international legally binding instrument on marine biodiversity in ocean areas beyond national jurisdiction.

The Assembly also had before it two reports of the Secretary-General on “Oceans and the law of the sea” (documents A/74/70 and A/74/350); a report on the work of the United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea at its twentieth meeting (document A/74/119); and a report on the work of the Ad Hoc Working Group of the Whole on the Regular Process for Global Reporting and Assessment of the State of the Marine Environment, including Socioeconomic Aspects (documents A/74/315).

Also speaking were representatives of Vanuatu (on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum), Germany, Monaco, Iceland, China, United Arab Emirates, Togo, Canada, Australia, Cuba, Honduras, United States, Japan, Ukraine, Republic of Korea, Indonesia, Viet Nam, Russian Federation, India, Brazil, Iran and Bangladesh.

Representatives of the Federated States of Micronesia, Turkey and Greece also spoke in explanation of vote.

The Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 11 December, to consider global health and foreign policy.

Introduction of Draft Resolutions

MONA JUUL (Norway) introduced draft resolution titled "Sustainable fisheries, including through the 1995 Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, and related instrument" (document A/74/L.21).  Fisheries provide a vital source of food, employment and economic well‑being throughout the world.  The 1995 treaty, known as the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement, is a cornerstone of modern fisheries management.  Regional cooperation is crucial to ensure better coordination and policy coherence, she said, pointing to the arrangement between the OSPAR Commission for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic and the North‑East Atlantic Fisheries Commission as a good example of such cooperation.  The experience gained could serve as a model for other regions to strengthen a cross-sectoral approach, she said, noting that such cooperation is recognized in the resolution.

Despite progress made, fishing activities are still not regulated sufficiently, she said, calling for global implementation of the Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing.  The 1982 Convention sets out the legal framework in which all activities in these waters should be carried out.  As capacity‑building is essential to ensure all States can implement that treaty, Norway is strengthening its development cooperation in the field of ocean management and hosted the “Our Ocean” Conference in Oslo in October.  While oceans have huge potential to foster sustainable development, economic production and ocean protection must be mutually supportive.  In that regard, Norway continues to work proactively, notably in the United Nations Environment Assembly and the Conference of States Parties to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal.  Given that extreme sea events will occur more frequently and negatively affect both marine ecosystems and coastal communities, collective ambition must intensify to uphold the Paris Agreement on climate change, she said.

BURHAN GAFOOR (Singapore), introducing the draft resolution titled “Oceans and the Law of the Sea” (document A/74/L.22), said the text is among the Assembly’s most important and comprehensive annual resolutions.  By the terms of the draft, the Assembly will take stock of efforts by the International Seabed Authority — including its progress on elaborating draft regulations for the exploitation of mineral resources in the area — and encourage it to continue such work as a matter of priority.  The draft also touches on the issues of climate change and sea-level rise, he said, noting with concern their impact on oceans and the cryosphere, as well as on low-lying islands.  The draft also addresses the ongoing process of negotiating an agreement on marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, notes preparations for the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development and includes revised paragraphs on capacity‑building aimed at improving the resolution’s overall coherence.  He also made an oral revision to the text relating to references to Security Council resolutions on piracy in Somalia.

Speaking in his national capacity and associating himself with the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), he said Singapore is a small island nation whose survival and well‑being is inextricably linked to the oceans and the seas.  He spotlighted the Assembly’s decision to convene another United Nations Ocean Conference in 2020, recalling that its 2017 counterpart generated more than 1,500 voluntary commitments by a wide range of Governments and other stakeholders.  “We need to continue to push for action to be taken on an urgent basis to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development,” he said, welcoming the growing attention to sea-level rise and the International Law Commission’s decision to establish an open-ended study group on that topic.  Turning to negotiations to draft a legally binding instrument on marine biodiversity in ocean areas beyond national jurisdiction, he described the upcoming treaty as one of the most important in recent times and expressed confidence that, through the process, delegations “will prove that multilateralism is very much alive and working today”.

Statements

KEISHA ANIYA MCGUIRE (Grenada), speaking on behalf of Caribbean Community (CARICOM), welcomed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, which was approved on 24 September.  She expressed serious concern over its findings relating to the adverse impact of climate change on the oceans and the cryosphere.  Of particular importance are the conclusions about the deleterious impact on low-lying islands, especially small island developing States, coasts and communities.  The report stands as a timely reminder of what needs to be done by all countries, especially developed ones, to address this challenge.  The international community is well aware of the tragic humanitarian and economic devastation visited on the Bahamas this year, as well as in Dominica, and Antigua and Barbuda in 2018 as a result of hurricanes that have grown in intensity due to rising ocean temperatures.

The 1982 Convention sets out the legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out, she said, stressing that CARICOM countries are committed participants in discussions to ensure that the Convention and its implementing agreements are robust and comprehensive.  Current negotiations on marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction are no exception.  CARICOM is a strong advocate for a legally binding instrument that will create a framework to ensure the appropriate balance for the conservation, sustainable use and equitable benefit sharing of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, she said, and it will continue to work with civil society partners for the successful conclusion of negotiations in 2020.

MAX HUFANEN RAI (Papua New Guinea), speaking on behalf of the Pacific small islands developing States and associating with both AOSIS and the Pacific Islands Forum, said the ocean is the lifeblood of the group’s economies and societies.  Voicing disappointment that the Assembly was unable to reach consensus on paragraphs related to the findings of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change special report in the two resolutions, he stressed that it is not enough to simply note the special report with concern.  The Assembly must cite specific findings about the impact of climate change on the ocean and the cryosphere, as well as any actions that must be taken by the international community to address them.  “Anything less is a disservice to the critical work of the [Intergovernmental Panel] and an inaccurate reflection of the importance that a vast majority of Member States place on such work,” he said, warning that “the future is bleak unless global efforts are mobilized”.  He highlighted references in both resolutions to the Small Island Developing States Accelerated Modalities of Action (Samoa Pathway) — a key development framework — and called for continued emphasis on the role of traditional knowledge as a complement to science.

Ms. LINDO (Belize), speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States, emphasized the group’s strong dependence on the oceans, economically and socially.  Such States are the stewards of the ocean, ensuring that present and future generations can continue to benefit from its wealth.  Given the devastating effects of acidification and rising seas, the Alliance calls for capacity development for its members as part of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) and for scaled-up international cooperation at the 2020 Portugal conference on the issue.  Arguing that the proposed instrument on marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction would play an integral role in conservation and equitable resource‑sharing, she emphasized the importance of prompt agreement on that mechanism, stressing that it should adequately capture the special circumstances of small island States.

Welcoming the consideration of those circumstances in the two draft resolutions under consideration, he underscored the need to spur more ambitious action through those texts.  “Climate change will not be solved by simply ‘noting’ the findings of the [Intergovernmental Panel’s] reports”, she said.  Rather, ambitious global action is needed to counter deleterious effects on oceans and coastal communities.  “The world’s oceans belong to all of us, so we all must rise to the challenges of protecting them,” she added, warning that the effects will soon be felt by all.  “Let us utilize all possible avenues to take lasting action before it is too late.”

ODO TEVI (Vanuatu), speaking on behalf of the 14 Pacific Islands Forum Member States, said climate change presents the single greatest threat to the livelihood, security and wellbeing of Pacific people.  “The multifaceted impacts felt around the world are particularly acute in our region, especially in vulnerable atoll nations like my very own,” he said, expressing disappointment that consensus was not achieved on strengthening references to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s “Special report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate” in both resolutions.  This includes terms citing findings about the impact on the ocean and cryosphere, as well as specific actions that must be taken by the international community to address those repercussions.

Sea-level rise not only poses a significant threat to people’s health and safety, it also constitutes legal and political challenges, he continued.  The Forum looks forward to sharing the region’s experience in addressing the impact of sea-level rise, including its efforts to preserve Members’ entitlements stemming from maritime zones delineated in accordance with 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.  He underscored the need to develop an internationally legally binding instrument, under the Convention, on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.  “We understand that, with only one session left, we need to strengthen our efforts to successfully deliver a robust and high-quality agreement in 2020,” he added.

SILVIO GONZATO, European Union delegation, said that while the Convention is recognized as the “constitution of the oceans”, it is also imperative that States’ sovereignty — and sovereign rights over the maritime zones — are respected.  Recognizing progress achieved in the two 2019 sessions of the Intergovernmental Conference to forge a legally binding agreement on conserving and sustainably using marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, he said concluding an ambitious “implementing agreement” in 2020 is a priority.  Ocean threats require firm political commitment and action, he said, reiterating that “the science is clear that climate change represents an existential threat to life on Earth”.  Underscoring the bloc’s commitment to concluding World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations related to fisheries subsidies, he said harmful subsidies foster overcapacity and overfishing, while illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing impedes sustainable fisheries management. 

He reiterated the importance of ensuring decent work conditions aboard fishing vessels and encouraged States to become parties to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) “Cape Town Agreement of 2012 on the Implementation of the Provisions of the 1993 Protocol relating to the Torremolinos International Convention for the Safety of Fishing Vessels, 1977” and the 2007 Work in Fishing Convention of the International Labour Organization (ILO).  Expressing disappointment over the lack of substantive language on the impact of climate change on the oceans in the sustainable fisheries resolution, he said excluding such issues transmits a negative message about the importance of the General Assembly and the attention it accords to climate change.  For that reason, the European Union did not co-sponsor resolution “L.21”, despite the otherwise excellent results achieved.

INA HEUSGEN (Germany), associating with the European Union, expressed concern over increasing assertions of legal claims to maritime areas in the South China Sea.  She emphasized Germany’s commitment to provisions under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the freedom of the high seas, rights of innocent passage and obligations for bilateral, regional and international cooperation — including those related to resources and dispute settlement.  She recalled specific Convention conditions for the application of straight and archipelagic baselines, and the regime of islands and rocks to naturally formed land features.  Any claim to historic rights to living and non-living resources and/or to historic titles to South China Sea waters are incompatible with the Convention to the extent that it exceeds the limits of maritime zones as exclusively provided thereunder.

FERNANDO ANDRÉS MARANI (Argentina) said the Convention on the Law of the Sea seeks to solve many issues affecting marine ecosystems.  Marine biodiversity is among the most relevant, he said, noting that combatting illegal trade in endangered wild flora and fauna requires collective adherence to the Convention and cooperation among States.  Expressing concern over the conditions of service within the Convention, he highlighted the importance of ensuring medical care for its experts.  Argentina works to conserve and sustain its ocean resources through a national system for marine protected areas and laws protecting natural habitats and ecosystems.  The issue of marine waste must be dealt with in the General Assembly, he said, noting that the Convention outlines the topic in detail.  As innovation and new technology must be harnessed for the responsible production and disposal of plastics, Argentina established guidelines to manage the use of plastics sustainably.  He expressed concern that regional fishery organizations could adopt measures that give themselves inappropriate authority over vessels flying the flag of States of which they are not members.

AHMED SALMAN ZAKI (Maldives), associating himself with AOSIS, said climate change, “this century’s defining threat”, will continue to degrade the health of oceans causing irreversible damage to people and ecosystems.  The very existence of the Maldives depends upon preserving the ocean, which makes up 99 per cent of its territory.  Pollution threatens its two major industries, tourism and fisheries, as well as the coral reefs that form and protect the islands.  Negligence and irresponsibility have allowed trillions of pieces of non-biodegradable plastic to float around the world, endangering natural equilibriums and ecosystems.  Despite a comprehensive plan to phase out single-use plastics by 2023, the Maldives needs the help of likeminded Governments and the private sector to tackle the issue.  He stressed that efforts to protect the ocean rely on effective regulation, as represented by the “major advancement” of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

PABLO ADRIÁN ARROCHA OLABUENAGA (Mexico) said the Government is working to ensure that 22 per cent of the marine surface is protected and is committed to the conservation and sustainable use of oceans in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  Yet, there is a long way to go “before we can understand our seas and biodiversity”.  States, civil society and the private sector must coordinate research and share reliable information in order to better develop strategies and solutions.  Countries must do more to address pollution from land sources, particularly plastics and anthropogenic noise, cooperate on search-and-rescue missions and prosecute crimes on the high seas, including piracy.  All States must work to ensure that 2020 sees an international legal framework to regulate the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.  “The wealth of the oceans is beyond compare,” he said, adding that their health is crucial to all economies and people.

ISABELLE F. PICCO (Monaco) said this year’s two draft resolutions include more focus on marine biodiversity, which is shrinking faster than at any time in history.  Disturbing reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change irrefutably show the devastating impact of climate change on the oceans and seas, she said, and such evidence should have been included more thoroughly in the reports under consideration.  If nothing is done about the reduction in the cryosphere, melting icebergs and changes in the distribution of marine life, there will be serious socioeconomic effects to local fisheries and coastal communities. Enormous investment in infrastructure in the coming decades will be required to mitigate those effects, she said, urging participants to the upcoming Climate Summit in Lisbon to focus on what can be done in terms of science and innovation.  Developing an ambitious implementation agreement for the Convention is particularly important, she emphasized, stressing that renewable energy is a pillar of Monaco’s approach to sustainability, including programmes in tidal energy.

JORUNDUR VALTYSSON (Iceland) said implementing the 2030 Agenda will be impossible without clean, healthy oceans.  Noting that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea sets out the legal framework for all related activities, he stressed the importance, complexity and sensitivity of ongoing negotiations for the implementing agreement on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond national jurisdiction.  The new agreement’s institutional structure must be adapted to existing regional and sectoral bodies in a careful and dedicated manner, he emphasized, so these bodies are not undermined in their fields of expertise and decision making.  Adding that Member States should focus on the agreement’s quality rather than speedy negotiations, he said consensus is a prerequisite for the instrument, as is universal participation in it.

WU HAITAO (China) said the Convention should be interpreted and applied accurately, while matters not regulated by the instrument should continue to be governed by general international law.  He encouraged Member States to develop a “blue economy”, promote maritime connectivity and jointly build the “twenty-first century maritime silk road”.  He advocated working hand-in-hand to address illegal fishing and marine pollution and devise appropriate solutions to emerging ocean-related issues.  China is participating in negotiations towards an international instrument on marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, an instrument that should position itself appropriately in relation to the existing legal framework, strive for a balance between conservation and sustainable use, consider the interests and concerns of all parties and move forward step-by-step.

Regulations for the exploitation of mineral resources in the area should stay strictly aligned with the Convention and its 1994 implementation agreement, he continued.  They should also ensure a balance between the rights and obligations of the International Seabed Authority and deep seabed mineral contractors.  Strict adherence to the principle of State consent is central to the work of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, as is full respect for the right of States Parties to settle disputes between them by any means of their choosing.  China is committed to the sustainable development of fisheries and promotes ecologically sound aquaculture models.  “We firmly combat illegal fishing and regulate the development of pelagic fishing,” he said, adding:  “We have a zero-tolerance policy of irregular fishing activities and investigate and punish such activities according to law.”

AMEIRAH OBAID MOHAMED OBAID ALHEFEITI (United Arab Emirates) said the impact of climate change on the oceans is not simply a question of rising seas which could cause changes in land and sea borders; ocean acidification has a negative impact on all ecosystems.  Likewise, it is not enough to reduce greenhouse gasses.  “We must also use renewable energy,” she added, underscoring that the United Arab Emirates seeks to strengthen marine ecosystems, having adopted a “green strategy” to address the causes of climate change and focused on creating a “green economy” to improve living standards.  Ocean deterioration can undermine shipping safety as well, she pointed out, condemning piracy and other crimes in the high seas.  The United Arab Emirates has convened six meetings to address piracy, she added, urging Member States to share information to ensure navigational safety.

DEKALEGA FINTAKPA LAMEGA (Togo) said the Government adopted the draft law to enable it to join the 1995 Fish Stocks Agreement, paving the way for the relevant internal formalities to be carried out.  Promoting the “blue economy” means combatting unregulated fishing and implementing guidelines governing those activities.  Welcoming the adoption of the African Charter on Maritime Security, Safety and Development in Africa (Lomé Charter), he said piracy remains a concern and undermines the interests of all African states.  Joint efforts in Francophone Africa provide French-speaking maritime workers with ways to promote a responsible “blue economy” in the region.  Togo will continue to participate in substantive sessions aimed at drafting an international legally binding instrument relating to the sustainable management of the marine ecosystem, he said, expressing hope that the upcoming Lisbon Summit on climate change will allow participants to find new ways to implement their goals.

MARC-ANDRÉ BLANCHARD (Canada) said that despite progress achieved, much remains to be done to ensure that oceans remain healthy, coastal communities resilient and economic growth sustainable for generations.  Canada looks forward to progress towards an agreement on marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, as well as sharing its experiences in ocean initiatives at the 2020 Ocean Conference.  He underscored the fundamental link between climate change and the oceans, with Arctic communities and small island developing States especially impacted by rising sea levels.  Recalling Canada’s role in developing the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, he emphasized that all States must commit to the peaceful management and settlement of maritime disputes in line with international law and without using the threat of force or coercion.

MITCH FIFIELD (Australia), associating himself with the Pacific Island Forum, said the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea provides an important legal framework governing Australia’s management of maritime zones, and more broadly, States’ interaction and cooperation in the oceans.  The international rules-based order is crucially important, he emphasized, highlighting that freedom of navigation and overflight are critical for global trade and security.  While Australia does not take sides on competing territorial claims in the South China Sea, it has a strong stake in its stability and urges all stakeholders to ease tensions and build trust, he said.  This year’s sustainable fisheries resolution includes strong language on Stateless vessels, he noted, welcoming the call to prevent those vessels from fishing.  As the Pacific region is vulnerable to sea-level rise, he welcomed that the International Law Commission will be considering the legal aspects of that subject.

ANA SILVIA RODRÍGUEZ ABASCAL (Cuba) called the Convention a milestone in the codification of international law, adding that issues related to the oceans and the law of the sea should be under the Assembly’s supervision.  Noting that the Constitution establishes Cuba’s environmental protection rights and duties, she also pointed to legislation to combat illicit trafficking in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, illegal trafficking in persons and piracy.  She expressed support for the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, noting its heavy workload and commending its willingness to consider each case thoroughly.  She urged continued efforts to elaborate a convention on the marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, stressing more broadly that sea rise threatens the territorial integrity of small island developing States, “some of which are destined to disappear unless immediate action is taken”, and welcoming that the International Law Commission will include that issue in its long-term programme.

YOLANNIE CERRATO (Honduras) emphasized the importance of meeting the 2020 deadline for negotiating a legally-binding instrument on marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.  Honduras prioritizes its work on national strategies to eliminate plastics use and prevent plastic waste from being dumped into the ocean.  Citing the importance of efforts to counter marine pollution, acidification, overfishing and biodiversity loss, she noted the international community must work together to protect its shared underwater cultural heritage.  Regarding implementation of the 2030 Agenda, she said some middle-income countries, including her own coastal State, face challenges similar to those affecting small island developing States and least developed countries.

Ms. PIERCE (United States) underscored the central importance of international maritime law, as it is more important than ever to uphold the freedom of the seas.  She pointed to the South China Sea as a problem area, given the assertion of unlawful maritime claims threatening the rules-based regime that has allowed the region to prosper.  She emphasized the rights of all nations to their maritime claims, regardless of size or power, which must be exercised in accordance with international law and free of coercion.  She expressed support for efforts on sustainable fisheries management and called attention to new language in the resolution on fishing vessel safety and unregulated, illegal fishing, involving multiple regulatory organizations.  Pointing to efforts expected in 2020 to address the impact of bottom fishing, she referred her delegation’s 21 November statement on the 2030 Agenda and related international development agreements.

HOTAKA MACHIDA (Japan), voicing support for the universality of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, said the international community will benefit from developing an ever-more predictable maritime order.  Open seas and rule of law are the basis for peace and prosperity in the oceans, including the South China Sea.  Pointing to examples of Japan’s commitment, he recalled the symposiums held earlier this year in Hamburg and Tokyo celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Convention, as well as various training and capacity-building programmes for candidates from developing countries.  Stressing the need to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, he added that the G20 Osaka Leaders’ Declaration recognized the importance of addressing that issue.

Ms. ZOLOTARYOVA (Ukraine), endorsing the European Union’s statement, emphasized the importance of taking steps to address the deteriorating ocean ecosystem.  International cooperation and enhanced governance are essential for that purpose, as well as for ensuring peaceful relations between States.  Noting that the Convention on the Law of the Sea provides the legal framework for such concerns, he recalled Ukraine’s efforts to peacefully resolve its dispute with the Russian Federation over blatant violations of Ukraine’s rights in the Black Sea, Sea of Azov and Kerch Strait — including the seizure of vessels and their crews.  Noting that an order of the Law of the Sea Tribunal obliged the Russian Federation to belatedly return the vessels, he called on that country to unconditionally return all equipment and weapons that were confiscated.  He also stressed to the need for much greater international cooperation under the Convention’s framework to meet 2030 goals, including through capacity-building for developing countries.

PARK CHULL-JOO (Republic of Korea) said the three bodies established by the Convention — the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, the International Seabed Authority and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea ‑ have all enhanced the rule of law in maritime spaces.  The Republic of Korea has been participating in the intergovernmental conference on an international legally binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.  He welcomed developments in the negotiation phase of the draft, noting that the new instrument should be consistent with the Convention’s provisions, as it could be widely accepted without undermining the existing relevant regional and global bodies.

MOHAMMAD KURNIADI KOBA (Indonesia), noting that his country is the largest archipelagic State, said that millions of its people depend on the ocean for food, livelihood and pleasure.  As stressed by the annual omnibus resolution, the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is a critical framework for all activities in the world’s oceans and has strategic significance as the basis for global and regional maritime cooperation.  Further, the fight against illegal fishing is deeply connected with tackling trafficking in persons and drugs, corruption and slavery.  Biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction should be considered the common heritage of humankind and the benefits resulting from its use should be equitably shared among States, he stressed.

PHAM HAI ANH (Viet Nam) said that as the oceans and seas suffer from pollution, plastic debris and the impact of climate change, the Convention should continue to serve as the legal framework and basis for cooperation.  It remains valid and plays a crucial role, especially in regions with disputes, including the South China Sea.  He called for full compliance with the Convention, including in the peaceful settlement of disputes, as well as respect for the rights of coastal States in maritime areas, including the right to conduct peaceful legitimate economic activities.  There should be a balance between conservation and the sustainable development of fisheries.  Citing developments in the South China Sea, including a serious incident that infringed on Viet Nam’s rights, he urged all parties concerned to not repeat such incidents and to refrain from unilateral acts that may escalate the dispute.

ALEXANDER S. PROSKURYAKOV (Russian Federation) said his country is among the leading maritime powers and is focused on improving international cooperation on ocean matters.  The resolution on oceans and the law of the sea stresses the universal nature of the Convention, which is essential for global and regional cooperation.  He welcomed the interaction under the 1995 Fish Stocks Agreement and the network of regional fisheries organizations, noting the role of the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea and the International Seabed Authority.  He condemned the statement by his counterpart from Ukraine as propaganda unrelated to the agenda item.  Crimea is part of the Russian Federation, having decided to join freely, in accordance with the right to self-determination.

UMASANKAR YEDLA (India) said the Indian Ocean has been a powerful force for good in the geo-economics of world history and it can become a free and secure pathway for the exchange of intellect, information, trade and culture.  With more than 7,500 kilometres of coastline and more than 1,000 islands, India is a seafaring nation with a large coastal economy.  Recognizing the “blue economy” as a driver of inclusive and sustainable economic growth, India has an extensive institutional and legal architecture to manage issues relating to oceans and coastal regulation.  It participates in multilateral efforts to foster collective management of ocean affairs and was among the early parties to the 1982 Convention.  The international community cannot let the world’s seas be turned into “zones of contention”, he said, stressing that the smooth functioning of the institutions established under the Convention are essential to the framework’s proper implementation.  Three decades ago, India was the first country to receive the status of a Pioneer Investor in the Indian Ocean.  From a strong commitment to protecting its coastal and marine environment, India maintains that the prevention and reduction of marine debris and litter by 2025, through global action, is important.  The Government has launched a massive campaign, called “Swacch Bharat/Clean India,” to clean up cities and villages and rejuvenate its rivers.  Under this campaign, India began efforts to eliminate single-use plastics by 2022.

PHILIP GOUGH (Brazil) said oceans are vital, especially for environmental services, food, trade and transportation.  Yet, science indicates that ocean conditions continue to deteriorate due to anthropogenic activity, with fisheries overexploited, acidification and climate change affecting sea levels and inflicting increasingly severe coastal damage.  Noting that concern over conservation and sustainable use of marine resources has increased “exponentially” in Brazil and worldwide, he pointed to domestic initiatives including the Brazilian National Action Plan on Marine Litter.  He affirmed full support for the 1982 Convention as the universal framework embracing all ocean activities, noting that Brazil is contributing to negotiations on a legally-binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.

ALI NASIMFAR (Iran) said that while the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea provides the main legal framework for sea activities, preambular paragraph 6 of the ocean resolution could be revised to reflect the important role of international customary law and other conventions.  The marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction has notable environmental, economic and social importance and could foster poverty eradication, growth and other benefits.  There is therefore an urgent need to establish a legally binding instrument to address conservation, access and utilization.  Iran is combating maritime piracy, dispatching navy fleets to the Gulf of Aden.  He noted that protracted conflicts and tensions between States bordering the Persian Gulf may further destabilize the region and endanger the right to development.  Iran has devised a plan that would allow all eight littoral States there to join forces to combat terrorism, environmental degradation, expansionism and interventionism.

TAREQ MD ARIFUL ISLAM (Bangladesh) cited illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing among the greatest threats to fish stocks and marine ecosystems, with major implications for the conservation and management of ocean resources, as well as for the food security and economies of developing countries.  Bangladesh attaches utmost importance to regulating fish stock harvesting and ending illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and destructive fishing practices, as well as implementing science-based management plans to restore fish stocks in the shortest time feasible.  He stressed the importance of completing WTO negotiations to address fisheries subsidies that can contribute — directly or indirectly ‑ to illegal fishing practices.  Also voicing concern over large movements of refugees and migrants by sea, he called on Member States to comply with their obligations for search-and-rescue at sea and to address the factors that cause such irregular movements.  Against the backdrop of the Rohingya humanitarian crisis, this issue requires the attention of all concerned countries in the region.

JIN-HYUN PAIK (Republic of Korea), President of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, called attention to the Tribunal’s productive year, including delivering its judgment on the M/V "Norstar" Case (Panama v. Italy), which came before it in 2015.  There were also several new cases, including the arbitral proceedings Ukraine instituted under the Convention’s Annex VII against the Russian Federation, which addresses three Ukrainian Naval vessels and their 24 crew members who were detained and arrested by Russian Federation authorities in the Black Sea near the Kerch Strait in November 2018.  At the core of this case was the parties’ differing interpretation of the regime of passage through the Kerch Strait.  Pending a decision by the Annex VII arbitral tribunal, the Russian Federation was ordered to release the vessels and crew, which it did this past month.  Three arbitrators and the President of the arbitral tribunal recently held its first procedural meeting.

The Tribunal also continued its activities in capacity-building, he said, highlighting its workshop on the settlement of disputes in the South American region.  The event, supported by Uruguay’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Korea Maritime Institute, was attended by representatives of 10 States.  In addition, the Tribunal offered, for the twenty-second year, 15 three-month internships to university students interested in pursuing careers in the field of the law of the sea.  Students from developing countries were able to participate in part due to a Tribunal trust fund.

He also spotlighted the Nippon programme — a nine-month capacity-building and training programme in international dispute settlement in the law of the sea, with financial support from the Nippon Foundation of Japan, currently in its thirteenth cycle.  Five fellows from Bahrain, Chile, Côte d’Ivoire, Guyana and Lithuania are participating.  Turning to the dispute-settlement system to be included in the new international legally binding instrument, he stressed the importance of that matter and urged delegations to consider the most appropriate system for ensuring the new instrument’s consistent and efficient interpretation and application.  The Tribunal stands ready to address any further tasks entrusted to it by the international community, he assured.

MICHAEL W. LODGE, Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority, said the Seabed Authority Council is focused on the negotiation of draft exploitation regulations, and the implementation of a strategy, endorsed by the Council, to develop regional environmental management plans.  Recently, a workshop on the regional environmental management plan of the northern Mid-Atlantic Ridge took place in Portugal.  Among its objectives, the workshop sought to advance the description of potential areas that could be impacted by extractive mineral activities in the area and that would require enhanced management of marine biodiversity protection through area-based management tools.  The process devising regional environmental management plans affords a unique opportunity to “get it right” from the start and serves as an expression of the Authority’s commitment to protecting marine biodiversity and applying a precautionary approach, in accordance with its mandate under the Convention.  A global system for protecting the marine environment will not be complete without a long-term engagement to deliver on capacity-building needs, he said, adding that the Seabed Authority secretariat alone will be unable to meet all the goals without the active and committed engagement of the international community.

Action

The Assembly then took up the resolution entitled, “Sustainable fisheries, including through the 1995 Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks” (document A/74/L.21).

The Secretariat representative noted that, should the Assembly adopt draft resolution A/74/L.21, an estimated $320,6000 in additional resource requirements would be included in the proposed programme budget for 2021, under section 2, General Assembly and Economic and Social Council and Conference Management, and section 8, Legal Affairs.

The Assembly then adopted draft resolution “L.21” without a vote.

Turning next to the resolution entitled, “Oceans and the law of the sea” (document A/74/L.22) as orally revised, the Assembly adopted it by a recorded vote of 135 in favour, to 1 against (Turkey) with 3 abstentions (Colombia, El Salvador and Venezuela).

The representative of El Salvador, speaking in explanation of position, highlighted the importance of the resolution and the oceans.  However, there were gaps in several areas, including fisheries, and the provisions cannot be understood as implying El Salvador’s explicit or implicit approval of the Convention, to which is not a party.  Over the years, El Salvador has repeatedly asked for the resolution to have a broad context addressing all States’ interests.  His delegation, therefore, abstained, and he invited all Member States to continue to discuss ocean protection.

The representative of Venezuela said his State is neither a party to the Convention, nor to the 1995 Fish Stocks Agreement.  The Convention should not be regarded as the sole framework governing activities on the seas and oceans.  Venezuela has ratified the 1958 Geneva Conventions on the Law of the Sea.  His delegation expressed reservations about the outcome document regarding sustainable development.  Future provisions of the Convention should be studied, as some discussions and occurrences have been counterproductive.  Affirming Venezuela’s commitment to responsible fishing under the United Nations and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), he said that in the spirit of consensus, Venezuela did not oppose the resolution’s adoption, but rather abstained from the vote.

The representative of the Federated States of Micronesia, associating herself with AOSIS, the Pacific Islands Forum and the Pacific small island developing States, said her country sponsored the annual resolution on oceans and the law of the sea for years.  This year, however, while having voted for the text, it is unable to so, she said, calling it “deeply unfortunate” that consensus was not reached on including robust references to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, which is indisputably a major development.  She lamented the lack of references to Special Report findings about the extensive adverse impact of rampant anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions on the oceans, its resources and coastal communities, as well as references to international actions needed to address these adverse impacts — including ambitious and urgent mitigation efforts.  Such references are clearly within the remit of the resolution.

The representative of Argentina, speaking in explanation of position, said “L.22” refers to the review conference.  However, these recommendations cannot be enforceable on States that are not party to the agreement.  Complying with resolutions cannot be invoked to justify ignoring the rights enshrined in the Convention and nothing in the resolution should restrict the sovereign rights of coastal States related to the continental shelf.

The representative of the United States clarified that she had not intended to co-sponsor draft resolution A/74/L.21, noting that her delegation has issues with its references to the WTO.  The United States will act in its sovereign interests and does not take its direction from the United Nations.

The representative of Turkey, speaking in explanation of position, said his delegation voted against resolution “L.22”.  While he agreed with its general content, references to the Convention prompted Turkey to request a vote, as the country is not party to the Convention; nor does it agree that the Convention has a “universal and unified character”.  It is not the only legal framework that regulates ocean and sea activities.  The reasons Turkey is not party to the Convention remain valid.  “The Convention does not provide sufficient safeguards for particular geographical situations and, as a consequence, does not take into consideration conflicting interests and sensitivities stemming from special circumstances,” he said.  While Turkey joined consensus on resolution “L.21”, being fully committed to the conservation and sustainable use of marine living resources, it disassociates from references to the Convention.

The representative of Cyprus, associating himself with the European Union, said his country co-sponsored and voted for “L.22”, as it has each year.  He expressed regret that a vote was requested, in an attempt to question the Convention as the indisputable framework for all ocean and sea activities.  No country can pursue outlandish maritime claims guided by might, rather than by well-established rules of international law.

The representative of Greece, speaking in explanation of position, expressed regret that a vote was requested again in an attempt to challenge the Convention’s preeminent role and universal character.  By establishing the legal framework within which all ocean and sea activities must be carried out, the Convention promotes legal stability and helps to maintain global peace and security.  International jurisprudence has long accepted that its provisions either embody or reflect customary international law.  The 2019 omnibus resolution has particular significance, marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Convention’s entry into force.  It is imperative that the international law of the sea, the principles of good neighbourly relations and both the sovereignty — and sovereign rights — of all States over maritime zones, including those generated by islands, are respected.  All members of the international community must abide by these principles and should refrain from any actions that undermine regional stability and security.

The representative of Colombia said his country has coasts on the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and the health of those ecosystems requires both national and international protections.  He reaffirmed Colombia’s commitment to managing fisheries in order to build national and global resources.  Colombia could not support wording in either resolution on the 1982 Convention as the only normative framework regulating ocean activities.  Colombia has not ratified the Convention and is not party to it, save those elements into which it has expressly entered.  It is willing to work with other States on ocean management, but he expressed reservation over any mention of the Convention as the exclusive framework.

Right of Reply

The representative of China, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, replied to the representative of the United States.  China is a force for maintaining peace and security in the South China Sea and is committed to managing and settling relevant disputes through negotiation with countries that are directly concerned.  At present, due to concerted efforts, the situation is largely stable.  The South China Sea is among the world’s safest and freest sea routes.  The United States, under the pretext of freedom of navigation, sends ships and airplanes to the South China Sea to flaunt its power, he said, stressing that China has always respected countries’ enjoyment of freedom of navigation over the South China Sea in accordance with international law.

For information media. Not an official record.