Delegates Hail Positive Progress on New High Seas Treaty, as Second Session of Intergovernmental Negotiations Concludes

SEA/2102
5 April 2019
Second Session, AM & PM Meetings

Delegates Hail Positive Progress on New High Seas Treaty, as Second Session of Intergovernmental Negotiations Concludes

Delegates elaborating the terms of a new high seas treaty under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea hailed expanding convergence on many of that instrument’s substantive elements, as the Intergovernmental Conference tasked with drafting a legally-binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity concluded its second session today.

In light of the maturing negotiation process, many of those legal and scientific experts also looked ahead to the Conference’s third session — slated to take place from 19-30 August — calling for a more formal “zero draft” of the future treaty to guide deliberations.

“You will see the draft before 25 July,” said Rena Lee (Singapore), President of the Conference, in closing remarks.  Noting that delegates are referring to it as a zero draft, she assured them that all proposals would be studied, with the aim of producing a concise document to enable negotiations on the draft treaty.  Having acknowledged the views expressed on the various options, she also underscored that she would work to narrow some and eliminate others, and likely follow the structure of a treaty, using similar language.

She had heard delegates’ views, she said, adding that she had begun to discuss the organization of work with the Conference bureau in preparations for the third session.  In that regard, she would meet with the Secretariat to identify the resources available — and perhaps organize the session around informal, informal negotiations in smaller rooms “where we can drill down into the text”.  Within that format, there would always be progress updates to the Plenary.  She also stressed that she would work to avoid parallel meetings.  However, if they prove necessary, there will be no more than two at a time.

Thanking delegates for their positive spirit, she said she was encouraged by the high level of engagement during the second session.  However, she did not underestimate the scale of the work ahead.  Perseverance and persistence will be needed.  “One by one we will eventually get there,” she assured the Conference.

Several speakers delivered general statements welcoming progress over the course of the session, while also turning their attention to the way forward.

Algeria’s representative, speaking for the African Group, described the session as a positive one that allowed for progress on many issues.  “But let us be frank — it is impossible to continue to consolidate convergence of views on a text containing many options,” he said, referring to the sweeping placeholder document currently serving as a guide for negotiators.  While that had been useful, enough elements have now emerged to produce a more formal “zero draft” treaty for the Conference’s third session, he said.

The representative of the State of Palestine, on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said he also agreed that a zero draft will render future sessions of the Conference even more conducive to deliberative and substantive discussions.  He expressed hope that a zero draft will be circulated by the intersessional period’s halfway point, allowing delegations to consider that text and coordinate common positions ahead of the August meeting.

While the representative of Belize, speaking for the Alliance of Small Island States, echoed support for a zero draft and pledged to remain actively engaged in the Conference’s third session, Barbados’ delegate, on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), joined others in calling for a “streamlined, concise treaty text […] that would better enable delegations to identify the contours of the future instrument”.

Meanwhile, Mexico’s representative, speaking for the like-minded Latin American States, requested that the text prepared by the President be presented in six official languages well in advance of the third session, which would make it more likely to negotiate a legally binding document in 2020.  

The representative of the European Union emphasized that “the world is counting on us to deliver” a new treaty governing areas of the ocean that lie beyond national jurisdiction by the 2020 deadline.  “It is high time to begin working on a draft treaty text,” he said, noting that while the Conference’s current format has allowed for the articulation of positions, it is not conducive to promoting fully fledged negotiations.  Voicing strong support for the adoption of a new, text-based format — which will likely make parallel negotiations inevitable — he called for continued transparency, the ongoing participation of civil society and the dissemination of relevant information well in advance.

Fiji’s representative, speaking for the Pacific small island developing States, commended the session, stating: “These discussions have demystified the respective positions of delegations and have led to a greater clarity and better understanding of the unique perspectives […] that we bring to this complex process.”  She highlighted matters of particular importance, including adjacency, fair and equitable sharing of benefits, the special circumstances of small island developing States and the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples and local communities, as well as such “cumulative impacts” as the adverse effects of climate change and ocean acidification.

The Russian Federation’s delegate cautioned against using a zero draft that contained no options, pointing out that much of the third session will take place in an informal format of closed meetings, creating circumstances for delegations to react to proposals in real time and formulate text proposals for reaching consensus.

Canada’s delegate similarly said he expected the President to make choices in light of discussions that have taken place, adding that he was open to allowing more than one possibility to be presented in a limited number of instances.  Nonetheless, delegates should expect a change of tempo — and a variety of work formats — when they meet in August.

The representative of the Republic of Korea said that while his delegation, like others, is flexible on the type of document to be used in the next session, it would be desirable to have a treaty-type text as soon as possible, as divergences persist on several critical issues.  Delegations could move fast into a treaty-like document once the more substantive issues have been agreed, he said, also signalling an openness to any format or method for facilitating discussions.  “All the options are still on the table,” Togo’s delegate added.

The facilitators of the Conference’s informal working groups also provided overviews of their deliberations.  Those covered, respectively:  marine genetic resources, including questions on the sharing of benefits; environmental impact assessments; cross-cutting issues; capacity-building and the transfer of marine technology; and area-based management tools, including marine protected areas. 

Delegates then adopted the report of the Credential Committee (document A/CONF.232/2019/4), presented by its chair, Carl Grainger (Ireland). 

Prior to that, the representative of the European Union said the presidential elections in Venezuela were neither free, fair or democratic, and lacked legitimacy.  She expressed full support for the National Assembly of Venezuela, a democratic, legitimate body, whose powers must be restored and respected, underlining that the solution to the crisis can only be a political, democratic and peaceful one.

Echoing that stance, the representative of Japan expressed support for Juan Guidó and called on Venezuela to hold a free and fair presidential election.

However, the representative of the Russian Federation expressed deep disappointment over statements about the so-called temporary President, Juan Guaidó, which constitute open interference into the sovereign affairs of a State and an abuse of a United Nations platform for a propagandist policy to overturn a Government not of their liking.

The representative of Venezuela voiced regret that the representatives of the European Union and Japan were attempting to divert attention from the Conference by questioning his Government’s credentials, violating the right to self-determination and promoting a coup d’état.  Bringing bilateral matters into the Conference could imperil the rights of all United Nations members, he said, citing article 2.7 of the Charter of the United Nations, which prohibits intervention into internal State affairs. 

There is no authority within international law, or the United Nations Charter, that allows a country or a group of countries to appoint a national authority of another State, he continued.  Appropriating such authority is illegal.  Pursuant to article 5 of Venezuela’s Constitution, authority resides with the Venezuelan people, who have the power to elect their officials.  Underscoring the principles of sovereignty, equality and non-intervention into internal State affairs, he recalled the 1986 International Court of Justice decision in that regard.  “What we’re seeing today is another step in a campaign of aggression against Venezuela,” he asserted.

The representative of China voiced support for the Credential Committee’s report, noting that the General Assembly had already accepted Venezuela’s credentials.  Unless the Assembly adopts another resolution, relevant conferences should not take their own decisions, as Venezuela’s representation in international organizations is recognized.  Treaty negotiations are not a place to handle such questions and he voiced his objection to attempts to use the Conference as a way to achieve political aims.

The representative of Syria, endorsing the positions of the Russian Federation, Venezuela and China, also expressed his objections to attempts by the European Union and Japan to use a legal forum to promote unilateral positions against Venezuela’s sovereignty.  The legitimacy of Venezuela’s Government is decided by the ballot boxes in that country, which had already expressed the will of the Venezuelan people.  “This is not for anyone else to decide,” he asserted.

Cuba’s representative expressed regret over attempts to interfere in the affairs of others.  She voiced support for and solidarity with Venezuela, as well as with Nicolás Maduro, the constitutional President, whose power emanates from the sovereign will of his people and not from recognition by foreign Powers.  She appealed to all delegates to demonstrate respect for United Nations principles, calling on the General Assembly to ensure that Venezuela’s credentials are respected.

Echoing those statements, Iran’s delegate expressed strong support for Venezuela and deep concern that some States attempted to cast doubt on the credentials of a United Nations Member State.  There is no basis on which to challenge the credentials committee nor use the treaty process for a purely political agenda.  Such efforts constitute an interference in a State’s internal affairs and a blow to multilateralism.  It is of utmost importance to uphold United Nations Charter principles and international legal norms, she said.

The representative of Peru, speaking for the Lima Group (Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay and Peru), as well as Australia, United States, Georgia, Israel, United Kingdom, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic and others, said the adoption of the Credentials Committee report must not be interpreted as tacit recognition of the illegitimate Maduro regime or his representatives.  Indeed, more than 50 countries recognize Juan Guidó as the interim President of Venezuela.

The representative of Nicaragua expressed support for the Committee’s recommendations for the Conference, which align with United Nations Charter principles.  Recalling that Nicaragua bases its relations on the principles of sovereignty, non-interference and peaceful dispute resolution, she said the situation in Venezuela is a domestic one that must be resolved by Venezuelans themselves.

Following those remarks, delegates also heard a statement by Gabriele Goettsche-Wanli, Director of the United Nations Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea/Office of Legal Affairs, on the status of the Voluntary Trust Fund to assist developing countries, in particular least developed countries and small island developing States, in attending the meetings of the Preparatory Committee and the Intergovernmental Conference.  She reported that, for the Conference’s current session, the Trust Fund facilitated the participation of 37 delegates from developing countries.

In other business, delegates concluded their consideration of proposed treaty sections on the scope of application and general principles and approaches, as well as international cooperation. 

Speaking on those items, the representative of Papua New Guinea drew attention to the new treaty’s relationship with broader principles of international law.  An example was the concept of environmental impact assessments, which was already recognized by the International Court of Justice. 

The Marshall Islands’ representative, associating herself with the Group of 77 and the Pacific small island developing States, voiced support for the inclusion of language ensuring that the new treaty be applied in a manner that does not undermine the effectiveness of existing mechanisms, frameworks and processes.  

The representative of Iran, associating herself with the Group of 77, reiterated that the treaty’s aim is to become a universal instrument in which no country — including non-parties to the Convention on the Law of the Sea — is left behind.  

Meanwhile, Singapore’s representative underlined the need to look past details and towards more substantive matters at the current stage.  “States parties need to know what they must, or what they must not, do,” he emphasized.

Also speaking on those items were representatives of Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Iceland, Indonesia, Belize, China, Russian Federation and Australia.  An observer from the Holy See also participated, as did representatives of the International Cable Protection Committee, Greenpeace (for the High Seas Alliance) and the International Council on Environmental Law.  

Delivering general statements today were representatives of Nauru (for the Pacific Small Island Forum), Paraguay (for the landlocked developing countries), Fiji (for the Pacific small island developing States), Ghana, Philippines, Switzerland, China, Senegal, United States, Federated States of Micronesia, United Republic of Tanzania, Monaco, Norway, Sierra Leone, Canada, Japan, Iceland, Eritrea, Ecuador, Peru, Dominican Republic, Viet Nam, Uganda and Morocco, as well as representatives of the World Ocean Council, High Seas Alliance and the International Council for Environmental Law.

For information media. Not an official record.