New York

10 December 2012

Secretary-General's remarks at 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea

We come together to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

When the Convention was opened for signature in 1982, it was called a “constitution for the oceans”. 

Like a constitution, it is a firm foundation -- a permanent document providing order, stability, predictability and security -- all based on the rule of law.

The Convention on the Law of the Sea is the legal framework that guides every aspect of our management of the oceans and seas.

It is an acknowledgement that the many challenges and uses of the ocean are interrelated and need to be considered as a whole.

With 320 articles and 9 Annexes, the Convention covers every aspect of the oceans and marine environment and sets out a delicate balance of rights and duties.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As Ambassador Tommy Koh has said “the process of achieving the Convention was almost as important as the Convention itself”.

Forged through negotiation among more than 150 States, the treaty is a testament to the power of international cooperation, multilateral negotiation and consensus-building. 

We also pay tribute today to pioneers who helped bring this treaty to life.  

The late Ambassador Arvid Pardo of Malta, who launched the concept of the international seabed as the common heritage of mankind.

The late Ambassador Shirley Hamilton Amerasinghe of Sri Lanka, who served as the first President of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea – and, of course, Ambassador Tommy Koh, its last President.

Their leadership and diplomatic skills were instrumental in creating the legacy we celebrate today.

The codification and progressive development of the Law of the Sea has provided a flexible and evolving international legal framework. 

It has guided us through the settlement of disputes, the delineation of the outer limits of the extended continental shelf, and the administration of the resources of the international seabed.

Every day, it continues to contribute to international peace and security, as well as the equitable and efficient use of ocean resources. 

In every corner of the world, it supports our efforts to protect and preserve the marine environment and to realize a just and equitable economic order. 

In short, the Convention on the Law of the Sea is an important tool for sustainable development, as affirmed this year by the Rio+20 Conference.

But the oceans continue to face many challenges -- pollution, ocean acidification, over-exploitation of resources, piracy and maritime boundary disputes.

Addressing these issues should compel us to strive for the full implementation of the Convention. 

I am encouraged that support for the Convention has grown steadily through the years. 

With 164 parties, including the European Union, it is nearing the goal of universality set out by the General Assembly.

Let us work to bring all nations under the jurisdiction, protection and guidance of this essential treaty.

Let this be our goal as we mark 30 years of achievement – and look to the next generation of opportunities, challenges and hopes on the high seas. 

Thank you.