UN At 75: How the Law of The Sea Has Shaped A More Fair and Equal Society


UN At 75: How the Law of The Sea Has Shaped A More Fair and Equal Society

Photo: The International Seabed Authority.28 September 2020

Viewpoint by Michael W. Lodge

Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) based in Jamaica.

KINGSTON (IDN) – In his address to the United Nations Economic and Social Council in July 2020, reflecting on what kind of UN we need at the 75th anniversary, the Secretary-General of the UN called for strengthened and renewed multilateralism, geared towards the overarching goals of peace and security, human rights, and sustainable development.

One of the greatest and most enduring successes of the UN is the establishment of the legal regime for the ocean that is reflected in the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which has rightly been described as the constitution for the oceans. As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the UN this week, it is worth reflecting on the contribution of the Convention to the Secretary-General’s vision of a more fair and equal society.

< Mr Michael W. Lodge

The Third UN Conference on the Law of the Sea, which lasted from 1973 to 1982, was the largest and most complex multilateral conference convened up to that time. It took place against a background of uncertainty in the law of the sea created by a proliferation of unilateral claims and the failure of two previous conferences in 1958 and 1960. Some of these claims resulted in violence and international conflicts over access and rights of passage, such as the ‘cod war’ between UK and Norway.

Rapid decolonization and the consequent emergence of some 100 new States challenged the traditional maritime order reflected in the doctrine of the freedom of the seas, but which effectively meant that the oceans were claimed for the exclusive use of a small number of maritime powers.  At the same time, rapid advances in science and technology increased our understanding of the vulnerability of the ocean to over-exploitation and the impacts of pollution.

The 1982 Convention established certainty in the law of the sea and brought peace and order to the oceans. It provides for an equitable relationship among States in their use of the ocean and has been a major contribution to international peace and security. Although the Convention is multi-faceted, covering every aspect of humanity’s use of the oceans, four elements stand out.

First, the Convention resolved the vexed question of the extent of the maritime jurisdiction of States.  After 400 years during which naval power was the ultimate arbiter of right, agreement was reached on a 12-mile territorial sea, a 200-mile exclusive economic zone, the definition of the continental shelf and a system for resolving disputes over overlapping claims. Essential rights of passage through straits used for international navigation were preserved for all States and landlocked countries were assured of perpetual rights of access to the sea. Since more than 90% of goods are carried by sea, this has made a major contribution to the development of international trade and commerce.

Second, and often overlooked, is the fact that the Convention is one of the most important environmental treaties ever adopted. In addition to an entire chapter focused on protection of the marine environment, it is the first treaty to include a definition of pollution that also applies to anthropogenic CO2 emissions, regardless of their source. Furthermore, the provisions of the Convention relating to the marine environment are mandatory, unqualified and without exception, with a marked absence of phrases we have become accustomed to in more recent years such as ‘in accordance with capabilities’, ‘as appropriate’ and ‘as far as practicable’.

Third, and obviously most dear to my heart, the Convention established an entirely novel legal regime for the largest untapped mineral resources on the planet, designating these resources as the ‘common heritage of mankind’, to be managed by an international agency – the International Seabed Authority (ISA) and used sustainably for the benefit of all humanity. Access to these resources is assured to both developed and developing States, rich and poor, large, and small. No other resource on the planet is managed in this way and we have struggled so far to apply similar ideals to extra-terrestrial resources.

Fourth, the Convention has endured. Adopted when the UN was only 37 years old, the Convention has gone from strength to strength and now has 168 States Parties, including the majority of the major maritime powers. Maritime disputes have been resolved peacefully in accordance with the Convention, supported by the International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, through a comprehensive system for dispute settlement that goes beyond that contained in any other treaty.

The Convention has shown that it is adaptable to changing circumstances and new challenges with the adoption of two implementing agreements in 1994 and 1995, on deep seabed mining and international fisheries, respectively. What is particularly significant is that these agreements develop the provisions of the Convention in the light of new scientific knowledge and growing environmental concerns without in any way undermining the underlying package of rights and jurisdictions agreed in 1982.

The Law of the Sea Convention represents the triumph of international law and equity over ideology. Sadly, that triumph remains incomplete and even under threat. It is incomplete because we have not yet achieved universal participation in the Convention. A number of countries remain outside the Convention, including the United States. It is under threat because of the growing and multiple inequalities noted by the Secretary-General. When it comes to the ocean, we see this inequality reflected, for example, in the gap between the incredible advances that have taken place in marine science and technology and the lack of capacity of most developing countries to benefit from that science and technology. We see billionaires building advanced ships to pursue their own private research interests while developing countries are unable to even survey their own waters, let alone participate effectively in international scientific research.

The 75th anniversary of the United Nations presents an inspirational moment for the international community to reaffirm its commitment to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and ensure that its provisions are implemented on the basis of equity and for the benefit of all humanity. [IDN-InDepthNews – 22 September 2020].

Photos (top and in text): International Seabed Authority.

IDN is flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

Visit us on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence. You are free to share, remix, tweak and build upon it non-commercially.

Leave a Reply

SSCP   CAS-002   9L0-066   350-050   642-999   220-801   74-678   642-732   400-051   ICGB   c2010-652   70-413   101-400   220-902   350-080   210-260   70-246   1Z0-144   3002   AWS-SYSOPS   70-347   PEGACPBA71V1   220-901   70-534   LX0-104   070-461   HP0-S42   1Z0-061   000-105   70-486   70-177   N10-006   500-260   640-692   70-980   CISM   VCP550   70-532   200-101   000-080   PR000041   2V0-621   70-411   352-001   70-480   70-461   ICBB   000-089   70-410   350-029   1Z0-060   2V0-620   210-065   70-463   70-483   CRISC   MB6-703   1z0-808   220-802   ITILFND   1Z0-804   LX0-103   MB2-704   210-060   101   200-310   640-911   200-120   EX300   300-209   1Z0-803   350-001   400-201   9L0-012   70-488   JN0-102   640-916   70-270   100-101   MB5-705   JK0-022   350-060   300-320   1z0-434   350-018   400-101   350-030   000-106   ADM-201   300-135   300-208   EX200   PMP   NSE4   1Z0-051   c2010-657   C_TFIN52_66   300-115   70-417   9A0-385   70-243   300-075   70-487   NS0-157   MB2-707   70-533   CAP   OG0-093   M70-101   300-070   102-400   JN0-360   SY0-401   000-017   300-206   CCA-500   70-412   2V0-621D   70-178   810-403   70-462   OG0-091   1V0-601   200-355   000-104   700-501   70-346   CISSP   300-101   1Y0-201   200-125  , 200-125  , 100-105  , 100-105  , CISM   NS0-157   350-018  , NS0-157   ICBB  , N10-006 test  , 350-050   70-534   70-178   220-802   102-400   000-106   70-411  , 400-101   100-101  , NS0-157   1Z0-803   200-125  , 210-060   400-201   350-050   C_TFIN52_66  , JN0-102  , 200-355   JN0-360   70-411   350-018  , 70-412   350-030   640-916   000-105   100-105  , 70-270  , 70-462   300-070  , 300-070   642-999   101-400   PR000041   200-101  , 350-030   300-070  , 70-270  , 400-051   200-120   70-178   9L0-012   70-487   LX0-103   100-105  ,