Draft Principles on Remote Sensing Activities Approved by Outer Space Committee

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Draft principles on remote sensing activities approved by Outer Space Committee

A set of 15 draft principles relating to the remote sensing of the Earth by satellite--the product of 12 years' work--was endorsed by the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space at its 1986 session (2-13 June, New York).

The draft principles, to be forwarded to the General Assembly for its approval, were approved by the Committee's Legal Sub-Committee at its session earlier this year (24 March-11 April, Geneva). They are intended to encourage the appropriate use of remote sensing and to promote the sharing, particularly with developing countries, of the possibilities offered by the technology.

The text, as set out in the Committee's report to the Assembly (A/41/20), states: "Remote-sensing activities shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic, social or scientific and technological development, and taking into particular consideration the needs of the developing countries'.

The principles call for remotesensing activities to be conducted in accordance with international law-- and not "in a manner detrimental to the legitimate rights and interests of the sensed State'. The draft also declares that remote sensing should be used to protect the Earth's natural environment and protect mankind from natural disasters.

A number of the principles relate to apects of international co-operation and assistance in remote-sensing activities. Others relate to access by the "sensed' State to primary and processed data and available analysed information concerning its territory, on a non-discriminatory basis and on reasonable cost terms. Final principles relate to international responsibilities for remote-sensing activity, and to regulation of disputes resulting from application of the principles.

The Committee's Scientific and Technical Sub-Committee, at its 1986 session (10-21 February, New York), reiterated its view that remote sensing should take into account the "fundamental urgent need to provide appropriate and non-discriminatory assistance' to developing countries, and emphasized the need to make remote sensing data available at reasonable cost. Because many countries had become dependent on data from operational meteorological satellites, it was necessary to guarantee continuation and further development of services, that Sub-Committee said (see UN Chronicle 1986, No. 3).

After the draft principles were approved by the Committee, the Soviet Union said the text should be interpreted as imposing on States an obligation to ensure that remote sensing of territories beyond their jurisdiction, whether carried out by governmental or non-governmental institutions, was done in accordance with the draft principles. States should also be held responsible internationally for damages that might result from their remote senting activities. In addition, stated the USSR, the draft principles should be viewed as merely a first step to be followed by the drafting of an appropriate international agreement on remote sensing.

The Federal Republic of Germany, United States, India, Sweden, the Netherlands and Iraq reserved their rights to make interpretative statements about the remote-sensing text at the 1986 Assembly session.

Chairman's statement: In opening the session, Committee Chairman Peter Jankowitsch (Austria) noted the accomplishments in the field of outer space over the past year, including the growth of international satellite-related programmes such as COSPAS/ SARSAT, a search and rescue operation sponsored by Canada, France, the Soviet Union and United States, and the expansion of international telephone and television services with the launching of three new satellites by INTELSAT, the international satellite communications organization.

In February 1986, he said, the Soviet Union had launched the first module for the Mir (Peace) permanent space station system, and the United States, as part of its space shuttle programme, in October 1985 had launched the largest crew ever--eight astronauts, including two from the Federal Republic of Germany and one from the Netherlands. …