Sea Law Convention Enters into Force

UN Chronicle, March 1995 | Go to article overview

Sea Law Convention Enters into Force


The entry into force of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea has turned the dream of a comprehensive law for the oceans into reality and was one of the greatest achievements of this century, Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali told the first meeting of the Assembly of the International Seabed Authority, held on 16 November in Kingston, Jamaica. The Convention came into force that same day, one year after the deposit of the 60th instrument of ratification.

It obtained the 60 ratifications or accessions required for its entry into force with the ratification by Guyana on 16 November 1993. By 31 January 1995, it had been ratified, acceded or succeeded to by 72 States.

The Convention, completed in 1982 after 15 years of negotiation and drafting, demonstrated what could be achieved when mutual support and respect were the basis for relations among nations, the Secretary-General added. Its mechanisms for dispute resolution were an important contribution to preventing conflict and promoting international peace and security, he went on. By providing a mechanism for addressing all aspects of the uses of the sea and its resources, the Convention was also an important asset for global development.

The Convention establishes a new and more equitable relationship among States, and distinct zones of sovereignty and jurisdiction for coastal States. It formulates rules for the high seas and lays down rights and duties of States with respect to navigation. It provides for the protection of the marine environment, and the conduct of marine research.

The Convention also provides a legal framework for the development of marine resources. It creates a new regime for deep seabed mining and addresses concerns relating to the limits of the continental shelf. It recognizes the rights and jurisdiction of States over resources, as well as the duties and obligations of States seeking to exploit those resources.

The three-day Kingston meeting, mainly commemorative, was convened in accordance with Convention provisions. The Assembly decided to reconvene its first session from 27 February until 17 March 1995, when it is expected to deal with such substantive matters as election of members of the Council of the Authority, its Secretary-General and members of other major organs.

During the meeting, speakers from both developed and developing countries praised the balance struck in the Convention between the rights and obligations of coastal and other States with respect to the use of the oceans. They also noted that the Convention had exercised a profound impact on State practice in such areas as territorial sea limits, navigation, jurisdiction over resources within the exclusive economic zone and dispute settlement, even before its entry into force.

The Convention provides a legal framework and detailed rules to govern the use of the world's oceans and their resources. It enshrines the principle that the resources of the deep seabed beyond national jurisdiction are the "common heritage of mankind". Part XI of the Convention defined that principle, created the Authority to oversee the exploitation of those resources, and elaborated a set of provisions to govern commercial deep seabed mining.

Some provisions, however, proved to be an obstacle to universal participation in the Convention, when a number of industrialized countries objected to their mandatory and regulatory approach to deep seabed mining.

The Agreement relating to the implementation of Part XI, which was adopted by the General Assembly on 28 July, removed the final obstacle to broader participation in the treaty. It addressed particular seabed mining provisions, replacing them with general principles geared more towards the emerging global consensus around market-oriented economic policies. The Agreement and Part XI are to be applied together. In case of a conflict between the two, the provisions of the Agreement would prevail. …

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