United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea

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A UN Conference was convened in New York in 1973, and ended nine years later with the adoption in 1982 of a constitution for the seas - the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Representatives of more than 160 sovereign States sat down and discussed the issues, and bargained for national rights and obligations. Navigational rights, territorial sea limits, economic jurisdiction, legal status of resources on the seabed beyond the limits of national jurisdiction, passage of ships through narrow straits, conservation and management of living marine resources, protection of the marine environment, a marine research regime and a binding procedure for settlement of disputes between States - are important features of the treaty.

The Convention was a package deal that had to be accepted as a whole in all its parts without reservation on any aspect. The signature of the Convention by governments carries the undertaking not to take any action that might defeat its objects and purposes. Ratification of, or accession to, the Convention expresses the consent of a state to be bound by its provisions. The Convention came into force on 16 November 1994.

After the Convention, governments have extended areas of adjacent ocean within their jurisdiction, including exercising rights over neighbouring seas, and assessing the resources of waters and on the floor of the continental shelf. Navigation through the territorial sea and narrow straits is now based on legal principles. Coastal states have extensive economic rights over a 200-mile wide zone along their shores. Landlocked countries access to and from the sea is provided. The right to conduct marine scientific research is based on accepted principles and cannot be unreasonably denied.

The International Seabed Authority, which organize and control activities in the deep seabed beyond national jurisdiction with a view to administering its resources; as well as the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, which has competence to settle ocean related disputes arising from the application or interpretation of the Convention.

Part XI, which deals with mining of minerals lying on the deep ocean floor outside of nationally regulated ocean areas, in the international seabed area, has raised many concerns especially from industrialized States. The Secretary-General initiated a series of informal consultations among States in order to resolve those areas of concern. The consultations successfully achieved, in July 1998, an Agreement Related to the Implementation of Part XI of the Convention. The Agreement, which is part of the Convention, has paved the way for all States to become parties to the Convention.


References

UN Convention on Law of the Sea


The main author of this article is Magdalena Muir
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