Veteran Japanese diplomat elected as head of UN-backed sea court
A veteran Japanese jurist and diplomat has been elected President of the United Nations-backed International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), which adjudicates issues ranging from the uses of ocean resources and continental shelves to protection of the marine environment.
Judge Shunji Yanai, who has been a member of the Hamburg-based tribunal since 2005, was elected on Saturday to serve a three-year term, succeeding José Luis Jesus from Cape Verde. He remains eligible to be re-elected subsequently for another term.
Judge Yanai, 74, entered the Japanese foreign ministry in 1961 and served in various offices and embassies. He served as vice-minister for foreign affairs from 1997 to 1999 when he became ambassador to the United States, a post he held until 2001.
The tribunal is an independent judicial body established by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to adjudicate disputes arising out of the interpretation and application of the treaty, which establishes a comprehensive legal framework to regulate all ocean space, its uses and resources.
One of the most important parts of the Convention concerns the exploration for and exploitation of the resources of the seabed and ocean floor and subsoil beyond the limits of national jurisdiction, the so-called Area, declaring it and its resources to be “the common heritage of mankind.” The International Seabed Authority, established by the Convention, administers the resources of the Area.
The treaty also contains provisions relating to the territorial sea, the contiguous zone, the continental shelf, the exclusive economic zone and the high seas and provides for the protection and preservation of the marine environment, for marine scientific research and for the development and transfer of marine technology.
The tribunal, composed of 21 independent members, elected Judge Albert J. Hoffmann of South Africa, also a member since 2005, as Vice-President. He has previously served in the South African foreign ministry and as legal adviser to his country’s UN mission.
Three new judges were also elected to nine-year terms on the tribunal. They are David Joseph Attard from Malta, Elsa Kelly from Argentina and Markiyan Z. Kulyk from Ukraine.