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At General Assembly, Ban calls for universal commitment to ‘constitution of the oceans’

Credit: United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
Credit: United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea

At General Assembly, Ban calls for universal commitment to ‘constitution of the oceans’

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today marked the 30th anniversary of the launch of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) by calling for a collective global effort to have all nations commit to the treaty, which is often called the “constitution for the oceans.”

“I am encouraged that support for the Convention has grown steadily through the years,” Mr. Ban said in an address before the 193-nation UN General Assembly. “Like a constitution, it is a firm foundation – a permanent document providing order, stability, predictability and security – all based on the rule of law.”

UNCLOS governs all aspects of ocean space, including the delimitation of maritime boundaries, environmental regulations, scientific research, commerce and the settlement of international disputes involving marine issues.

In his speech, the UN chief said the treaty was nearing the “goal of universality” that the Assembly set out, as he noted that 163 States and the European Union were Parties to the landmark measure, which the Assembly endorsed and opened for signature in 1982.

“Let us work to bring all nations under the jurisdiction, protection and guidance of this essential treaty,” Mr. Ban urged.

While it entered into force in 1994, UNCLOS is reflective of other international treaties in that it creates rights only for those who accept its obligations by becoming Parties. Exceptions are the provisions that apply to all States because they either confirm existing customary norms, or are becoming customary law.

Addressing the same meeting, Assembly Vice-President Ambassador Rodney Charles said UNCLOS had become a critical element of the international legal framework.

“The absence of a global legal framework led to the threat of maritime conflict as well as an often chaotic and unregulated exploitation of maritime resources,” Mr. Charles said. “Member States realized a universal law of the sea was urgently needed.”

Both Mr. Ban and Mr. Charles highlighted the expected central role UNCLOS will play as world governments and institutions set a global development agenda focused on sustainable resource use.

“The Convention on the Law of the Sea is an important tool for sustainable development, as affirmed this year by the Rio+20 Conference,” Mr. Ban said, as he referred to this summer’s UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), which saw world governments and institutions gather in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to consider a range of issues related to the topic.

Mr. Charles noted that Rio+20’s outcome documents recognized the importance of UNCLOS’ legal framework for ‘achieving the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans.”

“A sustainable future will involve renewable energies,” he said. “Marine renewable energies are an untapped potential in many regions of the world and can play a significant role in meeting sustainable development goals, enhancing energy security and creating jobs.”

In addition, Mr. Ban said the treaty’s negotiation by more than 150 States had been a “testament to the power of international cooperation, multilateral negotiation and consensus-building.”

Both he and Mr. Charles also saluted Ambassador Arvid Pardo of Malta, who died in 1999 and whom Mr. Charles said is considered the founding father of UNCLOS. The Assembly Vice-President noted that before the Assembly in 1967, Mr. Pardo “proposed a radical treaty to ensure the peaceful use and exploitation of the world’s oceans.”

Mr. Charles also highlighted an additional oceans-related initiative Mr. Ban launched in August with the aim of supporting and strengthening the implementation of UNCLOS. The Oceans Compact: Healthy Oceans for Prosperity sets out a “strategic vision for the UN system to deliver on ocean-related mandates,” Mr. Charles said.

At its launch, the Secretary-General said the Oceans Compact will provide a platform to help countries protect the ocean's natural resources, restore their full food production to help people's whose livelihoods depend on the sea, and increase awareness and knowledge about the management of the oceans.