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Joint statement of WEOG States Parties to UNCLOS, and other Member States, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of UNCLOS

Statement by Ambassador Thórdur Aegir Óskarsson, Deputy Permanent Representative,
on behalf of the WEOG States Parties to UNCLOS, and other Member States

General Assembly 77th session, 08 December 2021

Commemoration of the fortieth anniversary of the adoption and opening for signature of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (resolution 76/72)

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Mr. President, Excellencies, Distinguished Guests.

I have the honour of speaking on behalf of the Western European and Other States Parties to the Convention, as well as the United States of America and Liechtenstein.

Today we celebrate the 40th anniversary of a remarkable achievement, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. This timeless and highly effective convention, commonly referred to as the constitution of the Ocean, is now applied every day, all over the world.

It is one of the UN’s greatest achievements.

At the time that the Convention was negotiated, the world was rapidly changing. The number of sovereign states was increasing, technological advancements were being made and uses of the Ocean were becoming more complex. This increased the risk of competition, chaos and conflict. Undeterred, diplomats from all over the world managed to negotiate a convention which has greatly contributed to peace, stability and the rule of law ever since.

What sets the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea apart, is its scope and the comprehensiveness of the legal regime that it establishes for the use of the world’s oceans and seas; the legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out.

Further, the Convention was elaborately designed to stand the test of time. Since the opening up for signatures forty years ago and its entry into force twenty-eight years ago, it has indeed stood the test of time. The Convention regime has been further strengthened by two implementing agreements, namely the UN Fish Stocks Agreement and the Agreement relating to the Implementation of Part XI of the Convention. A third implementing agreement is very much on the horizon. Come March 2023, it is the firm belief of the aforementioned States that negotiations will have concluded on an agreement often referred to as the BBNJ Agreement, or the “internationally legally binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction”. The BBNJ Agreement has the potential to significantly enhance international ocean governance in response to the many and profound threats facing the marine environment.

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Mr. President.                                

The legal order under the Convention is supported by the significant contribution of its three organs: The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, the International Seabed Authority, and the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.

The Tribunal in Hamburg, Germany, continues to serve as an important independent judicial body to adjudicate dispute settlement. Part XV of UNCLOS on the settlement of disputes is one of the Convention‘s greatest assets. The International Seabed Authority in Kingston, Jamaica, is approaching a historic moment: provisions of the Convention relevant to it are in the process of being operationalized and it is highly important for member States to get it right.

The Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf continues its scientific work to underpin advice and recommendations on the delineation between States‘ continental shelves and the Area. The work has proven to be more extensive than previously thought, and it is the duty of Member States to support this work and ensure it can take place.

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Mr. President.

This commemoration takes place at a time when the multilateral order is under threat.

It takes place in a world which now looks at mounting challenges, not only in the short term in relation to conflicts or to the pandemic; but also in the long term in relation to our environment, climate and the health of our ocean, to name but a few.

At this challenging point in time, it is certainly worth taking a moment to celebrate the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea at its fortieth anniversary, for the very reason that it is absolutely one of the most inspiring stories of multilateral success during the 20th Century.

We must build on this success and preserve it. We must keep upholding the balance between the rights and obligations enshrined in the Convention; meeting challenges as they come. Without doubt, there are going to be new challenges to meet. A prominent one is the threat of sea level rise. This is a threat of concern to all UN Member States, although SIDS and low-lying coastal communities will suffer disproportionally from it. This is a legally complex challenge, but solutions must be found, in line with the Convention.

We must also do better on full implementation of the Convention, for instance on combatting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

In the wider context of meeting ocean related challenges, the UN Ocean Conference, first held in 2017 in New York and again in Lisbon this summer; has proven to be an important meeting place on the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14 and we hope that this can again be the case in 2025.

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Mr. President.

Arvid Pardo of Malta, Tommy Koh of Singapore and all the others who negotiated and contributed to the making of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, continue to serve as role models and a source of inspiration. Their success, and the continued effectiveness of the Convention should not be taken for granted. Its integrity needs to be maintained. This is on all of us.

In conclusion, with the goal of universal participation in sight, we call on States that have not yet done so to become parties to UNCLOS as soon as possible.


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