Statement by Mr. Tomas H. Heidar
Legal Adviser, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Iceland
Eighth Meeting of the United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans
and the Law of the Sea
At the outset I would like to thank you, the co-chairpersons, for preparing and chairing this important meeting, as well as for your contribution to strengthening and improving the efficiency of the Informal Consultative Process (UNICPOLOS) in general. I would also like to express our appreciation to the Secretariat, in particular the able staff of the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, headed by the new Director, Mr. Václav Mikulka, for the comprehensive annual report on oceans and the law of the sea. This report, especially its part X on marine genetic resources, has greatly facilitated our deliberations this week.
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The Law of the Sea Convention, the only treaty dealing in a comprehensive manner with the law of the sea, provides the legal framework for all uses of the oceans. We welcome recent ratifications of the Convention by Belarus, Niue, Montenegro, Moldova, Morocco and Lesotho, bringing the number of States Parties up to 155, and signals of further ratifications in the near future. It is imperative that the Convention be fully implemented and that its integrity be preserved. Issues that were settled at the Third Law of the Sea Conference should not be reopened. In this respect it needs to be borne in mind that the conclusions of the Conference were regarded as a package, individual States prevailing in some areas but having to compromise on others.
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Although the term ?marine genetic resources? does not appear in the Law of the Sea Convention, activities related to these resources are governed by the relevant general principles of the Convention, as well as by other relevant international instruments, including, in particular, the Convention on Biological Diversity. The Law of the Sea Convention contains in Parts V, VI and VII provisions on the conservation and management of living marine resources, which include genetic resources, in areas within and beyond national jurisdiction. In the view of Iceland, marine genetic resources in areas beyond national jurisdiction, whether in the water column, on the seabed or in the subsoil, are subject to the high seas regime of the Convention. They are not covered by Part XI of the Convention, except as part of the marine environment that must be protected in connection with mining activities in the international seabed area.
Consequently, Part VII of the Convention applies to marine genetic resources in areas beyond national jurisdiction, in particular the general principles contained in Section 2 on the conservation and management of the living resources of the high seas. These include article 117 on the duty of States to take necessary conservation measures for their nationals and - as rightly pointed out in the statement by Pakistan on behalf of the Group of 77 and China last Monday - article 118 on the duty of States to cooperate in the conservation and management of living resources. In addition, Part XII on the protection and preservation of the marine environment, Part XIII on marine scientific research and Part XIV on development and transfer of marine technology are all applicable.
We remain to be convinced of the need for a new international legal regime for marine genetic resources in areas beyond national jurisdiction. In our view, the Law of the Sea Convention provides a sufficient legal framework in this respect and offers at the same time a great amount of flexibility. Iceland is willing to engage in a constructive debate for the purpose of finding fair and equitable practical solutions regarding the exploitation of marine genetic resources in areas beyond national jurisdiction within the existing legal framework. A prerequisite in this respect is a good and common understanding of the nature, vulnerability, value and services of marine genetic resources, and this meeting, in particular the discussion panel for the last three days, has contributed greatly in this regard.
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In our view, the recommendations contained in the General Assembly fisheries resolution 61/105 concerning the impacts of fishing on vulnerable marine ecosystems are both targeted and meaningful, and we note that this now seems generally appreciated. We welcome the implementation of these recommendations at the national, regional and global level. Iceland has emphasized the role of FAO in this field and we welcome the decision at the meeting of the Committee on Fisheries (COFI) last March to develop, through expert and technical consultations, technical guidelines on the management of deep-sea fisheries in the high seas. The guidelines will include standards and criteria for identifying vulnerable marine ecosystems in areas beyond national jurisdiction and the impacts of fishing activities on such ecosystems, in order to facilitate the adoption and implementation of conservation and management measures by regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) and flag States pursuant to the aforementioned recommendations of the fisheries resolution 61/105. My country has pledged a financial contribution to this important work of the FAO.
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The COFI meeting also took important decisions related to combating illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU fishing). Firstly, it accepted the proposal of Norway to develop, through expert and technical consultations, a new legally binding instrument on port State measures, as also recommended in the fisheries resolution 61/105. Secondly, the meeting requested the FAO to consider the possibility, subject to the availability of funds, of an expert consultation to develop criteria for assessing the performance of flag States, as well as to examine possible actions against vessels flying the flags of States not meeting such criteria. In our view, this work is particularly relevant in strengthening and developing the legal basis for meaningful and effective measures against vessels engaged in IUU fishing on the high seas, where the flag State has failed to fulfil its obligations and take action. We are, in cooperation with other interested States, considering supporting this important work of the FAO as a matter of priority.