Press Releases

    10 December 2002


    General Assembly Meeting to Mark 20th Anniversary Is Told
    Ratification by All States Would Strengthen Effectiveness of Treaty

    NEW YORK, 9 December (UN Headquarters) -- This is the text of remarks by Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the General Assembly's meeting today in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the opening for signature of the 1982 United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea:

    We have come together today to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The Convention was a milestone for the rule of law, and for the United Nations. Ambitious in scope, and comprehensive in purpose, the Convention was designed to allocate rights and responsibilities on the oceans -- among States and organizations.

    Known to many as "a constitution for the oceans", the Convention was established as a legal framework of general principles and rules governing the division of ocean space and regulating all activities within it. Like a constitution, it is a firm foundation -- a permanent document providing order, stability, predictability and security -- all based on the rule of law. In a world of uncertainty and insecurity, it is indeed a great achievement to have established this Convention, and to ensure the rule of law in an element where human beings from different nations have interacted through the centuries.

    In each of the main areas addressed by the Convention -- the peaceful uses of the sea, navigation and communication, the equitable and efficient use of the oceans' resources, and the preservation of the marine environment -- new challenges have emerged requiring new thinking and vigorous action. The Convention is a living document, adaptable to change -- and indeed, much has changed since its adoption, and new developments will emerge in the future. Old problems have become more serious, and new problems have arisen.

    The framers of the Convention knew that all the problems and uses of the ocean were interrelated and that a piecemeal approach to regulation would no longer suffice. Hence, they elaborated a Convention that attempted to address, at least at the level of general principles, all problems, all activities, all resources, all uses of the oceans. They also sought to take into account, and to balance, the rights and interests of all groups of States.

    In doing so, they created a Convention which provides for the rational exploitation of both living and non-living resources of the sea, and for the conservation of the living resources. It establishes a comprehensive and forward-looking framework for the protection of the marine environment, a regime for marine scientific research, principles for the transfer of technology and, finally, a binding and comprehensive system for the settlement of disputes.

    Over the last 20 years, the purposes of the Convention have in large measure been fulfilled: coastal States are delimiting their maritime zones in accordance with the Convention; freedom of navigation has been assured; ocean activities are governed by law; many conflicts have been avoided; and many problems have been addressed.

    On the other hand, implementation of certain aspects has been inadequate. As highlighted by the recent World Summit on Sustainable Development, the world's fisheries are becoming increasingly depleted, and the environment is becoming dangerously degraded.

    These are threats not only to food security and to the livelihoods of many coastal communities, but also to human health and to life itself. The oceans were the sources of life and continue to sustain it. The oceans and the seas are vitally important for the earth's ecosystem. They provide vital resources for food security, and without them economic prosperity and the well-being of present and future generations could not be sustained.

    If the Convention is to succeed in meeting these threats, cooperation and coordination between States must be improved. Because ocean-related issues are dealt with in many different organizations -- at the national, subregional, regional and global level -- constant communication and coordination are necessary for effective governance. Let me therefore close by appealing to all States who have not yet done so to ratify the Convention. There could be no bigger tribute to its success and importance than to see it become truly universal. Peace and security, development and trade, cooperation and the rule of law would be strengthened by that achievement.

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