64th Plenary Meeting of General Assembly 72nd Session

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05-Dec-2017 03:17:46
Adopting two texts on oceans, seas, General Assembly also tackles sustainable management, conservation of marine life beyond national jurisdiction at 63rd and 64th meetings.

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Tackling issues related to marine areas beyond the limits of countries’ jurisdiction would mark a “giant leap forward” in advancing the fair and sustainable management of the world’s ocean, the General Assembly heard today, as it adopted two resolutions linked to the implementation of the landmark 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The General Assembly adopted a draft resolution titled “Sustainable fisheries, including through the 1995 Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, and related instruments” (document A/72/L.12) by a recorded vote of 126 in favour to 1 against (United States) with 3 abstentions (El Salvador, Turkey, Venezuela).

Norway’s delegate, who had introduced the draft resolution, underscored that fisheries provided a vital source of food, employment, trade and economic well being for people throughout the world. The text addressed such critical issues as combating illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, as well as fishing overcapacity. It also had the Assembly proclaim 5 June as the “International Day for the Fight against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing”.

However, the representative of the United States, having called for a vote, expressed his strong rejection of the text’s references to the World Trade Organization, but said he supported the rest of its language. Nonetheless, the representative of the European Union delegation voiced regret that the annual resolution — which had historically been adopted by consensus — had this year required a vote.

The Assembly also adopted an omnibus text titled “Oceans and the Law of the Sea” (document A/72/L.18) by a recorded vote of 128 in favour to 1 against (Turkey) with 3 abstentions (Colombia, El Salvador, Venezuela).

South Africa’s representative, who had introduced the omnibus text, welcomed progress in the work of the International Seabed Authority on draft regulations for the exploitation of mineral resources in what was known as the “Area”. He stressed that the area beyond national jurisdiction — known as the “Area” — and its resources were the common heritage of mankind and must therefore benefit humankind as a whole. Indeed, without appropriate benefit sharing, “the strong would get stronger” and “the rich would get richer”, he warned.

Still, following that vote, several countries that were not parties to the Convention on the Law of the Sea expressed concerns about the resolution’s references to that agreement. While they had voted in favour of the text, several emphasized that such votes must not be interpreted as acceptance of any obligations emanating from the Convention.

Although the 193 member Assembly postponed action on the draft text, “International legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction” (document A/72/L.7) pending a review of its programme budget implications, many delegations — including some of the draft’s 133 co sponsors — voiced support for its provisions calling for the official launch of negotiations on such an instrument.

New Zealand’s representative, introducing the draft text, said the resolution — if adopted following a review by the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) — would have the Assembly convene the first session of a conference in 2018 to develop an internationally binding instrument. Further meetings would be scheduled for 2019 and 2020, he said, adding that the text also laid out the necessary details to ensure the conference’s smooth functioning.

Throughout the subsequent debate, many speakers welcomed the move to convene such a conference, even as some expressed disappointment with the achievements of the preparatory process leading up to it. Other delegates, meanwhile, underscored the critical importance of the landmark Convention on the Law of the Sea — sometimes cited as one of the United Nations most far reaching agreements — and emphasized that any new treaties or conventions must fully respect its provisions.

“We are at the dawn of something truly historical,” said Mauritius’s representative, voicing support for the proposal to convene the international conference. Noting that the current approach to protecting and conserving the biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction was fragmented and had sometimes proven insufficient — with many gaps requiring clarification — he said the new instrument must ensure that the designation of area based management tools, including marine protected areas, was conducted in full consultation with coastal States and with respect for international law and generally accepted international practices.

Bangladesh’s representative, speaking for the Group of Least Developed Countries, described 2017 as a fruitful year that, following years of discussion on ocean areas beyond national jurisdiction, would soon yield text based negotiations. Stressing that the needs of the world’s least developed countries must cut across all the topics identified for inclusion in the proposed legally binding instrument, he also underlined the importance of the Voluntary Trust Fund that facilitated their participation in the negotiation process.

Several speakers spotlighted the emerging challenges resulting from climate change, urging that related discussions must be central to the upcoming negotiations, as the issue was a matter of international security, as well as a major component to achieving sustainable development.

Jamaica’s representative, speaking for the Caribbean Community, said its members — like many other small island developing States — were highly vulnerable to the effects of sea level rise, marine pollution, ocean acidification and their impacts on fish stocks and marine ecosystems. As evidenced by the recent hurricanes Irma and Maria, the region also remained highly susceptible to extreme weather events. However, it was also committed to strengthening its response to those challenges, he said, citing a myriad of regional efforts.

The representative of the Federated States of Micronesia, speaking for the Pacific small island developing States, struck a similar tone, describing climate change as the defining security challenge of the century. Reiterating the call for the appointment of a United Nations climate and security expert, she also noted the relevant role of the Organization’s reports in providing her region with support and knowledge.

Michael Lodge, Secretary General of the International Seabed Authority, and Jin Hyun Paik, President of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, also addressed the General Assembly, both outlining recent work of their respective bodies. Mr. Paik, citing the Tribunal’s swift deliberations in several recent maritime delimitation cases, noted that the court might have new roles to play as issues emerged during the upcoming discussions on areas beyond national jurisdiction.

The Assembly also had before it a report of the Secretary General, “Oceans and the law of the sea” (document A/72/70) as well as its addendum (document A/72/70/Add.1); two reports of the Ad Hoc Working Group of the Whole on the Regular Process for Global Reporting and Assessment of the State of the Marine Environment, including Socioeconomic Aspects (documents A/72/89 and A/72/494) and a report on the work of the United Nations Open ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea at its eighteenth meeting (document A/72/95).

Also speaking today were representatives of Ecuador (for the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), Algeria, Samoa (for the Pacific Islands Forum), Singapore, Monaco, Japan, Australia, Kuwait, Canada, Iceland, Philippines, Argentina, Malta, China, Palau, Ukraine, India, Mexico, Viet Nam, Marshall Islands, Indonesia, Solomon Islands, Russian Federation, Maldives, Papua New Guinea, Nepal, Kiribati, Turkey, El Salvador, Venezuela, Argentina and Columbia, as well as the European Union.

The General Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. Wednesday, 6 December, to consider draft resolutions relating to the investigation into the conditions and circumstances resulting in the tragic death of Dag Hammarskjöld and of the members of the party accompanying him, and cooperation between the United Nations and the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
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