United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea

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The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), also called the Law of the Sea Convention or the Law of the Sea treaty, is the international agreement that resulted from the third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III), which took place from 1973 through 1982. The Law of the Sea Convention defines the rights and responsibilities of nations in their use of the world's oceans, establishing guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources. The Convention, concluded in 1982, replaced four 1958 treaties. UNCLOS came into force in 1994, a year after Guyana became the 60th state to sign the treaty.[1] To date, 158 countries and the European Community have joined in the Convention. However, it is uncertain as to what extent the Convention codifies customary international law.

While the Secretary General of the United Nations receives instruments of ratification and accession and the UN provides support for meetings of states party to the Convention, the UN has no direct operational role in the implementation of the Convention. There is, however, a role played by organizations such as the International Maritime Organization, the International Whaling Commission, and the International Seabed Authority (the latter being established by the UN Convention).

Contents

Historical background

The UNCLOS replaces the older and weaker 'freedom of the seas' concept, dating from the 17th century: national rights were limited to a specified belt of water extending from a nation's coastlines, usually three nautical miles, according to the 'cannon shot' rule developed by the Dutch jurist Cornelius van Bynkershoek. All waters beyond national boundaries were considered international waters — free to all nations, but belonging to none of them (the mare liberum principle promulgated by Grotius).

In the early 20th century, some nations expressed their desire to extend national claims: to include mineral resources, to protect fish stocks, and to provide the means to enforce pollution controls. (The League of Nations called a 1930 conference at The Hague, but no agreements resulted.) Using the customary international law principle of a nation's right to protect its natural resources, President Truman in 1945 extended United States control to all the natural resources of its continental shelf. Other nations were quick to follow suit. Between 1946 and 1950, Argentina, Chile, Peru, and Ecuador extended their rights to a distance of 200 nautical miles to cover their Humboldt Current fishing grounds. Other nations extended their territorial seas to 12 nautical miles.

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