Reflecting on the Undelimited International Seabed Area: Inter-Institutional Challenges - Chapter 15 - Natural Resources and the Law of the Sea - International Law Institute Series on International Law, Arbitration and Practice, Volume 2
Originally from Natural Resources and the Law of the Sea: Exploration, Allocation, Exploitation of Natural Resources in Areas under National Jurisdiction and Beyond - International Law Institute Series on International Law, Arbitration and Practice, Volume 2
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS or the Convention) is considered the backbone of the modern law of the sea. The negotiations preceding its adoption represent one of the most significant efforts undertaken by the United Nations to promote a legal framework applicable in an area that covers over two-thirds of our planet’s surface.
This legal framework was not created ex nihilo. Part of it emanates from the Geneva Conventions of 1958 and State practice in maritime affairs during the 1960s and 1970s. The pre-existing regime, along with the new trends, were thoroughly examined during the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III), which resulted in the adoption of the Convention in 1982 in Montego Bay, Jamaica. During nine years of negotiations, more that forty-one States, six non-independent States, twelve specialized agencies of the United Nations, and nineteen intergovernmental organizations contributed to UNCLOS III.
The Convention establishes, inter alia, a particular legal regime for the seabed and the ocean floor, and the subsoil thereof, beyond the limits of national jurisdiction, commonly referred to as the Area. The Area and its resources are the common heritage of mankind.
The success of the Convention lies, in particular, in the establishment of an unprecedented institutional framework, comprising three institutions: the International Seabed Authority (ISA or the Authority), the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS or the Commission) and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), each one having its own legal status and structure. In this respect, the Convention is unique as it creates different types of institutions, distinguishing itself from a classic charter establishing a single organization. This institutional framework aims not only to give effect to important provisions of the Convention, but also to help States Parties to settle any dispute arising out of the Convention’s application and interpretation. These three institutions—at first sight heterogeneous—satisfy different needs and are entrusted with specific functions in order to ease political tensions between different actors and to ensure the harmonious implementation of the Convention.