United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea

August 10, 2021

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea

The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which came into force on November 16, 1994, is an international treaty that provides a regulatory framework for the use of the world’s seas and oceans, inter alia, to ensure the conservation and equitable usage of resources and the marine environment and to ensure the protection and preservation of the living resources of the sea. UNCLOS also addresses such other matters as sovereignty, rights of usage in maritime zones, and navigational rights. As of January 10 2014, 166 States have ratified, acceded to, or succeeded to, UNCLOS. The full text and status of UNCLOS can be accessed through the United Nations Division for Oceans Affairs and the Law of the Sea.

Part XV of UNCLOS sets forth rules for the resolution of disputes between State Parties arising out of the interpretation or application of UNCLOS. Pursuant to Article 287(1) of UNCLOS, when signing, ratifying, or acceding to UNCLOS, a State may make a declaration choosing one or more of the following means for settling such disputes:

  • the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) in Hamburg, Germany;
  • the International Court of Justice in The Hague, The Netherlands;
  • ad hoc arbitration (in accordance with Annex VII of UNCLOS); or
  • a “special arbitral tribunal” constituted for certain categories of disputes (established under Annex VIII of UNCLOS).

Pursuant to Article 287(3) of UNCLOS, arbitration under Annex VII is the default means of dispute settlement if a State has not expressed any preference with respect to the means of dispute resolution available under Article 287(1) of UNCLOS (and has not expressed any reservation or optional exceptions pursuant to Article 298 of UNCLOS). Likewise, pursuant to Article 287(5) of UNCLOS, if the parties have not accepted the same procedure for the settlement of the dispute, arbitration under Annex VII is the default means of dispute settlement (again subject to same exceptions or reservations pursuant to Article 298).

Having administered all but one of the UNCLOS Annex VII arbitrations to date, the PCA has gained unique experience in dealing with, among other things, diverse organizational, procedural, and substantive issues that may arise in such arbitrations.

Through an exchange of letters between the Secretary-General of the PCA and the Registrar of ITLOS, the PCA and ITLOS have agreed to cooperate with respect to relevant legal and administrative matters. Under the arrangement, the PCA and ITLOS have undertaken to exchange documents, particularly those connected with disputes under Annex VII of UNCLOS, and to explore cooperation in other areas of interest.

Further information on recent developments at the PCA in the field of ocean affairs and the law of the sea may be found in the PCA’s reports to the UN Division on Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea.