Skip to content

20th Anniversary of Entry into Force of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea


Statement by Ms Anastasia Carayanides, Minister-Counsellor, Permanent Mission of Australia to the United Nations

9 June 2014



Mr President,

We welcome this opportunity to reflect on the significance of the entry into force of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea almost twenty years ago.

It was a triumph of international diplomacy and international law, resulting from the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea – one of the longest and most complex lawmaking negotiations in history.

Australia was an active contributor to the deliberations which led to today’s UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and is pleased to have contributed constructively to the further development of the Convention regime, including subsequent implementing agreements.

Today, the Convention and the norms it embodies may be counted among that core group of international instruments that we call ‘universal’. The Convention sets out the legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out.  It is as important today as it was 20 years ago – indeed, arguably more so.

We depend on the seas and oceans in many ways to achieve sustainable growth and prosperity. As a major coastal state, Australia is firmly committed to the development of the law of the sea in a way that promotes international peace, security and prosperity.

Australia has the third-largest marine jurisdiction in the world. We are the sixth largest country by land area, the world’s largest island state, and we straddle three oceans – the Pacific, the Indian and the Southern Oceans.  We also rely on the sea for the vast bulk of our international trade.

For Australia, the rules, institutions and principles established through the Convention are of crucial importance to our national security, our continuing prosperity and our relationships with other countries.

Through technical and legal assistance, we have helped countries in our immediate region and beyond to realise the economic potential of their continental shelf resources. Since Australia’s own submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, we have worked with over 20 states to assist them in making their own claims.

Through information exchange, outreach and on-the-water cooperation, we are working with our Pacific and Southern Ocean partners to promote compliance with the Convention and to thwart the theft of finite and valuable marine resources. An important contribution to this effort was the conclusion by members of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency of the Agreement on Strengthening Implementation of the Niue Treaty on Cooperation in Fisheries Surveillance and Law Enforcement in the South Pacific Region.  The Niue Treaty Subsidiary Agreement provides a strong framework for cooperation to address illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing.  The Agreement demonstrates the spirit of cooperation and innovation embodied by the Convention, for example, through the pooling of surveillance and enforcement resources and an innovative approach to hot pursuit.

Australia is also supporting relevant organisations in other countries at local, regional and national levels to better deal with oceans and law of the seas issues, such as through boosting the capacity of regional fisheries management organisations to promote sustainable management of fisheries and better oceans management. This includes support to developing countries to implement the 1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreement, recognising the vital role of fisheries and aquaculture in livelihoods and food security.

By supporting the interests of Small Island Developing States and coastal states, we are working to ensure that there is global recognition of the importance of oceans to sustainable development, given their importance in addressing poverty eradication, food security, sustainable livelihoods and conservation.

The Convention provides the framework within which we can achieve a more sustainable approach to oceans and marine management, including the protection of biodiversity. Australia welcomes recent progress made in discussions on biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, and believes an implementing agreement under the Convention would play a valuable role in strengthening the conservation and sustainable management of such biodiversity.

Australia is committed to promoting and entrenching norms embodied by the Convention. We were pleased to co-chair, with the Philippines, the Second ASEAN Regional Forum on the Convention in Manila from 28-29 May.  This forum brought 23 states together to foster mutual understanding of rights and obligations under the Convention.  The Seminar brought out a number of positive examples of bilateral and multilateral cooperation on technical, maritime enforcement, scientific and environmental matters across the region.

Mr President

Twenty years on, activities in the seas and oceans are still underpinned by the strong legal framework established by the Convention. Thanks to the Convention, we share a common vocabulary of interaction.  The value of this should not be underestimated, nor taken for granted.  We trust the Convention will continue to serve as our common language, and our guide, in the decades ahead.

Thank you.

Australia: Making a difference for the small and medium countries of the world