December 17, 2012
Trafficking of ChildrenSome 27 per cent of all victims of human trafficking officially detected around the world between 2007 and 2010 are children, up seven per cent from the period 2003 to 2006, according to a new report released last week by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). “Human trafficking requires a forceful response founded on the assistance and protection for victims, rigorous enforcement by the criminal justice system, a sound migration policy and firm regulation of the labour markets,” said UNODC’s Executive Director, Yury Fedotov, in a news release on the findings of the agency’s 2012 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons.
The findings include an increase in the number of girl victims, who make up two thirds of all trafficked children. Girls now constitute 15 to 20 per cent of the total number of all detected victims, including adults, whereas boys comprise about 10 per cent, according to the report, which is based on official data supplied by 132 countries.
The Global Report provides an overview of patterns and flows of trafficking in persons at the regional, national and global levels, based on trafficking cases detected between 2007 and 2010, or more recent cases. It also includes a chapter on the worldwide response to trafficking in persons, and presents a national-level analysis for each of the 132 countries covered in this year’s edition.
The report arose in 2010, with the General Assembly’s adoption of the UN Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons. In the framework of the Global Plan of Action, the Assembly mandated UNODC to publish a Global Report on Trafficking in Persons every two years, starting this year. Within the report’s findings, UNODC noted, there are significant regional variations. While the share of detected child victims is 68 per cent in Africa and the Middle East, and 39 per cent in South Asia, East Asia and the Pacific, that proportion diminishes to 27 per cent in the Americas and 16 per cent in Europe and Central Asia.
The vast majority of trafficked persons are women, accounting for 55 to 60 per cent of victims detected globally. However, the total proportion of women and girls together soars to about 75 per cent, with men constituting about 14 per cent of the total number of detected victims. Nonetheless, this is not a uniform picture as one in four detected victims is a male. According to UNODC, Mr. Fedotov acknowledged the current gaps in knowledge about this crime and the need for comprehensive data about offenders, victims and trafficking flows. Still, the agency said, the number of trafficking victims is estimated to run into the millions.
Victims of 136 countries were detected in 118 countries between 2007 and 2010, during which period, 460 different flows were identified. Around half of all trafficking took place within the same region with 27 per cent occurring within national borders – one exception is the Middle East, where most detected victims are East and South Asians.
The report finds that trafficking victims from East Asia have been detected in more than 60 countries, making them the most geographically dispersed group around the world. Victims from the largest number of origin countries were found in Western and Central Europe. There are significant regional differences in the detected forms of exploitation, according to the report. Countries in Africa and in Asia generally intercept more cases of trafficking for forced labour, while sexual exploitation is somewhat more frequently found in Europe and in the Americas. Additionally, trafficking for organ removal was detected in 16 countries around the world.
The 2012 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons also raises concerns about low conviction rates – 16 per cent of reporting countries did not record a single conviction for trafficking in persons between 2007 and 2010. Related to the report’s topic, UNODC noted that 154 countries have ratified the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children – of which the UN agency is the guardian. “Significant progress has been made in terms of legislation, as 83 per cent of countries now have a law that criminalizes trafficking in persons in accordance with the Protocol,” UNODC added in the news release.
Adopted by the General Assembly in 2000 and entering into force in 2003, the Protocol is the first global legally binding instrument with an agreed definition on trafficking in persons. The aim behind the definition is to facilitate convergence in national approaches with regard to the establishment of domestic criminal offences that would support efficient international cooperation in investigating and prosecuting trafficking in persons cases.
An additional objective of the Protocol is to protect and assist the victims of trafficking in persons with full respect for their human rights.
Execution of a Juvenile in Yemen
The head of a key United Nations child rights committee expressed deep dismay over the execution in Yemen last week of a woman who was believed to have been “around 15 years old” when she was arrested. The execution of Hind Al-Barti was a “clear violation” of a binding UN treaty banning capital punishment in cases where the accused was a minor at the time of the offence, said the Chairperson of the Geneva-based UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Jean Zermatten.
“It is deplorable that this execution took place despite assurances given by Yemen to the Committee in June 2005 that the death penalty, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of persons for having committed crimes when under the age of 18, had been abolished by the Penal Code,” Mr. Zermatten said, according to a news release from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
According to media reports in Yemen, Ms. Al-Barti had been convicted of killing a girl about seven years ago, and was shot by firing squad at the central prison of the Yemeni capital of Sana’a on 3 December.
Made up of 18 independent experts – persons of high moral character and recognized competence in the field of human rights – the CRC is the body that monitors implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by its State parties, in addition to monitoring implementation of two optional protocols to the Convention, one on the involvement of children in armed conflict and the other on sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.
Noting that death sentences had already been imposed on 21 other juveniles aged less than 18 at the time the offences occurred, Mr. Zermatten issued an urgent appeal to the Government of Yemen to both immediately halt all executions and take “effective measures to remove juvenile prisoners from death row.”
The Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1989, not only proclaims the inherent right of every child to life, but provides that neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offences committed by minors, Mr. Zermatten said.
OHCHR said Yemen additionally committed to comply with the Convention when it underwent scrutiny of its human rights record in 2009 as part of the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review mechanism, which probes the human rights records of all UN Member States. OHCHR said the execution of Ms. Al-Barti came after Yemen reportedly executed another juvenile on 18 January of this year. The UN agency added that a “variety of sources” have indicated the country executed 14 juveniles between 2006 and 2010. “We are not only outraged that child offenders continue to be executed in Yemen in flagrant contravention of international law, but we are also deeply concerned over the increased number of sentences of capital punishments pronounced against children,” Mr. Zermatten said.
He said information the CRC has received showed that three juveniles in particular were at “great risk” of being executed after the Yemeni Supreme Court confirmed their sentences, and the Yemeni President reportedly ratified the verdicts.
The three are Waleed Hussein Haikal and Mohammad Abduh Qasim al-Taweel, who were each 15 at the time of the offences for which they were convicted, and Mohammad Taher Samoum in Ibb, who was aged 13 when he allegedly committed a capital crime.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
ITLOS Orders Release of Argentine Ship
The International Law of the Sea Tribunal (ITLOS) has ordered the release of the Argentina frigate, Ara Libertad, which has been detained in Ghana since the beginning of October. The ITLOS Tribunal stressed that warships are entitled to immunity under general principles of international law as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (see UNCLOS articles 95 and 97). The Tribunal's decision comes in the form of a provisional measures while the arbitration procedures are being decided upon. More information may be found in tis ITLOS press release.
December 16, 2012
UN Security Council Extends Terms of Five ICTR Judges
The Security Council has extended the term of office of five judges serving with the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) to facilitate the completion of the court’s work.
In a unanimously adopted resolution, the 15-member body extended the terms of the following permanent judges until 31 December 2014 or until the completion of the cases to which they are assigned: Mehmet Güney of Turkey, Khalida Rachid Khan of Pakistan, Arlette Ramaroson of Madagascar, Bakhtiyar Tuzmukhamedov of Russia, and Andrésia Vaz of Senegal.
Based in Arusha, Tanzania, the ICTR was set up after the Rwandan genocide, when at least 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus were killed during a span of three months beginning in April 1994.
The Council has urged both the ICTR and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to conclude their work by the end of 2014. It set up the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) in December 2010 and mandated it to take over and finish the remaining tasks of the two tribunals when they are closed after their mandates expire. The ICTR branch of the Residual Mechanism began its functions on 1 July, while the branch for ICTY will start on 1 July 2013.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
Ending Violence and Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Joined by international musical artists Ricky Martin and Yvonne Chaka Chaka, amongst others, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week called for an end to violence and discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. “Let me say this loud and clear: lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are entitled to the same rights as everyone else. They, too, are born free and equal,” Mr. Ban said at a special event on the need for leadership in the fight against homophobia, held at UN Headquarters in New York. Click here to see a copy of the statement.
“It is an outrage that in our modern world, so many countries continue to criminalize people simply for loving another human being of the same sex. In most cases, these laws are not home-grown. They were inherited from former colonial powers,” he added, noting that “these laws must go.”
The event – co-organized by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and a range of permanent missions to the world body, as well as Human Rights Watch and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission – is linked to Human Rights Day, which took place on Monday.
The General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) on 10 December 1948 – and the date has since served to mark Human Rights Day worldwide. The UDHR sets out a broad range of fundamental human rights and freedoms to which all men and women, everywhere in the world, are entitled, without any distinction.
In December 2011, OHCHR published the first official UN report on violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.
The report documented widespread human rights abuses. More than 76 countries still criminalize consensual, same-sex relationships, while in many more discrimination against LGBT people is widespread – including the workplace and in the education and health sectors. Hate-motivated violence against LGBT people, including physical assault, sexual violence, and targeted killings, has been recorded in all regions.
In his remarks, the Secretary-General noted that the UDHR, in its very first article, proclaims that ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. “All human beings -- not some, not most, but all,” Mr. Ban pointed out. “No one gets to decide who is entitled to human rights and who is not.”
According to OHCHR, while opinion among States remains divided on the issue, sentiment has shifted significantly in recent years. In 2005, when the first joint statement on human rights sexual orientation and gender identity was proposed at the then-Commission on Human Rights, only 32 States signed on.
By 2011, that number had grown to 85, reflecting growing awareness that acts of violence and discriminatory laws and practices against LGBT people warrant the attention of the world body. In June last year, the Human Rights Council adopted the first UN resolution on violence and discrimination against LGBT people.
Those taking part in last week's special event included France’s Minister for Women's Rights, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem; Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, via video-link from South Africa; Blas Radi, Olena Shevchenko and Gift Trapence, LGBT human rights defenders from Argentina, Ukraine and Malawi, respectively; as well as South African musician, singer and campaigner Yvonne Chaka Chaka, and pop singer Ricky Martin.
“We must all speak out against homophobia, especially those who are considered leaders in society as well as others in the public eye,” Mr. Ban told the gathering.
Speaking from her experiences as a South African woman born under apartheid, Ms. Chaka Chaka said that the fight against homophobia was no different from the fights against racism and sexism.
“The struggle for equality is not a la carte. You can’t just accept equality for some but then withhold it from others because you disagree with them or you disapprove of them. Equality is equality for all or it isn’t equality at all,” she said, in addition to calling for more celebrities to take a stand against homophobia.
In his video message, Archbishop Tutu said, “We cannot claim that our societies are free and equal as long as some amongst us are treated as inferior, denied even their basic human rights.”
The Secretary-General – who launched an international appeal two years ago for action to end violence and discrimination against LGBT people – noted that when he speaks with world leaders about the need for equality for LGBT people, many say they wish they could do more, but point to public opinion as a barrier to progress. “I understand it can be difficult to stand up to public opinion. But just because a majority might disapprove of certain individuals does not entitle the State to withhold their basic rights,” he said. “Democracy is more than majority rule. It requires defending vulnerable minorities from hostile majorities. It thrives on diversity. Governments have a duty to fight prejudice, not fuel it.”
The permanent missions to the UN which took part in co-organising the special event were those of Argentina, Brazil, Croatia, the European Union, France, Israel, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and the United States. Mr. Ban expressed his gratitude to the “cross-regional LGBT core group of Member States” for their efforts and hoped that many other countries will join the group. “You and I and people of conscience everywhere must keep pushing until we realize the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for all people,” the UN chief added. “The freedom, dignity and equal rights that all people are born with – must be a living reality each and every day of their lives.”
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
ICC Indictees Remain at Large and Darfur Crimes ContinueCrimes against civilians are still being committed against civilians in Sudan’s Darfur region, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) told the United Nations Security Council last week, while noting a continued lack of progress towards arresting those already indicted for alleged atrocities. “The words of the Government of Sudan representatives, promising further peace initiatives, are undermined by actions on the ground that show an ongoing commitment to crimes against civilians as a solution to the Government’s problems in Darfur,” Fatou Bensouda said in her briefing to the 15-member body.
It was the Council that in 2005 asked the ICC, which is based in The Hague, to investigate war crimes in Darfur after a UN inquiry found serious violations of international human rights law.
In March 2009, ICC judges issued arrest warrants against Sudan’s President, Omar Al-Bashir, for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Darfur, where an estimated 300,000 people have died since 2003 due to fighting between rebel groups and Government forces and their allies, militiamen known as the Janjaweed.
Government ministers Ahmed Harun and Abdelrahim Mohamed Hussein, as well as militia leader Ali Kushayb, were also indicted, while summonses to appear were issued for rebel leaders Abdallah Banda, Saleh Jerbo and Abu Garda in relation to war crimes.
Although Sudan is not a State Party to the Rome Statute which established the ICC, it is obliged to cooperate with and provide any necessary assistance to the Court and the Prosecutor in accordance with a Council resolution adopted in 2005.
“It should be clear to this Council that the Government of Sudan is neither prepared to hand over the suspects nor to prosecute them for their crimes,” said Ms. Bensouda, who took up the post of Chief Prosecutor in June.
“There are no words to properly express the frustration of Darfur’s victims, which we share, about lack of any meaningful progress towards arresting those indicted by the Court,” she stated. “The failure of the Government of the Sudan to implement the five arrest warrants seems symbolic of its ongoing commitment to a military solution in Darfur, which has translated into a strategy aimed at attacking civilian populations over the last ten years, with tragic results. “Victims of Darfur crimes can hardly wait for the day that fragmentation and indecision will be replaced by decisive, concrete and tangible actions they expect from this Council,” she added.
Ms. Bensouda noted that investigating the Darfur situation was an enormous challenge for the Office of the Prosecutor and a huge sacrifice for the witnesses and victims whose lives remain at risk as a result of their interaction with the Court. “The question they ask is: were their sacrifices in vain?” she said.
At the same time, there are specific incidents which seem to represent “an ongoing pattern of crimes committed pursuant to the Government-avowed goal of stopping the rebellion in Darfur,” Ms. Bensouda reported.
“I must reiterate,” she added, “that these alleged ongoing crimes, similar to those already considered by the Judges of the International Criminal Court on five separate applications, may constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.”
Her Office will consider whether further investigations and additional applications for arrest warrants are necessary to address ongoing crimes, including those undertaken with the aim of thwarting delivery of humanitarian aid, attacks on peacekeepers serving with the joint UN-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID), as well as bombardments and other direct attacks on civilian populations.
Meanwhile, Ms. Bensouda reported that good progress has been made towards the start of the trial for two of the three individuals accused of war crimes in the 2007 rebel attack on the African Union peacekeeping base at Haskanita, in North Darfur. The trial is expected to begin in 2013, although the defence has asked for its postponement until 2014.
“I look forward to the opportunity to present to the Judges the substantial and voluminous evidence gathered in the other four cases, following the arrest and surrender of the four individuals sought by the Court,” she said. “This is an essential step towards delivering justice for Darfur’s victims.”
A group of United Nations human rights experts has voiced deep concern about Egypt’s draft constitution, and called on its Government to ensure equality, non-discrimination and protection and promotion of women’s rights in the final text. “Key opportunities have so far been missed,” stressed independent expert Kamala Chandrakirana, who heads the UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice.
The group, established by the UN Human Rights Council in 2010, is charged with identifying ways to eliminate laws and practices that discriminate against women, and making recommendations on implementation of the law and empowerment of women. “We are concerned that almost no women were represented in the Constituent Assembly charged with drafting the new constitution and that women’s perspectives were grossly under-represented in the final draft,” said Ms. Chandrakirana said, in a news release from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
The final draft of the new constitution was approved by the Constituent Assembly on 30 November.
“Political transitions offer a unique opportunity to address inequalities of the past, advance women’s human rights and ensure that equality between women and men is one of the foundations on which the new legal system is built,” Ms. Chandrakirana stated. However, she noted, “despite offering unprecedented opportunities for progress, political transitions can result in regression and bring new forms of discrimination.”
The expert group is of the view that “critical review” of the draft constitution is still necessary, according to a news release. It called on the Egyptian Government to abide by commitments made through the ratification of international instruments to which it is a party, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights.
Last week, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, voiced her concerns about the draft constitution, noting some “very worrying omissions and ambiguities” in the text.
“The haste with which the Constituent Assembly adopted the final text for presidential action, and many of the surrounding circumstances, have put into question the credibility of the process, and contributed to the chaos in Cairo and other cities,” she stated, calling for urgent steps to restore confidence in the process, and in the new constitution.
Like Ms. Pillay, the expert group welcomed a number of positive provisions on human rights in the draft text, including free maternal and health services. At the same time, it drew attention to issues relating to equality for women that need to be brought in line with international human rights standards.
Among these issues, the text does not include in its substantive provisions the guarantee of non-discrimination based on sex necessary to give effect to the principle of equality between men and women in the preamble and in accordance with Egypt’s international human rights obligations.
According to article 2, Islam is the religion of the State and the principles of Islamic Sharia are the principal source of legislation.
The experts noted that although article 6 espouses democratic principles, including citizenship on an equal basis, political pluralism, separation of powers, and the rule of law, as well as respect for human rights and freedoms, the experts expressed concern about the absence of a provision incorporating international law, including on women’s human right to equality, into the domestic legal order and stipulating its primacy.
While article 2 provides that Islam will be the principle source of legislation, article 3 provides that the personal status of Egyptian Christians and Jews will be regulated under their religious laws. However, there is no provision that women’s right to equality in the family will be respected, protected and fulfilled by the State in accordance with international human rights standards.
“We urge the Egyptian Government to ensure women’s full and equal participation in all processes related to the political transition, to guarantee their freedom to express their views, to be protected against violence in their political and public activities and have their voices incorporated in public discourse and in shaping the society,” said Ms. Chandrakirana.
“Further, the Government should ensure that the constitution provides the strongest guarantees to advance equality and women’s human rights in line with Egypt’s obligations under international law,” she added.
In addition to Ms. Chandrakirana of Indonesia, the working group is currently composed of Frances Raday of Israel/United Kingdom, Emna Aouij of Tunisia, Eleonora Zielinska of Poland, and Patricia Olamendi Torres of Mexico. They are independent from any government or organization, and serve in their individual capacities.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
UN Security Council Condemns Arrest of Mali's Prime Minister by Its Armed Forces
The arrest of Mali’s Prime Minister by members of the country’s armed forces, which led to his resignation and the dismissal of the Government, has prompted condemnation by the United Nations Security Council and a call by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for an end to military interference in politics. Mr. Ban is “troubled” by the circumstances leading to the resignation of Cheick Modibo Diarra, his spokesperson said in a statement, adding that “the Secretary-General calls again for a cessation of military interference in politics and urges the Malian leadership to resolve any issues through peaceful means.”
Soldiers reportedly arrested Mr. Diarra at his residence in the capital, Bamako, last week – the latest development in the ongoing crisis in the West African nation, which has been dealing with a range of security, political and humanitarian problems since the start of the year.
Fighting between Government forces and Tuareg rebels broke out in the country’s north in January, following which radical Islamists have seized control of the area. The renewed clashes in the north, as well as the proliferation of armed groups in the region, drought and political instability in the wake of a military coup d’état in March have uprooted hundreds of thousands of civilians this year. “These latest developments underscore the importance of sustained national and international efforts to address the political crisis in Bamako,” Mr. Ban’s spokesperson stated.
The Security Council condemned the arrest in a statement read out to the press by Ambassador Mohammed Loulichki of Morocco, which holds the Council’s presidency for December. It also expressed its readiness “to consider appropriate measures, including targeted sanctions, against those who prevent the restoration of the constitutional order and take actions that undermine stability in Mali.”
Both the Council and the Secretary-General called on the Interim President of Mali, Dioncounda Traoré, to move swiftly to form a broad-based inclusive government. In addition, the Council urged the transitional authorities of Mali to expedite the establishment of a transitional roadmap, through broad-based and inclusive political dialogue, to fully restore constitutional order and national unity, including through the holding of peaceful, inclusive and credible elections as soon as possible.
The Council also stressed its commitment to authorizing as soon as possible the deployment of the African-led so-called International Support Mission in Mali. UN military and police planners have worked closely with the Economic Community of West African States and the African Union, in consultation with Malian authorities, in developing a framework for the proposed force.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
Should Being Homeless be a Crime in Hungary?
Recent legislation in Hungary outlawing homelessness risks having a discriminatory impact on those living in poverty, two United Nations independent experts warned last week as they urged the authorities there to adopt a national housing strategy.
In a joint news release, the UN Special Rapporteurs on extreme poverty and adequate housing, Magdalena Sepúlveda and Raquel Rolnik, respectively, called on the Government of Hungary to uphold a Constitutional Court decision reversing previous legislation which banned homelessness. “The criminalization of rough sleeping and other life sustaining behaviours in public spaces is an infringement on the basic rights of homeless persons to liberty, privacy, personal security and protection of the family,” Ms. Sepúlveda and Ms. Rolnik said. They added that the Court’s ruling highlighted the fact that “homelessness is a social issue, which needs to be addressed by the provision of adequate services and not by criminal proceedings.”
The law, passed by Hungary’s legislature in 2010-2011, criminalized sleeping in public spaces as a misdemeanour, rendering it an offence punishable with incarceration or fine.
According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the legislation potentially affected more than 30,000 homeless persons in various municipalities in Hungary, including women, children, older persons and persons with disabilities. About 8,000 of those live in Budapest, the capital, but the city has only 5,500 available places in public shelters.
Recalling their previous condemnation of the legislation earlier this year, the UN experts emphasized the detrimental effects the law would have on the rights of homeless people throughout the country. “We warned about the discriminatory impact of the legislation on those living in poverty and social exclusion,” they stated. “We also expressed our concern with the fact that the Hungarian Government chose to conduct costly policing operations to penalize homelessness, instead of seeking durable and adequate housing solutions for the poor, including those affected by the recent financial crisis.”
The experts applauded the Constitutional Court’s decision which, they said, annulled the legislation provisions that criminalized habitual living in public spaces and empowered local authorities to confiscate the property of homeless persons. The Court further deemed the provisions as contradictory to the Constitution’s requirements for legal certainty, the protection of the right to human dignity and the right to property.
Ms. Sepúlveda and Ms. Rolnik called on the Government of Hungary “to align its national legislation with its international human rights obligations,” adding that the Government itself appeared to maintain a contradictory stance on the issue. “The Hungarian Government admits that there are currently not enough shelters in the capital to service the existing homeless community,” they continued. “It is therefore clear that homelessness in Hungary is not a choice, but a harsh reality.”
Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)
UN Convention on the Law of the Sea Marks 30th Anniversary
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon marked the 30th anniversary of the launch of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) last week by calling for a collective global effort to have all nations commit to the treaty, which is often called the “constitution for the oceans.”
“I am encouraged that support for the Convention has grown steadily through the years,” Mr. Ban said in an address before the 193-nation UN General Assembly. “Like a constitution, it is a firm foundation – a permanent document providing order, stability, predictability and security – all based on the rule of law.”
UNCLOS governs all aspects of ocean space, including the delimitation of maritime boundaries, environmental regulations, scientific research, commerce and the settlement of international disputes involving marine issues.
In his speech, the UN chief said the treaty was nearing the “goal of universality” that the Assembly set out, as he noted that 163 States and the European Union were Parties to the landmark measure, which the Assembly endorsed and opened for signature in 1982. “Let us work to bring all nations under the jurisdiction, protection and guidance of this essential treaty,” Mr. Ban urged.
While it entered into force in 1994, UNCLOS is reflective of other international treaties in that it creates rights only for those who accept its obligations by becoming Parties. Exceptions are the provisions that apply to all States because they either confirm existing customary norms, or are becoming customary law.
Addressing the same meeting, Assembly Vice-President Ambassador Rodney Charles said UNCLOS had become a critical element of the international legal framework. “The absence of a global legal framework led to the threat of maritime conflict as well as an often chaotic and unregulated exploitation of maritime resources,” Mr. Charles said. “Member States realized a universal law of the sea was urgently needed.”
Both Mr. Ban and Mr. Charles highlighted the expected central role UNCLOS will play as world governments and institutions set a global development agenda focused on sustainable resource use.
“The Convention on the Law of the Sea is an important tool for sustainable development, as affirmed this year by the Rio+20 Conference,” Mr. Ban said, as he referred to this summer’s UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), which saw world governments and institutions gather in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to consider a range of issues related to the topic.
Mr. Charles noted that Rio+20’s outcome documents recognized the importance of UNCLOS’ legal framework for ‘achieving the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans.”
“A sustainable future will involve renewable energies,” he said. “Marine renewable energies are an untapped potential in many regions of the world and can play a significant role in meeting sustainable development goals, enhancing energy security and creating jobs.”
In addition, Mr. Ban said the treaty’s negotiation by more than 150 States had been a “testament to the power of international cooperation, multilateral negotiation and consensus-building.”
Both he and Mr. Charles also saluted Ambassador Arvid Pardo of Malta, who died in 1999 and whom Mr. Charles said is considered the founding father of UNCLOS. The Assembly Vice-President noted that before the Assembly in 1967, Mr. Pardo “proposed a radical treaty to ensure the peaceful use and exploitation of the world’s oceans.”
Mr. Charles also highlighted an additional oceans-related initiative Mr. Ban launched in August with the aim of supporting and strengthening the implementation of UNCLOS. <I>The Oceans Compact: Healthy Oceans for Prosperity</I> sets out a “strategic vision for the UN system to deliver on ocean-related mandates,” Mr. Charles said.
At its launch, the Secretary-General said the Oceans Compact will provide a platform to help countries protect the ocean's natural resources, restore their full food production to help people's whose livelihoods depend on the sea, and increase awareness and knowledge about the management of the oceans.
(Adapted from a UN Press Release)