Convention on the Law of the Sea

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The United Nations Convention ( UNCLOS ; English United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea , UNCLOS ) is an international agreement of maritime law , which is to regulate all types of use of the seas. It was closed on December 10, 1982 in Montego Bay ( Jamaica ) and entered into force on November 16, 1994, one year after the deposit of the 60th instrument of ratification . The agreement is also known as "UNCLOS III". The UN Conference on the Law of the Sea lasted from 1973 to 1982 and was the third of its kind. The previous conferences are referred to as "UNCLOS I" and "UNCLOS II".

The Convention combines the previously applicable, in Geneva seas conventions codified law of the sea together, the previously controversial width of the places territorial sea and its contiguous zone established and developed the regulations for the continental shelf continues. It re-introduces the exclusive economic zone with special rights of the coastal states, an international regime of the seabed and its subsoil beyond the borders of the continental shelf and the archipelago waters. It also regulates the protection and preservation of the marine environment, scientific marine research, and the development and transfer of marine technology. In addition to the older principle of freedom of the seas, the Convention is based on the newly introduced principle of the common heritage of humanity.

Several international institutions were created with the Convention:

To date, two additional conventions have been agreed to the Convention on the Law of the Sea:

  • Convention of July 28, 1994 for the implementation of Part XI of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of ​​December 10, 1982
  • Convention of December 4, 1995 for the implementation of the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of ​​December 10, 1982 relating to the conservation and management of straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks


A contractual regulation of the international law of the sea became necessary after some states no longer recognized the old customary law from the 17th century , which limited national coastal waters to a width of three nautical miles (about 6 km). The seaward areas beyond these coastal waters were then regarded as " international waters ".

Some states claimed an extended zone to protect fish stocks or exploit raw materials in the area. At a first conference in The Hague, the Netherlands, from March 13 to April 12, 1930 , 47 countries met but could not agree on any proposal. The United States under President Truman extended its zone to the continental shelf in 1945 . Other countries followed suit and expanded their coastal waters , for example in the case of Chile, Ecuador and Peru to 200 nautical miles. By 1960, 26 of 103 states retained the old three-mile zone, 16 claimed a double zone of six nautical miles, 34 a twelve nautical mile wide strip of sea and nine states of coastal waters extending beyond it.

UNCLOS I, the first of three conferences to clarify open questions relating to maritime law, took place in Geneva, Switzerland , from 1956 with negotiators from 86 countries . The 1958 conference resulted in four treaties known as the Geneva Convention on the Law of the Sea . UNCLOS II in 1960, at which the previously open question of the breadth of the territorial sea in particular was to be clarified, remained without result. UNCLOS III was opened in New York in 1973 and was not concluded until UNCLOS was signed on December 10, 1982; more than 160 states have ratified the convention so far.

The states that have not acceded to the Convention on the Law of the Sea include the United States . However, the provisions of UNCLOS can also be regarded as valid customary international law for them.

Content (selection)

Zones under international law according to the Convention on the Law of the Sea

UNCLOS is divided into 17 parts and 320 articles. The most important content of UNCLOS is the regulation of the sovereign powers of the coastal states. Starting from the coastline , UNCLOS defines various, sometimes overlapping zones for the exercise of sovereign power . The control of the coastal state decreases with the distance from the coast. Disputes often arise in the case of straits when the claims to the area to be used overlap.

Part II: territorial sea and connection zone

The territorial sea , also known as territorial or sovereign waters , is the area that extends up to a maximum of twelve nautical miles (22.2 km) from the baseline (usually the low water line , but straight baselines are also possible). All sovereign powers are available to the state in its territorial sea. The twelve nautical mile zone was defined in Article 3 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. In most states, it replaces the three-mile zone (5.56 km) that was previously used.

In the connecting zone bordering the territorial sea, which may be a maximum of 24 nautical miles (44.4 km) from the baseline, the state can exercise the necessary controls to prevent violations of its customs, health and immigration regulations, or violations, that have already been committed in its territory or territorial sea.

Part V: Exclusive Economic Zone

In the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) the state can only dispose of natural resources , i.e. marine life and mineral resources, and control economic uses up to an extent of 200 nautical miles (370.4 km) . Beyond that, however, there are no rights arising from the sovereignty of the state. Sovereign powers can therefore only be exercised to a limited extent. The most frequent disputes under international maritime law relate to the use of the economic zone.

Part VI: Continental Shelf

The legal continental shelf is not necessarily congruent with the geological continental shelf . It extends at least 200 nautical miles from the baseline. According to a complex formula laid down in the Convention on the Law of the Sea, its limit can be up to 350 nautical miles from the baseline, and in individual cases even beyond (100 nautical miles from the 2500-meter water depth line). Beyond the continental shelf lies the international seabed. The extraction of resources from the seabed is reserved for the state alone. The continental shelf does not change the status of the waters above it.

Part VII: High Seas

In Art. 86, the Convention designates high seas all parts of the sea that do not belong to the exclusive economic zone, territorial sea or internal waters of a state or to the archipelago waters of an archipelago state, according to a United Nations resolution on the Law of the Sea of ​​December 24th 2017 also areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ). According to Article 89, no state may claim to subordinate any part of the high seas to its sovereignty. Rather, the high seas are open to all states, whether coastal or landlocked, and are exercised in accordance with the conditions of the Convention on the Law of the Sea and the other rules of international law (Art. 87).

According to a declaration by the United Nations in 1970, the area and its resources are the “ Common Heritage of Mankind ”. They are managed by the International Seabed Authority .

Part XV: Dispute Resolution

With the entry into force of the Convention on the Law of the Sea, an independent jurisdiction was created for the application of international law at sea, namely the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea based in Hamburg . It started work in 1996.

Contracting States

  • ratified
  • signed but not yet ratified
  • not signed
  • Year of joining Country Year of joining Country
    1982 FijiFiji Fiji 1996 AlgeriaAlgeria Algeria
    1983 BahamasBahamas Bahamas BruneiBrunei Brunei
    BelizeBelize Belize BulgariaBulgaria Bulgaria
    EgyptEgypt Egypt China People's RepublicPeople's Republic of China People's Republic of China
    GhanaGhana Ghana Czech RepublicCzech Republic Czech Republic
    JamaicaJamaica Jamaica FinlandFinland Finland
    MexicoMexico Mexico FranceFrance France
    NamibiaNamibia Namibia GeorgiaGeorgia Georgia
    ZambiaZambia Zambia HaitiHaiti Haiti
    1984 Ivory CoastIvory Coast Ivory Coast IrelandIreland Ireland
    CubaCuba Cuba JapanJapan Japan
    GambiaGambia Gambia Korea SouthSouth Korea South Korea
    PhilippinesPhilippines Philippines Saudi ArabiaSaudi Arabia Saudi Arabia
    SenegalSenegal Senegal MalaysiaMalaysia Malaysia
    1985 BahrainBahrain Bahrain MongoliaMongolia Mongolia
    CameroonCameroon Cameroon MonacoMonaco Monaco
    Guinea-aGuinea Guinea MauritaniaMauritania Mauritania
    IraqIraq Iraq MyanmarMyanmar Myanmar
    IcelandIceland Iceland NetherlandsNetherlands Netherlands
    Saint LuciaSt. Lucia St. Lucia NorwayNorway Norway
    MaliMali Mali NauruNauru Nauru
    SudanSudan Sudan New ZealandNew Zealand New Zealand
    TanzaniaTanzania Tanzania PanamaPanama Panama
    TogoTogo Togo PalauPalau Palau
    TunisiaTunisia Tunisia RomaniaRomania Romania
    1986 Guinea-BissauGuinea-Bissau Guinea-Bissau SlovakiaSlovakia Slovakia
    IndonesiaIndonesia Indonesia SwedenSweden Sweden
    KuwaitKuwait Kuwait 1997 BeninBenin Benin
    NigeriaNigeria Nigeria ChileChile Chile
    ParaguayParaguay Paraguay SpainSpain Spain
    Trinidad and TobagoTrinidad and Tobago Trinidad and Tobago United KingdomUnited Kingdom United Kingdom
    1987 Cape VerdeCape Verde Cape Verde Equatorial GuineaEquatorial Guinea Equatorial Guinea
    Sao Tome and PrincipeSao Tome and Principe Sao Tome and Principe GuatemalaGuatemala Guatemala
    YemenYemen Yemen MozambiqueMozambique Mozambique
    1988 BrazilBrazil Brazil PakistanPakistan Pakistan
    Cyprus RepublicRepublic of Cyprus Cyprus Papua New GuineaPapua New Guinea Papua New Guinea
    1989 Antigua and BarbudaAntigua and Barbuda Antigua and Barbuda PortugalPortugal Portugal
    Congo Democratic RepublicDemocratic Republic of Congo Democratic Republic of Congo South AfricaSouth Africa South Africa
    KenyaKenya Kenya RussiaRussia Russia
    OmanOman Oman Solomon IslandsSolomon Islands Solomon Islands
    SomaliaSomalia Somalia 1998 BelgiumBelgium Belgium
    1990 AngolaAngola Angola EG EG
    BotswanaBotswana Botswana GabonGabon Gabon
    UgandaUganda Uganda LaosLaos Laos
    1991 DjiboutiDjibouti Djibouti NepalNepal Nepal
    DominicaDominica Dominica PolandPoland Poland
    Micronesia, Federated StatesMicronesia Micronesia SurinameSuriname Suriname
    GrenadaGrenada Grenada 1999 UkraineUkraine Ukraine
    Marshall IslandsMarshall Islands Marshall Islands VanuatuVanuatu Vanuatu
    SeychellesSeychelles Seychelles 2000 LuxembourgLuxembourg Luxembourg
    1992 Costa RicaCosta Rica Costa Rica MaldivesMaldives Maldives
    UruguayUruguay Uruguay NicaraguaNicaragua Nicaragua
    1993 BarbadosBarbados Barbados 2001 BangladeshBangladesh Bangladesh
    GuyanaGuyana Guyana MadagascarMadagascar Madagascar
    HondurasHonduras Honduras SerbiaSerbia Serbia
    MaltaMalta Malta 2002 ArmeniaArmenia Armenia
    Saint Kitts NevisSt. Kitts and Nevis St. Kitts and Nevis HungaryHungary Hungary
    Saint Vincent GrenadinesSt. Vincent and the Grenadines St. Vincent and the Grenadines QatarQatar Qatar
    ZimbabweZimbabwe Zimbabwe TuvaluTuvalu Tuvalu
    1994 AustraliaAustralia Australia 2003 AlbaniaAlbania Albania
    Bosnia and HerzegovinaBosnia and Herzegovina Bosnia and Herzegovina CanadaCanada Canada
    ComorosComoros Comoros KiribatiKiribati Kiribati
    GermanyGermany Germany LithuaniaLithuania Lithuania
    North MacedoniaNorth Macedonia North Macedonia 2004 DenmarkDenmark Denmark
    MauritiusMauritius Mauritius LatviaLatvia Latvia
    SingaporeSingapore Singapore 2005 Burkina FasoBurkina Faso Burkina Faso
    Sierra LeoneSierra Leone Sierra Leone EstoniaEstonia Estonia
    Sri LankaSri Lanka Sri Lanka 2006 BelarusBelarus Belarus
    VietnamVietnam Vietnam NiueNiue Niue
    1995 ArgentinaArgentina Argentina MontenegroMontenegro Montenegro
    AustriaAustria Austria 2007 Moldova RepublicRepublic of Moldova Moldova
    BoliviaBolivia Bolivia MoroccoMorocco Morocco
    Cook IslandsCook Islands Cook Islands LesothoLesotho Lesotho
    CroatiaCroatia Croatia 2008 Congo RepublicRepublic of the Congo Republic of the Congo
    GreeceGreece Greece LiberiaLiberia Liberia
    IndiaIndia India 2009 SwitzerlandSwitzerland Switzerland
    ItalyItaly Italy Dominican RepublicDominican Republic Dominican Republic
    JordanJordan Jordan ChadChad Chad
    LebanonLebanon Lebanon 2010 MalawiMalawi Malawi
    SamoaSamoa Samoa 2011 ThailandThailand Thailand
    SloveniaSlovenia Slovenia 2012 EcuadorEcuador Ecuador
    TongaTonga Tonga SwazilandSwaziland Swaziland
    2013 East TimorEast Timor East Timor
    NigerNiger Niger
    2015 Palastina autonomous areasPalestine Palestine
    2016 AzerbaijanAzerbaijan Azerbaijan
    A total of 168 states. As of December 18, 2016

    Participation of international organizations

    In addition to the participation of states, UNCLOS expressly provides for the possibility of international organizations to participate. This possibility was tailored to the European Community , which also made use of it. Since the provisions of the Convention on the Law of the Sea extend to matters that the member states of the EC have partially transferred to them, both the EC and the member states have acted accordingly without the authority to conclude a contract; UNCLOS is therefore also referred to as a “mixed agreement”.

    See also

    Individual evidence

    1. cf. Hermann Meyer-Lindenberg : Development tendencies under maritime law at the Geneva Conferences of 1958 and 1960 ZaöRV 1961, pp. 38–80.
    2. ^ David Anderson: Modern Law of the Sea. Selected Essays (= Vaughan Lowe [Ed.]: Publications on Ocean Development . No. 59 ). Koninklijke Brill NV / Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Leiden / Boston 2008, ISBN 978-90-04-15891-7 , chapter 1, p. 6 (English).
    3. ^ League of Nations Codification Conference - About the Commission. In: United Nations . International Law Commission , July 31, 2017, accessed October 9, 2019 .
    4. Harry S. Truman : Proclamation 2667 of September 28, 1945. Policy of the United States with Respect to the Natural Resources of the Subsoil and Sea Bed of the Continental Shelf. (PDF; 85.4 KB) In: White House , September 28, 1945; Retrieved October 9, 2019 (American English).
    5. ^ David Anderson: Modern Law of the Sea. Selected Essays (= Vaughan Lowe [Ed.]: Publications on Ocean Development . No. 59 ). Koninklijke Brill NV / Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Leiden / Boston 2008, ISBN 978-90-04-15891-7 , chapter 1, p. 8 (English).
    6. Major Thomas E. Behuniak: The Seizure and Recovery of the SS Mayaguez: Legal Analysis of United States Claims, Part 1 Archived from the original on December 28, 2016. (PDF; 6.5 MB) In: Department of the Army (Ed .): Military Law Review . 82, 1978, ISSN  0026-4040 , p. 120. Retrieved October 9, 2019.
    7. ^ Tullio Treves: 1958 Geneva Convention on the Law of the Sea. In: United Nations . Audiovisual Library of International Law, 2008, accessed October 9, 2019 .
    8. ^ David Anderson: Modern Law of the Sea. Selected Essays (= Vaughan Lowe [Ed.]: Publications on Ocean Development . No. 59 ). Koninklijke Brill NV / Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Leiden / Boston 2008, ISBN 978-90-04-15891-7 , chapter 1, p. 10 (English).
    9. United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and Convention for the Implementation of Part XI of the Convention on the Law of the Sea , accessed on October 9, 2019 . In: Official Journal of the European Communities . L 179, June 23, 1998, pp. 3-134.
    10. cf. International legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction Resolution 72/249 adopted by the General Assembly on December 24, 2017 (English).
    11. International Waters NABU , accessed on May 30, 2020.
    12. ^ No. 1 of the Declaration of Principles for the Seabed and the Seabed Beyond the Limits of National Jurisdiction of December 17, 1970, A / RES / 2749 (XXV); engl. Declaration of Principles Governing the Seabed and the Ocean Floor, and the Subsoil Thereof, beyond the Limits of National Jurisdiction
    13. cf. Tomma Schröder: Ruler of the high seas: the ocean needs an administration Deutschlandfunk , May 5, 2016.


    • Nienke van der Burgt: The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and its Dispute Settlement Procedure. In: Griffin's View on International and Comparative Law. Volume 6, No. 1, 2005, ISSN  1567-875X , pp. 18-34.

    Web links

    Commons : Convention on the Law of the Sea  - collection of images, videos and audio files