Role and significance of 1982 UNCLOS

Representatives from 107 countries and territories gathered in Montego Bay, Jamaica, on December 10, 1982, to sign the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). It came into force on November 16, 1994, with approval from 60 members. It is now binding on 168 states as well as the European Community, which is the only international organisation that is a member.

The Convention has 320 articles, set out in 17 parts, as well as nine annexes and four resolutions. It governs all critical issues relating to seas and oceans. It sets out the legal regime for seas and clarifies the rights and obligations of both coastal and mainland countries in relation to international traffic, environmental protection, and scientific research, etc., regardless of their development status. It also sets forth procedures to peacefully settle marine disputes between countries.

The 1982 UNCLOS was signed after nine years of negotiations, expressing the strenuous efforts of the international community in setting up such a legal framework. Following its signing in 1982, then UN Secretary General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar hailed the document as the most significant achievement in international law in the 20th century, while Tommy Koh, President of the third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, called it “A constitution of the Oceans”.

The most notable achievement reached through the convention is binding countries in a standardised method of identifying different zones at sea, including internal waters, territorial waters, contiguous zones, exclusive economic zones, and continental shelf. In case of overlaps between the territorial waters, contiguous zones, and continental shelf of neighbouring countries, they will negotiate over a boundary line.

UNCLOS has affirmed its significance in maintaining peace and stability in the maritime space. Every member is responsible for fully adhering to its regulations, with no exceptions or delays. The convention serves as an instrument to secure peace, justice, and progress in all nations of the world./.