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No representation to U.N. scientific panel – UNCLOS: Daily Editorial

Context

India is strenuously lobbying for the seats in United Nations Security Council and the Nuclear Suppliers Group but for the first time in two decades India may not have a member in a prestigious, U.N. scientific body that decides what portions of the seabed can be exclusively mined for natural resources such as oil, precious metals and minerals.

India’s nomination to Commission on Legal Continental Shelf (CLCS)

  • India is currently member to this 21-person body called Commission on Legal Continental Shelf (CLCS) which is  the part of United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)
  • But the date to send a nomination lapsed on March 7 and the CLCS has five-year tenure and elections are due in June for the 2017-2022 term.
  • The Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) is the nodal Ministry of the Government for the Law of the Sea-related issues and Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Indian candidates to all the foreign bodies.
  • MEA chose to nominate a person to another U.N. body, called the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) but the MoES candidate for CLCS was not agreed to by the MEA. ITLOS is a judge position and the appointee is paid annual wages, there is no remuneration for the sitting CLCS member.

Importance of membership in CLCS

  • Not having an Indian in this 21-member group would mean that China and Pakistan would likely “grab” two of the five seats allotted to the so-called Asia-Pacific group.
  • Apart from signalling prestige, a membership of the commission allows India to gauge the scientific strength of claims by countries to parts of the seabed that, like territorial waters, are often hard to demarcate.
  • Such information is privy only to participants. India has had disputes with several neighbours — Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka — over how the continental shelf (the seabed under the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal) can be fairly distributed.
  • India has a huge interest in CLCS and applied for extending the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) up to 350 nautical miles from the existing 200 nautical miles. India’s submission to CLCS will likely come up for scrutiny later this year, and Sri Lanka, which has claimed a larger area than India, will be examined first. India’s application number is 48, while Sri Lanka’s is 43.
  • The presence of an Indian at this strategic period is essential and in the national interest.
UNCLOS

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)

  • The Law of the Sea Treaty, formally known as the Third United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS III, was adopted in 1982 at Montego Bay, Jamaica. It entered into force 12 years later, in 1994.
  • Its purpose is to establish a comprehensive set of rules governing the oceans and to replace previous U.N. Conventions on the Law of the Sea, one in 1958 (UNCLOS I) and another in 1960 (UNCLOS II), that were believed to be inadequate
  • Negotiated in the 1970s, the treaty was heavily influenced by the “New International Economic Order,” a set of economic principles first formally advanced at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
  • UNCLOS calls for technology transfers and wealth transfers from developed to undeveloped nations.
  • It also requires parties to the treaty to adopt regulations and laws to control pollution of the marine environment.
  • In additional to the economic provisions, this convention also introduced a number of provisions and covered the most significant issues such as setting limits, navigation, archipelagic status and transit regimes, exclusive economic zones (EEZs), continental shelf jurisdiction, deep seabed mining, the exploitation regime, protection of the marine environment, scientific research, and settlement of disputes. This treaty defines the following terms:

Internal waters

  • Internal Waters refers to the all water and waterways on the landward side of the baseline of a country.
  • In the internal waters a country is free to set laws, regulate its use and use of its resources. There is no interference of the foreign countries.

Territorial waters

  • Territorial waters refer to 12 Nautical Miles from the baseline.
  • In this area the countries are free to set laws, regulate use and also use its resources.
  • However, the foreign vessels are NOT given all rights to passage through except “Innocent Passage”.
  • The innocent passage refers to the passing through the waters which is not prejudicial to peace and security. However, the nations have right to suspend the innocent passage. The submarine while passing through other country’s territorial waters has to navigate on the surface and show their flags.

Contiguous Zone

  • The contiguous zone refers to the area 12 Nautical Miles beyond the Territorial waters. This means that it is 24 Nautical Miles from the baseline limit.
  • In this zone the country can enforce laws only in 4 areas viz. pollution, taxation, customs, and immigration.

Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs)

  • Exclusive Economic Zones refers to the area from the edge of the territorial sea out to 200 nautical miles from the baseline. In this area, the country has sole exploitation rights over all natural resources.
  •  The most important reason to introduce EEZ was to halt the clashes over the Fishing Rights and Oil Rights.
  • In the EEZ, the foreign vessels have freedom of navigation and over flight, subject to the regulation of the coastal states. Foreign states are allowed to lay submarine pipes and cables.

Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS)

Purpose of the Commission

  • The purpose of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (the Commission or CLCS) is to facilitate the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (the Convention) in respect of the establishment of the outer limits of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles (M) from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured.
  • The Commission shall make recommendations to coastal States on matters related to the establishment of those limits; its recommendations and actions shall not prejudice matters relating to the delimitation of boundaries between States with opposite or adjacent coasts.

Functions of the Commission

  • To consider the data and other material submitted by coastal States concerning the outer limits of the continental shelf in areas where those limits extend beyond 200 nautical miles and to make recommendations based on UNCLOS III
  • To provide scientific and technical advice, if requested by the coastal State concerned during preparation of such data. Sessions of the Commission
  • The Commission ordinarily meets twice a year, in the spring and fall, at United Nations Headquarters in New York.
  • The meetings of the Commission, its sub-commissions and subsidiary bodies are held in private, unless the Commission decides otherwise.

International Sea Bed Authority

  •  The International Seabed Authority is an autonomous international organization established under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 1994 Agreement.
  • The International Seabed Authority, established by the Convention, administers the resources of the Area.

International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea

  • The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea is an independent judicial body established by the UNCLOS to adjudicate disputes arising out of the interpretation and application of the Convention.
  • The Tribunal is composed of 21 independent members, elected from among persons enjoying the highest reputation for fairness and integrity and of recognized competence in the field of the law of the sea. 
Practice Questions

1. With a sole focus on the membership to UNSC and NSG, and expending all the diplomatic efforts for the same, is India missing out on representations to other important international fora? Substantiate.

2. What is UNCLOS? What are its functions and demarcation of the Sea waters?

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