UN Convention on the Law of the Sea of even greater relevance today: Vivian

WASHINGTON – Singapore paid tribute on Friday (April 29) to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), calling the landmark international agreement critically important to the rule of law in the oceans and of even greater relevance today.

Unclos, which was adopted 40 years ago, provides a universal legal framework on the governance of the ocean, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan noted in a brief speech at the UN headquarters in New York.

The institutions that Unclos created have adapted to new challenges and made critical contributions to global peace and security, he said.

Dr Balakrishnan, who concluded his three-day working visit to New York on Friday, was speaking at a high-level meeting to mark the 40th anniversary of the adoption of Unclos.

“Unclos was envisioned and developed at a time when many coastal states were making increasingly extensive claims to unilaterally expand their jurisdiction and their rights to exploit the ocean’s resources,” he said.

“Unclos brought order and predictability to the governance of our oceans,” he added.

The Singapore Foreign Minister called Unclos even more relevant today, given the rise of new issues such as the exponential growth of maritime shipping and the impact of climate change on the oceans, from the degradation of coastal and marine ecosystems to rising seas and ocean acidification.

Dr Balakrishnan said that Singapore will continue to support multilateral efforts to address these issues, citing its work to advance the Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction treaty currently being negotiated.

Singapore is also actively participating in the negotiations for a Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea, he noted.

“We are committed to negotiating an effective and substantive COC that is in accordance with international law, in particular Unclos, and that also safeguards the rights and interests of all parties in the South China Sea,” he said.

Dr Balakrishnan urged all countries to reaffirm their commitment to the convention.

He also urged all remaining states not already party to Unclos to accede to it, or to ratify it as soon as possible.

Most UN member states – 164 out of 193 – have ratified Unclos, while 14 member states have signed but not ratified the convention.

The United States is among the holdouts, although it recognises Unclos as customary international law.

Singapore, a small island state that relies heavily on maritime trade, considers Unclos especially crucial and is proud to have contributed to its adoption, said Dr Balakrishnan.