Statement by the Representative of Cyprus
Ambassador A.J. Jacovides
at the Plenary Meeting of the 53rd Session
of the United Nations General Assembly
Item 38 - Oceans and the Law of the Sea

November 24, 1998

Mr. President,

Since Cyprus has been associated with the position of the European Union on this subject, as expressed this morning in the statement delivered by the distinguished representative of Austria, I shall confine the present statement to certain aspects of the Law of the Sea which are of particular interest and importance to us.

May I recall that Cyprus actively participated in the elaboration of the Law of the Sea Convention throughout the Law of the Sea Conference and was among the first states to have signed and ratified the Convention as well as the subsequent 1994 Agreement relating to the implementation of Part XI. An island state, located among three continents - Europe, Asia and Africa - in the Mediterranean Sea, prominent now as it was in antiquity in shipping and commerce, Cyprus is vitally concerned with the legal regulation of the sea and of the oceans in a just and orderly manner ensuring fairness and predictability.

We consider the Law of the Sea Conference (1973-1982) as the most significant multilateral law-making undertaking since the Charter of the United Nations was adopted and the Law of the Sea Convention, despite the imperfections necessitated by the commendable objective of reaching an overall agreement by consensus, as a veritable constitution of the seas and oceans and as a monumental achievement which deserves the support of the international community. With subsequent practice, it can be validly stated that the bulk of the provisions of the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, including the breadth of the territorial sea and the regime of islands, have acquired the weight of customary international law.

My delegation is pleased to participate in this debate since it provides the welcome opportunity for an annual review of all developments relating to the law of the sea and oceans in their various manifestations. In this regard we are grateful to the Secretary-General for his comprehensive report (doc. A/53/456), which contains a wealth of relevant information and acknowledge with appreciation the valuable and constructive work carried out by the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea of the Secretariat which is particularly helpful to developing countries with limited technical means and expertise. We are also grateful for the contribution of the representatives of the institutions created under UNCLOS and, more particularly, to the President of the Law of the Sea Tribunal Tom Mensah and the Secretary General of the International Seabed Authority Satya Nandan.

1998 being the year proclaimed by the General Assembly as the International year of the Ocean, we acknowledge with appreciation the very useful work carried out in this context by the Independent World Commission on the Oceans, under the leadership of President Mario Soarez. The Commission's report "The Ocean - Our future" (doc. A/53/524) contains much valuable material and deserves careful consideration.

Mr. President,

Cyprus supports the goal of universal participation in the Convention, recognizes the need for all States to harmonize their national legislation with the provisions of the Convention and urges all States Parties to pay their assessed contributions to the Authority and the Tribunal, in time and in full, so as to enable them to carry out effectively their important functions under the Convention. We also share the concern regarding the increasing number of cases of piracy and armed robbery against ships and we fully support the efforts and initiatives of the IMO and all concerned in effectively combating such unlawful activities.

We note with satisfaction the increase to the number of States Parties to the Convention and the Agreement, as well as the positive developments relating to the International Seabed Authority, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. We also note the steps taken to put into place the dispute settlement mechanisms envisaged in the Convention on conciliation, arbitration and special arbitration and would both encourage and welcome additional steps by States Parties to put into full effect these mechanisms.

Our own strong preference for settlement of disputes in the law of the sea (as expressed in the Law of the Sea Conference as early as 6 April 1976) has been "for an effective, comprehensive, expeditious and viable dispute settlement system, entailing a binding decision regarding all disputes arising out of the substantive provisions of the Convention", the more so since some of these provisions (including those on the delimitation of the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf between states with opposite or adjacent coasts, articles 74 and 83 respectively), being the result of compromise which some considered as "constructive ambiguity", leave room for different interpretations and therefore readily lend themselves to disputes. While recognizing the realities in the present state of development of the international community, we hold this position both by reason of our attachment to the principle of equal justice under the law and by reason of our national interest as a small and militarily weak state which needs the protection of the law, impartially and effectively administered, in order to safeguard its legitimate interests under the Law of the Sea Convention.

Mr. President, of particular interest to us is the ongoing work of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) towards a convention for the implementation of the Law of the Sea Convention for the protection of underwater cultural heritage, in conformity with the relevant provisions of the Convention in its relevant Articles. These are Article 33 on the contiguous zone; Article 149 on archaeological and historical objects found in the area with "particular regard being paid to the preferential rights of the state or country of origin, or the state of cultural origin, or the state of historical or archaeological origin"; and Article 303 on archaeological and historical objects found at sea. In light of recent scientific developments making feasible much more extensive underwater exploration and recovery than ever before, this activity acquires additional topicality and urgency, particularly in areas rich in such objects such as the Eastern Mediterranean and it is a subject of considerable importance to Cyprus.

In conclusion, Mr. President, my delegation as a cosponsor of draft resolution A/53/L.35 (introduced by the distinguished representative of Finland) fully supports all its provisions and expresses the hope that it will receive the general support it deserves, thus taking another major step forward in the direction of international legal order in the seas and the oceans. We also support the draft resolution in doc. A/53/L.45 (introduced by Senator Claiborne Pell, the distinguished representative of the United States) which also deserves general support.

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