United Nations Convention on the law of the sea


The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is an international treaty that establishes a comprehensive framework for the use and conservation of the world’s oceans and their resources. It was adopted on December 10, 1982, and entered into force on November 16, 1994. UNCLOS is often referred to as the “constitution for the oceans” as it sets out the rights and responsibilities of nations regarding the world’s oceans and their resources.

Key provisions of UNCLOS include:

  1. Territorial Sea: UNCLOS establishes a territorial sea extending up to 12 nautical miles (22.2 kilometers) from a coastal state’s baseline. Within this zone, the coastal state has sovereignty and the right to enforce its laws.
  2. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ): Beyond the territorial sea, UNCLOS provides for an EEZ extending up to 200 nautical miles (370.4 kilometers) from the baseline. Coastal states have special rights and jurisdiction over the exploration and exploitation of natural resources, both living and non-living, in the EEZ.
  3. Continental Shelf: UNCLOS defines the continental shelf as the seabed and subsoil of the submarine areas that extend beyond the territorial sea, and it provides coastal states with sovereign rights to explore and exploit the natural resources of the continental shelf.
  4. International Seabed Authority (ISA): UNCLOS established the ISA as an international organization responsible for managing and regulating activities related to the exploration and exploitation of mineral resources in the international seabed area beyond any national jurisdiction.
  5. Freedom of Navigation: UNCLOS guarantees the freedom of navigation for all vessels, both commercial and military, in the high seas, archipelagic waters, and other areas beyond national jurisdiction. It also outlines rules for innocent passage through territorial seas.
  6. Protection of the Marine Environment: UNCLOS recognizes the importance of protecting and preserving the marine environment. It sets forth obligations for states to prevent and control pollution, regulate fishing activities, and conserve marine species.

UNCLOS has been widely ratified, with 168 parties, including the vast majority of coastal states, as well as the European Union. It serves as the primary legal framework for resolving disputes concerning maritime boundaries, resource exploitation, and other ocean-related matters. The Convention has significantly influenced the development of customary international law and has played a crucial role in promoting peaceful cooperation and sustainable use of the world’s oceans.

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