16 Dec Jesus Addresses UN General Assembly
Just in time for Christmas too. Of course, it was not really him. Rather, it was Judge José Luis Jesus, the newly elected president of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). President Jesus addressed the UN General Assembly on December 5, 2008, and met separately with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon a day earlier. Although these annual speeches traditionally provide UNGA members with an overview of an institution’s major accomplishments in the year coming to a close, President Jesus had little to report. As I mentioned back in June, ITLOS has only one pending case–between Chile and the European Community over swordfish stocks in the South-Eastern Pacific Ocean. A few days ago, moreover, a Special Chamber of ITLOS granted the parties request for an extension of time limits until January 2010, effectively continuing the proceedings’ hiatus while the parties continue discussions. Thus, 2008 has given ITLOS few opportunities to build on the 15 cases it has heard since its creation in 1996. Instead, like his predecessor Rüdiger Wolfrum, President Jesus chose to lobby UNGA Member States to use ITLOS for their maritime-related disputes, rather than turning to the ICJ or arbitration:
The President thanked the sponsors of the draft resolution on Oceans and the Law of the Sea for noting the continued contribution of the Tribunal to the peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with Part XV of the Convention. Furthermore, he highlighted some unique aspects of the Tribunal’s jurisdiction, first drawing the delegates’ attention to the advisory jurisdiction of the Seabed Disputes Chamber, which may give an advisory opinion at the request of the Assembly or Council of the International Seabed Authority, and then highlighting the fact that the Tribunal itself could give an advisory opinion if an agreement related to the purposes of the Convention so provided. He stated that such a possibility may prove to be a useful tool to States as the international community faces new challenges in ocean activities, such as piracy and armed robbery.
In addition, the President pointed out the compulsory jurisdiction of the Tribunal to prescribe provisional measures where a dispute on the merits has been submitted to an arbitral tribunal under Annex VII of the Convention. He stated that the Tribunal may prescribe provisional measures not only to preserve the respective rights of the parties to the dispute but also to prevent serious harm to the marine environment. The President went on to draw the attention of the delegates to article 292 of the Convention, which deals with the prompt release of vessels and crews. He stated that this provision enables the flag State or an entity acting on its behalf to submit an application to the Tribunal for the prompt release of a vessel or its crew detained by the authorities of a State Party. In this regard, he highlighted that the Tribunal has entertained a number of applications for the prompt release of fishing vessels and crews detained for alleged violations of fishing laws in the exclusive economic zone of a coastal State. The President emphasized that these applications have provided the Tribunal with the opportunity to develop a well-established jurisprudence.
In keeping with the holiday spirit, I’ll wish President Jesus the best of luck in drumming up new business, because without it, I wonder how long the institution can remain constituted in its current form.