Posted December 12th, 2002

Mr. President,

It is a great honour to my delegation to participate in this special session of the fifty-seventh General Assembly to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the opening of the signature of the convention of the 1982 United Nations on the Law of the Sea.

The history of settlement and development of Guyana is linked strongly to the Atlantic ocean. Guyana has a total area of approximately 216,000 square kilometers and a population of about 750,000 people, most of whom live on the alluvial coastal belt. The coastal plain covering an area of about 5,000 square kilometers is about 1.3 meters below high tide level and supports over 80 per cent of the country's population, including the major economic activities.

The integrated management and "wise use" of the oceans and the coastal zone is therefore of critical importance to Guyana's development. We have taken steps to develop our capacity for the management of our marine biodiversity and coastal resources through the development of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1996 and the strengthening of the Fisheries Department of the Ministry of Fisheries, Crops and Livestock. The Guyana Environmental Protection Agency recognizes the high global biodiversity values of the coastal zones in Guyana and the importance of the development of these resources, fundamental to the future of the country.

The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is of special significance to Guyana. International waters constitute a very large area of focus and are covered by a range of conventions, treaties, and agreements. The Convention which entered into force in November, 1994, sets out the legal framework under which all activities in the oceans and seas should be undertaken. The Convention is enhanced and reinforced by the network of global and regional agreements including those on seas, pollution, wetlands, protected areas, fisheries, hazardous substances, biodiversity, and climate change, among others. This recognition of its universal importance cannot be over-emphasized and the Government of Guyana welcomes the increasing number of State Parties ratifying the Convention. We call on all Member States to fully join the Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The 1998 Report of the Independent World Commission on Oceans pointed out that life on our planet is heavily dependent upon the ocean. The report further indicated that the traditional view of oceans as a source of wealth and abundance is mistaken and that the fundamental challenge to be addressed is their vulnerability and scarcity as a resource.

In the current global thrust to eliminate malnutrition, hunger, and poverty, the importance of water as a primary and global resource has been recognized by the international community at the recently concluded World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa. The degradation of the quality of transboundary water resources, physical habitat, coastal and near-shore marine areas, and watercourses, and also the excessive exploitation of biological and non-biological resources must be urgently addressed. In addition, the United Nations Secretary-General's comprehensive report A/57/57 and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea Secretariat's publication entitled "Oceans: The Source of Life" have highlighted many of the problems which have preoccupied the negotiators over the past twenty-four years and which still require urgent attention. These include pollution from ships, ocean dumping, piracy and armed robberies, drug trafficking and human smuggling. These issues pose complex developmental challenges for small open economies like ours in the Caribbean, and transcend national boundaries.

With respect to countries with adjacent coastlines where maritime boundaries are still not settled, serious thought must be given, pending mutually agreed settlements, to the establishment of joint maritime development zones to garner the existing resources in the continental shelf. However, this matter must be addressed holistically in a balanced perspective that ensures peace, stability and the promotion of sound economic growth and sustainable development for the countries involved.

We recognize that oceans are not homogeneous water masses. Significant diversity arising from the ocean water currents, the extent of shelf, dynamics of the shore, banks, reefs and estuaries, affect the tasks of sustainable ocean and coastal development.

The Government of Guyana recognizes that the scientific advances and technological development will continue to open untapped potential for use of coastal, offshore and exclusive economic zones, and deep ocean areas. To address these needs and the challenges of vulnerability of the oceans resources, developing countries, particularly small states and the least developed countries require new resources to enhance their capacity to manage the existing level of development in a well integrated manner. This will enable developing countries to pursue opportunities for economic development in the coast and oceans while protecting their ecological integrity and biodiversity.

The United Nations Law of the Sea Convention has played a major role in streamlining the short and long term developmental goals at the national and regional levels through the establishment of clear objectives, principles and frameworks that translate concrete results based on expert advice for effective management and decision-making.

The Convention has produced a number of important and valuable innovations, the most valuable of which being the Exclusive Economic Zone, which provides coastal states with everything of value in the water column and the subjacent soil. This, certainly, conduces to a more equitable distribution of marine resources worldwide, and is especially welcomed by developing countries, which can now enlist these resources in the cause of enhancing the quality of life of our people, instead of having them monopolised by a handful of long distance fishing fleets profiting from a constricted territorial sea.

There is provision here for the ultimate and authoritative demarcation of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles. In this respect, a functioning committee using the most sophisticated and relevant scientific criteria can be set up to dedicate its efforts to the determination of appropriate demarcations and, thereby, to the obviation of serious disputes that might otherwise arise.

We must not lose sight of the efforts of Ambassador Pardo of Malta, who conceived of the Common Heritage of Mankind, consisting of mineral resources beyond the limits of national jurisdiction, the benefits of which will, in time, accrue to the economies of developing countries. And, finally, Guyana has high praise for the Law of the Sea Tribunal and the jurisdiction that has been accorded it. Guyana believes that this will serve both to facilitate marine development and contribute to the maintenance of international peace and security by resolving conflicts between states that fall within its competence.

As I close, Mr. President, I would remind this august assemblage that Guyana, as one of the earliest ratifiers of the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, takes great delight in these proceedings. We are confident that the road ahead will bring us to a full realization of all of the constructive possibilities that inhere in the Convention for the benefit of mankind everywhere.

I thank you,
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