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The concept of an ocean assembly

The idea of an Ocean Assembly should be considered in the context of the need to establish new integrated global arrangements, or adjusting and strengthening existing institutions which at present perform primarily coordinating functions. The underlying perception apparently is the fact that the existing network of coordinating structures should be adapted to the new requirements for an integrated ocean management. The main objective of such a reform should be the advancement of more operational-oriented arrangements responsive to a comprehensive and intersectoral approach to ocean affairs. The solution to this problem should be sought not in the establishment of a single structure, but in the compatibility of several options which may be provided both by newly established and existing arrangements.

There are some other general requirements for a coherent institutional framework in the field of ocean management at global level, such as:

- flexibility in adopting the appropriate institutional arrangements and related mechanisms depending upon the relevant priorities in carrying out an integrated ocean policy;

- refraining from proliferation of new institutions making full use of the existing institutions and their adjustment in conformity with intersectoral approach and horizontal and vertical integration of environment and development; and

- attributing special attention to cost-effective considerations and adequate use of funds for operational activities.

The report of the Secretary-General of the conference to the Third Session of the Preparatory Committee of UNCED, while indicating that "(the) United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea contains a comprehensive global framework and lays down fundamental rules for all significant ocean-related activities and environmental protection," suggested that the General Assembly of the United Nations "could decide on establishing a global forum on ocean issues and introduce coordinating mechanisms." (Doc.A/CONF.151/PC/42/ Add.6 of 3 July 1991)

The same report further elaborated on new integrated global arrangements by the suggestion of setting up one or more of the following:

(a) A high-level intergovernmental forum through the General Assembly, which will meet periodically and include all relevant agencies and bodies of the United Nations and development and donor institutions.

(b) Expanded General Assembly plenary annual consideration on ocean affairs with appropriate reporting arrangements between the GA and the governing bodies of the relevant agencies and bodies.

(c) Related intersecretariat coordinating mechanisms, including the formalization of the existing ad hoc UN/OALOS and UNEP consultations as well as the specialized processes of ICSPRO and GESAMP; and as required, ad hoc joint advisory expert groups.

(d) A Conference on Ocean Affairs to be convened every 5 years;

(e) ...;

(f) ...;

(g) The establishment by the United Nations Secretary-General of a Standing Commission on Ocean Affairs (constituted of distinguished independent members) which would report periodically to the General Assembly on major issues affecting the oceans and possible means of solution. " (Doe. A/CONF.151 IPC.42/Add.6)

The International Ocean Institute added to this list of possible arrangements with suggestions for a biannual Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly and periodic meetings of States Parties to the 1982 Convention, as provided for in articles 154 and 155, to review the operation of the international regime of the Area or the review of the provisions of part XI and the relevant annexes of the Convention.

All these and other possible arrangements which may form a comprehensive global institutional framework for international cooperation in ocean affairs should be set up or used severally, as distinct arrangements, or jointly, as appropriate. Thus, for instance, the intersecretariat coordinating mechanisms on one hand, and the Standing Commission on Ocean Affairs on the other, should be considered as distinct bodies, since they have specific missions. While the first has coordinating and possibly operational functions, the latter as a commission of distinguished independent personalities would perform advisory functions on major ocean issues. In the case of a regular General Assembly session with expanded agenda on ocean affairs and a special session of the General Assembly on such issues, the difference is more of a procedural nature. The convening of a biannual special sessions appears quite cumbersome with serious financial implications. This does not mean that the convening of a special session should be excluded altogether even when warranted by important circumstances.

The above-mentioned suggestions for global institutional arrangements, therefore, should be considered as possible options. In this case the requirements for flexibility, rational employment of the most pertinent structure and cost-effective considerations should prevail when choosing the appropriate option.

Taking into account various proposals which have been advanced with regard to a global institutional framework, it may be inferred from the preliminary discussion on this matter, that "an Ocean Assembly" is an absolutely essential part of the institutional framework for an ocean governance in the twenty-first century. The emerging concept of an Ocean Assembly should comprise two intrinsic components, namely, the deliberative functions of a world forum and the decision-making powers of a high-level intergovernmental conference. A global institution of such character has to be supported by appropriate mechanisms, which would ensure the operational effect of its proceedings. The Ocean Assembly may be established by the General Assembly of the United Nations, and in this way will be integrated into the United Nations system. The establishment of UNCTAD by resolution of the General Assembly (Res.1995 (XIX) of 30 December 1964) and its functioning could serve as a model for the Ocean Assembly.

Powers and functions

The purposes of the Ocean Assembly may include the following:

1. to promote integrated policies in ocean affairs and the peaceful uses of the oceans;

2. to be a world forum of discussions, exchange of information and experience of global character;

3. to serve as catalyst of coordination and cooperation between states in the implementation of international rules, standards, and programmes for the protection of the marine environment and sustainable development of its resources;

4. to act as a centre for harmonizing the activities of States, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations on ocean environment and development issues; and

5. to strengthen the legal and institutional framework for cooperation and coordination on ocean-related matters.

In the pursuit of these purposes the Ocean Assembly should be entitled to the following powers and functions:

a. to set out guidelines, general standards, and economic instruments on integrated ocean management and protection of ocean resources by the promotion of new concepts of liability for environmental harm and "precautionary approach;"

b. to advance new strategic planning for integrated ocean management;

c. to facilitate the elaboration of general principles and guidelines for the progressive development of the international law of the sea and encourage the universal adherence to the 1982 Convention, and wider recourse to dispute settlement procedures;

d. the elaboration of model rules and establishment of funding and coordinating mechanisms with the participation of competent agencies from the donor community;

e. to review the implementation of generally agreed principles, standards, and the accomplishment of multilateral programmes in the field of the uses of the oceans and their resources;

f. to supervise the functioning of existing institutional arrangements and mechanisms with the view to suggesting adjustment or improving their structure and functioning.

Membership, structure, and procedure

The Ocean Assembly should be a world forum of a highly representative character. Participants in the Assembly should be States, United Nations bodies involved in ocean affairs such as UN/OALOS, organizations and institutions from the UN system, donor agencies, international non-governmental organizations involved in ocean affairs, international organizations interested in marine scientific re search, ocean services, and training on ocean-related matters. The national delegations should have multiple, functional representation of public and private sectors, local authorities, representatives of ship ping, fisheries, tourism, environmental sector, and other major interests relating to management and protection of coastal and marine areas.

The structure of the Assembly should consist of plenary session and meetings of subsidiary bodies depending upon the agenda of the Assembly. The preparatory work may be assigned to UN/OALOS and a small secretariat unit. The sessions of the Ocean Assembly should be called by the General Assembly every 4 or 5 years, and the Assembly may be empowered to adopt recommendations, guidelines, model rules, long-term programmes or other instruments. The decisions of the Assembly and its subsidiary bodies should be adopted by consensus of the participating States. The representatives of intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations should have the right to take part in the discussions of any matter within their competence.

The functioning of the Ocean Assembly and its intercessional work should be assisted by a permanent secretariat. There are several options regarding the status and terms of office of such a secretariat. One solution would be the establishment of an independent subsidiary organ of the Ocean Assembly with secretarial duties within the United Nations system which would be entitled to maintain working relations not only with governmental institutions but also with non-governmental organizations and the private sector. Another possibility would be to set up an autonomous secretariat unit of UN/OALOS which would be assigned to the Ocean Assembly. There might also be other forms of secretariat depending upon its composition, functions and powers. It would be advisible, however, that in all instances this subsidiary body of the Ocean Assembly should be a cost-effective organ with a reasonable number of staff and should constitute a part of the United Nations. Consequently, the relevant administrative and financial regulations of the UN should apply.

An Ocean Assembly should maintain relations with the institutions of the United Nations system, and other intergovernmental as well as non-governmental organizations with special interests in ocean affairs. Their cooperation and collaboration should be considered of the utmost importance for the activities of the Ocean Assembly. Particular attention should be accorded to closer cooperation with international organizations involved in the implementation of global and regional programmes, including interagency cooperation in ocean affairs, such as management of living resources, marine scientific research and ocean services, monitoring, education, and training.


The wide range of institutional issues needs thorough consideration in the context of the problem of ocean governance. The suggested arrangements for an Ocean Assembly are subordinated to the idea of integration between environment and sustainable development and their effective horizontal and vertical integration on national, regional, and global levels.

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