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Last update: July 15, 2015

Analytical Guide to the Work of the International Law Commission

Law of the sea — régime of the high seas

See also: Summary | Texts and Instruments

Mandate

Studies undertaken by the Secretariat and Reports of the Secretary-General

  • 2nd session of the International Law Commission (1950)
    • Bibliography on the Regime of the High Seas (prepared by the Secretariat)
  • Questions under study by other organs of the United Nations or by Specialized Agencies (memorandum presented by the Secretariat)
  • Memorandum presented by the Secretariat
  • Memorandum on the Soviet Doctrine and Practice with Respect to the Regime of the High Seas prepared by the Secretariat
  • Laws and Regulations on the Régime of the High Seas, published by the Division for the Codification and Development of International Law
  • ST/LEG/SER.B/1 (United Nations publication, Sales No. 1951.V.2)
  • ST/LEG/SER.B/2 (United Nations publication, Sales No. 1952.V.1)

Reports of the Working Group or Sub-Committee

None

Reports of the Special Rapporteur

  • Preliminary report concerning such questions as, the freedom of the seas, definition of ships, territoriality of ships, nationality of ships, ships without nationality, ships possessing two or more nationalities, distinction between public and private ships, safety of human life at sea, signals, assistance and rescue, burials on the high seas, police on the high seas, slave trade, arms shipments, sub-marine cables, fishing rights, right of pursuit, protection of the resources of the seas, extension of the territorial seas and the contiguous zone, exclusive rights regarding the seabed and the continental shelf.
    • Report of the Special Rapporteur, Mr. J.P.A. François (2nd session of the ILC (1950))
  • Discussion of the following questions: nationality of ships; penal competence in the case of collision; safety of human life at sea; the right of approach; the slave trade; sub-marine cables; resources of the seas; right of pursuit; contiguous zones; sedentary fishing; and the continental shelf.
    • Second report of the Special Rapporteur, Mr. J.P.A. François (3rd session of the ILC (1951))
  • Further consideration of the following topics: nationality of ships; penal competence in case of collision; safety of human life at sea; the right of approach and the slave trade; sub-marine cables; and the right of pursuit.
    • Third report of the Special Rapporteur, Mr. J.P.A. François (4th session of the ILC (1952))
  • Discussion of Government comments received regarding the proposed articles on the continental shelf and related subjects.
    • Fourth report of the Special Rapporteur, Mr. J.P.A. François (5th session of the ILC (1953))
  • Discussion of Government comments received regarding the penal jurisdiction in the context of collisions.
    • Fifth report of the Special Rapporteur, Mr. J.P.A. François (5th session of the ILC (1953))
  • Further consideration regarding the draft articles on the high seas. Thirty four draft articles dealing with the following topics: the definition of the high seas; freedom of the high seas; commercial shipping on the high seas; State ships on the high seas; security of navigation; sub-marine cables and pipelines; jurisdiction in the context of collisions on the high seas; policing of the high seas; fisheries; sedentary fisheries; and water pollution.
    • Sixth report of the Special Rapporteur, Mr. J.P.A. François (6th session of the ILC (1954))
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on both the régime of the high seas and the régime of the territorial sea. Issues discussed included, the order of the chapters of the final report; the establishment of a central authority empowered to make regulations; settlement of disputes; contiguous zones and the continental shelf; regulation of fisheries; sedentary fisheries; points on which discussion was deferred at the seventh session; and omissions and ambiguities noted in contemporary publications, together with a summary of replies from Governments and conclusions of the Special Rapporteur.
    • Report of the Special Rapporteur, Mr. J.P.A. François (8th session of the ILC (1956))
  • Supplementary report of the Special Rapporteur on the right of international organizations to sail vessels under their flags.
    • Supplementary report of the Special Rapporteur, Mr. J.P.A. François (8th session of the ILC (1956))

Reports of the Drafting Committee

None

Comments by Governments

  • 2nd session of the International Law Commission (1950)
    • Replies from Governments to Questionnaires of the International Law Commission
  • 4th session of the International Law Commission (1952)
    • Comments by governments on the draft articles on the continental shelf and related subjects prepared by the International Law Commission at its third session in 1951
  • 5th session of the International Law Commission (1953)
    • Comments by governments on the draft articles on the continental shelf and related subjects
  • 6th session of the International Law Commission (1954)
    • Comments on the draft articles on the continental shelf, fisheries and the contiguous zone adopted by the International Law Commission at its fifth session, transmitted by the Government of Denmark
  • 7th session of the International Law Commission (1955)
    • Observations of the Government of Poland, concerning freedom of navigation on the high seas
    • Observations of the Government of the Union of South Africa, concerning freedom of navigation on the high seas
    • Memorandum of the Government of Ecuador concerning the exploitation and conservation of the maritime resources of the South Pacific
  • 8th session of the International Law Commission (1956)
    • Comments by Governments

Other

  • 2nd session of the International Law Commission (1950)
    • Principles proposed by G. Amado
  • Principles submitted as a basis of discussion by J. M. Yepes
  • 7th session of the International Law Commission (1955)
    • Proposal by Mr. Scelle
  • Proposal by Mr.Zourek
  • Nationality of Ships. Proposal by Mr. Zourek (Regarding articles 8, 9 and 10)
  • Proposal by Mr. Edmonds (Regarding article 21)
  • 8th session of the International Law Commission (1956)
    • Comments by inter-governmental organizations

Reports of the International Law Commission

  • Report of the International Law Commission on the work of its first session, 12 April to 19 June 1949
    • Appointed Mr. J.P.A. François as Special Rapporteur to study the topic of the régime of the high seas
    • Discussion in Plenary: 33rd meeting (3 June 1949)
  • Report of the International Law Commission on the work of its second session, 5 June to 29 July 1950
    • On the basis of the report of the Special Rapporteur, the Commission decided that it was necessary to select the subjects the study of which could be begun by the Commission as a first phase of its work on the topic. The Commission therefore decided to retain the following topics: nationality of ships, collision, safety of life at Sea, the right of approach, slave trade, submarine telegraph cables, resources of the sea, right of pursuit, contiguous zone, sedentary fisheries, and the continental shelf. The Commission requested the Special Rapporteur to submit, at its next session, a further report.
    • Discussion in plenary: 63rd, 64th, 65th, 66th, 67th, 68th and 69th meetings (7 to 17 July 1950)
  • Report of the International Law Commission on the work of its third session, 16 May to 27 July 1951
    • The Commission examined the second report of the Special Rapporteur, and adopted a set of draft articles on the continental shelf and related subjects with commentaries (annexed to its report and reproduced in document A/CN.4/49 (S)), and decided to communicate the draft articles to governments with a view to obtaining their comments thereon.
    • Discussion in plenary: 113th, 114th, 115th, 116th, 117th, 118th, 119th, 120th, 121st, 122nd, 123rd, 124th and 125th meetings (28 June to 16 July 1951), and 130th, 131st, 132nd, 133rd and 134th meetings (23 to 27 July 1951)
  • Report of the International Law Commission on the work of its fourth session, 4 June to 8 August 1952
    • The Commission deferred consideration of the third report of the Special Rapporteur until its fifth session. The Special Rapporteur was invited to study all replies from Governments as well as comments brought about by the publication of the draft articles.
    • Discussion in Plenary: 178th meeting (1 August 1952)
  • Report of the International Law Commission on the work of its fifth session, 1 June to 14 August 1953
    • After examining the provisional draft once again, in the light of comments of Governments, the Commission prepared final drafts on the following three questions: continental shelf; fisheries; and contiguous zone. In its report to the General Assembly submitted in 1953, the Commission recommended that the Assembly adopt by resolution the part of the report covering the draft articles on the continental shelf. In respect of the draft articles on fisheries, the Commission recommended that the General Assembly should approve the articles by resolution and enter into consultation with the FAO of the United Nations with a view to the preparation of a convention or conventions on the subject in conformity with the general principles embodied in the articles. As the Commission had not yet adopted draft articles on the territorial sea, it recommended that the General Assembly take no action with regard to the draft article on the contiguous zone, since the report covering the article was already published.
    • Discussion in plenary: 195th, 196th, 197th, 198th, 199th, 200th, 201st, 202nd, 203rd, 204th, 205th, 206th, 207th, 208th, 209th and 210th meetings (16 June to 7 July 1953), and the 215th meeting (14 July 1953)
  • Report of the International Law Commission on the work of its sixth session, 3 June to 28 July 1954
    • Consideration of the sixth report of the Special Rapporteur was held over to the next session.
  • Report of the International Law Commission on the work of its seventh session, 2 May to 8 July 1955
    • On the basis of the sixth report of the Special Rapporteur, the Commission adopted a provisional draft with commentaries to be submitted to Governments for comment. The Commission also communicated the chapter on the conservation of living resources of the sea to the organizations represented by observers at the International Technical Conference on the Conservation of the Living Resources of the Sea, convened by the Secretary-General in pursuance of G.A. resolution 900 (IX) of 14 December 1954 and held at Rome from 18 April to 10 May 1955. It further proposed, in accordance with G.A. resolution 899 (IX) of 14 December 1954, to group together in a single report all the rules adopted by it in respect of the high seas, the territorial sea, the continental shelf, contiguous zones, fisheries and the protection of the living resources of the sea.
    • Discussion in plenary: 283rd, 284th, 285th and 286th meetings (3 May to 6 May 1955), 288th, 289th, 290th, 291st, 292nd, 293rd, 294th, 295th, 296th, 297th and 298th meetings (10 to 25 May 1955), 300th, 301st, 302nd, 303rd, 304th, 305th and 306th meetings (27 May to 7 June 1985), 320th and 321st meetings (27 to 28 June 1955), 323rd meeting (30 June 1955), 326th and 327th meetings (4 to 5 July 1955), and 329th and 330th meetings (7 to 8 July 1955)
  • Report of the International Law Commission on the work of its eighth session, 23 April to 4 July 1956
    • The Commission examined replies from twenty-five governments and from the International Commission for the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries, together with a new report from the Special Rapporteur. After careful study of these replies, it drew up a final report in which it incorporated some of the points made, and grouped together all the rules it adopted concerning the high seas, the territorial sea, the continental shelf, the contiguous zone and the conservation of the living resources of the sea. All the draft provisions were recast so as to constitute a single coordinated and systematic body of rules. A comprehensive set of seventy-three draft articles with commentaries was adopted and submitted to the General Assembly with the recommendation that the Assembly convene an international conference of plenipotentiaries.
    • Discussion in plenary: 333rd, 334th, 335th, 336th, 337th, 338th, 339th, 340th, 341st, 342nd, 343rd, 344th, 345th, 346th, 347th, 348th, 349th, 350th, 351st, 352nd, 353rd, 354th, 355th, 356th, 357th, 358th, 359th, 360th and 361st meetings (25 April to 6 June 1956), 364th meeting (11 June 1956), 375th, 376th, 377th and 378th meetings (26 to 29 June 1956), and 381st meeting (4 July 1956)

General Assembly Action

  • Resolution 798 (VIII) of 7 December 1953
    • The Assembly decided not to deal with any aspect of the régime of the high seas or of the régime of territorial waters until all the problems involved had been studied by the International Law Commission and reported upon by it to the General Assembly.
 
  • Resolution 899 (IX) of 14 December 1954
    • The Assembly requested the Commission to devote the necessary time to the study of all the aspects of the topic (law of the sea) in order to complete its work and submit its report in time for the General Assembly to consider them as a whole, in accordance with resolution 798 (VIII), at its eleventh session in 1956.
 

Final Outcome

International Law Commission (8th session, 1956)

  • Recommended the summoning of an international conference of plenipotentiaries to examine the law of the sea, taking account not only of the legal but also of the technical, biological, economic and political aspects of the problem, and to embody the results of its work in one or more international conventions or such other instruments as it may deem appropriate.

General Assembly (11th session, 1956)

  • Resolution 1105 (XI) of 21 February 1957
    • Decided to convoke an international conference of plenipotentiaries to examine the law of the sea, taking account not only of the legal but also of the technical, biological, economic and political aspects of the problem, and to embody the results in one or more international conventions. It also recommended that the conference study the question of land-locked countries, as established by international practice of treaties.1
 

1 The United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea met at Geneva from 24 February to 27 April 1958, resulting in the adoption of four separate conventions: the Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone (United Nations, Treaty Series, vol.516, p. 205); the Convention on the High Seas (United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 450, p. 11); the Convention on Fishing and Conservation of the Living Resources of the High Seas (United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 559, p. 285); and the Convention on the Continental Shelf (United Nations, Treaty Series, vol.499, p311). These have been superceded by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (courtesy of the Oceans and Law of the Sea web site).