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UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea)

GS Paper 2

Topics Covered: Important International institutions, agencies and fora, their structure, mandate.



Overcoming resistance from China, an unprecedented India-led UN Security Council session recently highlighted the primacy of the UNCLOS. A concept note incorporating the framework was also circulated in this regard.


Implications and significance of the move:

  1. As per the UNSC Presidential statement, “UNCLOS is the legal framework applicable to activities in the oceans, including countering illicit activities at sea.”
  2. The framework highlights the importance of enhancing international and regional cooperation to counter threats to maritime safety and security. It also calls for efforts by regional and sub-regional organizations and individual countries in this regard.
  3. Also, this was the first ever standalone discussion on “Maritime Security” in the UN Security Council (UNSC).


China’s response:

China submitted diplomatically to asserting the primacy of UNCLOS under severe international pressure.

  • China’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea and East China Sea, islandbuilding and bullying of countries by its fishing militia have been a source of international concern.
  • Even though the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) under UNCLOS ruled in 2016 that China’s activities in the South China Sea are illegal, Beijing has continued undeterred, leading to growing tensions.



Adopted and signed in 1982. It became effective in the year 1994.

It replaced the four Geneva Conventions of April, 1958, which respectively concerned the territorial sea and the contiguous zone, the continental shelf, the high seas, fishing and conservation of living resources on the high seas.

  • The Convention has become the legal framework for marine and maritime activities.
  • Also known as Law of the Sea, it divides marine areas into five main zones namely- Internal Waters, Territorial Sea, Contiguous Zone, Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and the High Seas.
  • UNCLOS is the only international convention which stipulates a framework for state jurisdiction in maritime spaces. It provides a different legal status to different maritime zones.


The Convention has created three new institutions on the international scene:

  1. The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.
  2. The International Seabed Authority.
  3. The Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.


Insta Curious:

Do you know about the Convention on the High Seas? Reference: 



Prelims Link:

  1. About Continental Shelf.
  2. About International Seabed Authority.
  3. About UNCLOS.
  4. About EEZ.
  5. What is PCA?
  6. About South China Sea dispute.

Sources: the Hindu.