IILJ Emerging Scholars Paper 15 (2009)

Accountability and the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf: Deciding Who Owns the Ocean Floor

Anna Cavnar

Read PDFRead PDF

States have long vied to control the resources found in the ocean floor. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), coastal states have jurisdiction over the 200 nautical miles of continental shelf adjacent to their coastlines. UNCLOS article 76, however, gives certain countries “extended claims” to up to 350 nautical miles. These claims are reviewed by the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), a panel of 20 scientific experts that can accept, modify or reject claims.
This article asks whether, in making these determinations, the CLCS is held sufficiently accountable to the states in whose interest it is supposed to act. In responding no, the article analyzes the Commission’s mandate and power, and presents several reasons why it should be held accountable to UNCLOS Parties. It then explores accountability gaps in CLCS procedures and proposes a number of reforms to fill those gaps.