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Statement At the Twenty-sixth Session of the Council of the International Seabed Authority

By Monsignor Fredrik Hansen
Head of Delegation of the Holy See to the 26th Session
of the Council of the International Seabed Authority
Kingston, Jamaica, 20 February 2020



Mr. President,

The Holy See congratulates you on your election to the Presidency of this Council session, assuring you of the full support and constructive engagement of this Delegation.

My Delegation takes this opportunity also to express its appreciation for the work undertaken by the Council and the Assembly during the 25th session, as well as to thank the Secretary-General and the Secretariat for its ongoing assistance to the Organs of the Authority, in particular during the intersessional periods.

In this regard, allow me to echo the words of the Secretary-General, who during his statement to the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly noted that the 25 years of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea have been accompanied by the ongoing work of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) to “build a solid institutional architecture and an ever-growing regulatory framework for the oversight of the activities in the Area, and which currently constitutes the most comprehensive and equitable regime to govern the access to and utilization of the mineral resources and the protection of the marine environment in areas beyond national jurisdiction”.[1]

The Holy See continues to follow this work with great attention and encourages ISA Council members, Member States and Observers to make every possible effort to ensure meaningful and result-oriented progress during this 26th session.

On more specific issues related to the ongoing negotiations on the draft Regulations on the exploitation of mineral resources in the Area, the Holy See wishes to make the following five points:

Ensuring exhaustive negotiations rather than artificial deadlines

            The advances made during the 25th session on the draft regulations confirmed that the goal of adopting the regulations is drawing ever closer. While completing the negotiations is important, the Holy See underscores that doing so within a deadline cannot be the primary focus. The importance of the subject matter and the real-world consequences that the regulations will have – for us and future generations – demand that exhaustive consideration and discussions be devoted to the text.

Consistency and clarity in terminology

Like other Delegations, the Holy See believes it most important that the work on the text during this session should in a particular manner be devoted to ensuring clarity and consistency in the terminology of the regulations. This applies both to what may be termed external consistency, with the Convention and with the ongoing work of the Intergovernmental Conference on an international legally binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ), and with internal consistency, ensuring that the draft regulations and its various parts are coherent and internally uniform.

Overarching principles

During previous meetings of the Council and the Assembly, the Holy See has stressed the importance of a number of overarching principles included in the draft.

These include that the “resources of the Area are vested in mankind as a whole” (Regulation 2, a), the “development of the common heritage for the benefit of mankind as a whole” (2, b, ix), the “protection of human life and safety” (2, d), the “effective protection of the Marine Environment” (2, e), the “application of the precautionary approach” or principle (2, e, ii), the “application of the ecosystem approach” (2, e, iii), the “polluter pays principle” (2, e, iv), “access to data and information relating to the protection of the Marine Environment” (2, e, v), “[a]ccountability and transparency in decision-making” (2, e, vi) and providing for “the prevention, reduction and control of pollution and other hazards to the Marine Environment” (2, f).

My Delegation continues to believe that to ensure that the draft regulations will have a concrete, substantive and lasting impact, the identification of and precision about key principles remains crucial. Without the necessary strictures and clarity, mechanisms that seek to ensure governance of the oceans and the implementation of international conventions often end up being fragmented and without much effect, as Pope Francis noted in his encyclical letter Laudato si’.[2] Clarity of terminology becomes especially significant considering the important role that the process of applications, the applications themselves and their review will have in the regulations and the need to provide the private sector and Governments with a common and verifiable understanding of the regulations’ implementation, including their legal basis and obligations.

Accountability, compliance and oversight

            The draft regulations, while advancing these overarching principles, must also be grounded in and support more practical and business-oriented principles, notably accountability, compliance and oversight. Without ensuring that the exploitation of minerals in the Area is held to such standards of good corporate governance, the draft regulations risk becoming more exhortatory than impactful. My Delegation continues to urge that any form of conflict of interest in the approval and monitoring of applications and exploitation must be avoided, including by designating various bodies to perform subsequent oversight. In this, the role of sponsoring States is essential in assuring the veracity and accuracy of all information and exercising necessary controls.

The highest possible environmental standards

The Holy See is pleased to see that a great number of proposals and suggestions presented on the draft regulations called for the inclusion of the highest possible environmental standards – in all aspects and in all phases of the exploitation of mineral resources. It is my Delegation’s hope that work on such standards and their concrete inclusion in the draft will be advanced during this session. This would build upon the “responsibilities-based” approach that should characterize the work of the Authority, which begins with its most important goal: the conservation of our precious oceans with all their biological diversity and ecological integrity and the use of resources in a sustainable manner for the benefit of all mankind.

In closing, allow me to once more ensure all participants of this Council meeting of the support and constructive engagement of the Holy See

Thank you, Mr. President.


[1] Mr. Michael W. Lodge, Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority, Statement to the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, United Nations Headquarters, New York City, 10 December 2019.

[2] Pope Francis, encyclical letter Laudato si’ on care for our common home, 25 May 2015, n. 174.