A Special Meeting of States Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea was convened on Friday 6 March in order to elect a judge to fill the vacancy created by the sad death of Judge Choon-Ho Park in November last year. In accordance with the practice of the States Parties, it was accepted that the place should be filled with an individual from the Asian Group of countries. Two nominations were received: Jin-Hyun PAIK (Republic of Korea) and Nugroho WISNUMURTI (Indonesia). Jin-Hyun Paik was duly elected and he will hold office for the remainder of his predecessor’s nine-year term, which expires on 30 September 2014.
As noted above, it is general practice to allocate a specific number of seats to regional groupings in accordance with an agreement reached by the States Parties prior to the first election of the Tribunal in 1996. Thus, five judges will be elected from the African Group, five judges from the Asian Group, four judges from the Latin American and Caribbean Group, four judges from the Western European and Other States Group and three judges from the Eastern European Group. The election of Judge Paik follows this practice but there is a question mark over whether or not it is in need of modification.
The current practice is no longer seen by some states as offering an equitable allocation of seats on the Tribunal. This is in large part due to the increasing number of States Parties from Africa and Asia. In a proposal made to the seventeenth meeting of the States Parties in June 2007, the African and Asian states argued that they should have an additional seat which would rotate between the two groupings. This additional seat would be taken from the Western European and Other States Group who would be limited to three seats on the Tribunal. Unsurprisingly, the proposal met some resistance. Discussions continued at the eighteenth meeting of the States Parties in 2008 although agreement was still not forthcoming. Despite all states accepting the importance of arriving at a decision based on consensus, at its eighteenth meeting, the Meeting of States Parties also adopted a decision providing that unless consensus could be achieved by the nineteenth Meeting of States Parties, the African and Asian proposal would be put to the vote. If this happens, it will be the first time that the States Parties has deviated from the consensus decision-making procedures which they inherited from the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea. It must be wondered whether the acceptance of majority decision-making for for this issue is a one-off or whether it is an indication of a general shift in attitudes towards decision-making on the law of the sea. In any case, law of the sea enthusiasts will be watching the proceedings of the next meeting of the States Parties with some interest.