THE 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) defines landlocked states as “states which have no seacoast” or simply a sovereign state that does not have territory connected to an ocean.
As of latest count, there are 44 landlocked states around the world. Majority are classified as landlocked developing countries (LLDC). Four are found in Asia — Laos, the only Asean LLDC, bordered by Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and China; Bhutan and Nepal (both bordered by China and India); and Mongolia (bordered by China and Russia). Some, however, are quite affluent — Austria, Lichtenstein, Luxembourg and Switzerland. Of interest are three states landlocked by a single country: Lesotho (a state surrounded by South Africa); San Marino (a state surrounded by Italy); and Vatican City (a state surrounded by Rome and, thus, surrounded by Italy). Mention should likewise be made of countries becoming landlocked because of political repercussions. The latest example is Ethiopia, which became landlocked with the independence of Eritrea brought about by successful separatist movements.
Being landlocked is disadvantageous to a country’s development. It deprives the country of important sea resources such as fishing and prevents direct access to maritime trade. To be more specific, landlocked developing countries are limited in their trading activity with the rest of the world. As is often remarked, “If you are coastal, you serve the world; if you are landlocked, you serve your neighbors.” One proof is that landlocked states have significantly higher costs of international cargo transportation compared to coastal developing countries. It is, therefore, not at all surprising that of the 32 landlocked developing countries, 17 are classified as least developed, 12 of them in Africa.
Be that as it may, although there is as yet no concrete information on Covid-19 pandemic vis-à-vis landlocked states, the latter have the advantage of focused or well-identified borders. Proof is that Covid-19 cases in Laos are the lowest in the Asean and one of the lowest in Asia attributed to, among others, the ease of closing border posts.
Landlocked states and Unclos
Rightly referred to as the “Constitution of the Oceans,” Unclos provides a comprehensive framework to regulate all ocean space, its uses and resources. An entire Part X of the convention is devoted to the right of access of landlocked States to and from the sea and freedom of transit. Likewise, various provisions enshrine specific rights of landlocked states relating to navigation, maritime resources, maritime scientific research and to the international seabed “Area” — the common heritage of mankind.
The right of access to and from the sea and freedom of transit through the territory of transit states can be carried out by all means of transportation. The right of access, however, is conditioned on bilateral, sub-regional or regional agreements between landlocked and transit states, laying down the terms and conditions for exercising the freedom of transit.
The right of access is furthermore restricted to the purposes of exercising the rights provided for in Unclos, including those relating to the freedom of the high seas and the common heritage of mankind. The reason is transit states, in the exercise of their full sovereignty over their territory, have the right to take all measures necessary to ensure that the rights and facilities provided for landlocked states “in no way infringe their legitimate interests.”
Rights of landlocked states across maritime zones
The following are maritime zones where landlocked states are conferred several rights:
Territorial sea: It extends up to 12 nautical miles measured from baselines. Ships of all states, whether coastal or landlocked, enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea and freedom of navigation in the waters beyond the territorial sea.
High seas: “High seas” means “all parts of the sea that are not included in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ), in the territorial sea or in the internal waters of a state, or in the archipelagic waters of an archipelagic state. Like other maritime zones, the high seas are a regime where landlocked states like coastal states are allowed to exercise considerable rights — freedom of navigation; freedom of overflight; freedom to lay submarine cables and pipeline; freedom to construct artificial and other installations permitted by international law; freedom of fishing; and freedom of scientific research. Unclos further allows them to equally sail ships flying their flags on the high seas. After all, the high seas are maritime zones where no exclusive jurisdiction of any state can be claimed or exercised.
International seabed ‘Area’: Unclos states that the “Area” and its resources are the common heritage of mankind. This manifests the tendency of the convention to promote the effective participation of landlocked states in the activities of the ‘Area,’ having due regard to their special need.
Right to living resources of EEZ
Unclos grants landlocked states a right to participate “on an equitable basis” in the exploration and exploitation of the living resources of exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of coastal states of the same sub-region or region. The right, however, exists only in relation to an “appropriate part” of the surplus of the living resources as determined by the coastal state. It is also subject to the following limitations: i) In the subregion or region concerned, this right does not take precedence over participation rights but must compete, with the final decision being left to the coastal State; and ii) it cannot be enjoyed in the EEZ of coastal states which are overwhelmingly dependent on fisheries, nor by developed landlocked states in the EEZs of developing states.
Furthermore, the exercise of the right of landlocked states relating to fisheries is made contingent upon additional agreements with the coastal states concerned. Coastal States, however, are not prevented from granting landlocked states of the same sub-region or region, equal or preferential rights over the living resources in the EEZs. This provision is the basis of the stand of some African landlocked states to create regional economic zones to accelerate economic growth.
Right to participate in marine scientific research
Although landlocked states are entitled to be informed of planned marine scientific research projects and to participate in such projects, this right depends on additional conditions and requirements. It permits them simply to participate in projects carried by third states and competent international organizations on the EEZ of neighboring coastal states, and they must be given the “opportunity” to participate in such research activities “whenever feasible.”
Bilateral and multilateral agreements
To enjoy the rights mentioned above, landlocked states need to make arrangements with transit States. One notable example is the Ethiopia-Djibouti ideal friendly relations on the matter. Ethiopia is currently dependent on Djibouti to access the sea since it became a landlocked state. The bilateral agreements of Ethiopia and Djibouti helped Ethiopia enjoy the port of Djibouti and other related services. Theirs is the best example of the relevance of negotiations/agreements for landlocked states to access the sea and enjoy the benefits that could be derived therefrom.
As it is, landlocked states are so dependent on their political relations with the transit states in exercising their rights. Easily, transit states can place impediments if they are in diplomatic or military conflict, with landlocked states. In short, even though there is a legal basis for access rights to landlocked states as outlined in Unclos, the rights must be based on agreements and conditioned by the prevailing relationship between the concerned states.
Indeed, negotiating bilateral and multilateral agreements with coastal/transit states has a crucial and irreplaceable role of filling gaps in the substantive rights of landlocked states in the international law of the sea.
Thus far, mixed conclusions have been reached in the realization of the rights of the landlocked states in the Unclos. For one, the right of navigation and port access for them have been accomplished without any problem. In regard to transit to and from the sea, developments in progressive economic cooperation and integration made possible much benefit for them. But the rights of landlocked states to participate in the living resources of the EEZ as well as their rights regarding marine scientific research have largely, if not totally, been forgotten. As to the right to share in the benefits accruing from the common heritage of mankind, the landlocked states have to wait and see until a point which cannot be predicted or as yet foreseen, i.e., revenues from deep seabed mining.
Unclos constitutes the only basis on which agreement with coastal/transit states is possible and, to a certain extent, takes account of the legitimate demands of landlocked states.
Moreover, one of the major and lasting results of the UN Conference on the Law of the Sea is the heightened awareness of the international community that Unclos is also of considerable importance and interest to landlocked states.
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