The relationship between the International Tribunal for the law of the sea and other International Courts and tribunal
The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea is a rather new star on the firmament of international adjudicating bodies, which has become more and more brightly lately. The present contribution intends to highlight those features of ITLOS which make the light that it emits clearly distinguishable from the other stars out there.
As one of the most recent additions, ITLOS has only been functioning for just over a decade now. It finds its origin in the outcome of the protracted negotiations during the third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, which lasted from 1973 to 1982, and resulted in the adoption of a single, all embracing convention. The latter contains the Statute of ITLOS, which is located in Hamburg, Germany. Being concerned mainly with the implementation and interpretation of the 1982 Convention, this institution has a normal competence ratione materiae covering more than two thirds of the globe. Since the 1982 Convention is today often referred to as the Constitution for the Oceans, as envisaged by its founding fathers, not only because of the considerable number of parties to it, but also because the latter assure a wide and equilibrated geographical coverage, ITLOS seems to be solidly founded in international law.
ITLOS started functioning on 1 October 1996 and has decided 14 cases so far, with one more case remaining on its docket for the moment. During the summer of 2007 the two last cases were decided, namely the Hoshinmaru and the Tomimaru cases. These two cases will be taken as starting point to highlight the distinguishing features that make ITLOS stand out when compared to other international courts and tribunals.
But before addressing these two recent cases, it seems appropriate to briefly highlight the importance of Part XV of the 1982 Convention, entitled “Settlement of Disputes”, in the more global context of dispute settlement mechanisms in international law, for it helps to place the specific features of ITLOS in their proper context.
Finally, this contribution will try to draw some conclusions, based on the above‑mentioned case studies, as to the relationship between ITLOS and the other international courts and tribunals.