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The discussion on dispute settlement focussed on four topics: procedures under regional arrangements; compulsory conciliation; special arbitration; and fact-finding procedures. Dispute settlement procedures agreed upon by this Conference must be consistent with the Law of the Sea Convention. Parties to the Convention are obliged to settle disputes by peaceful means and they are also required to submit to final and binding third-party procedures if all others fail. There are formal institutionalized dispute settlement procedures, such as the Tribunal, the International Court of Justice, and arbitration. The Convention itself provides practical and expeditious means to settle disputes of a technical nature.

In the discussion, most delegates agreed that UNCLOS provides a good mechanism for dispute resolution. Some argued against creating new procedures or mechanisms, while others stated that the 1982 Convention does not have adequate measures for conflict resolution on fishing matters. It was pointed out that UNCLOS has not yet entered into force and certain countries experiencing problems with overfishing of straddling stocks and highly migratory species may not be party to the Convention. The authors of A/CONF.164/L.11 (Draft Convention on the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks on the High Seas) pointed out that Article 25 contains mechanisms for dispute settlement. L.11's arbitration measures are fast-acting, follow UNCLOS, and are specifically adapted to the needs of this Conference. Some developing countries expressed concern about arbitration costs. The Law of the Sea provides for equal sharing of costs, except under certain circumstances.

One delegation expressed concern that the focus was not on the real problem -- the need for better decision making in existing regional organizations to avoid the need to settle disputes. A number of delegates agreed that dispute settlement mechanisms should be a last effort to solve a problem, not a first. It was suggested that a specific tribunal composed of legal and technical experts should be created. There was concern, however, that a global dispute settlement mechanism would increase the number of disputes, cost, time, etc. Disputes should be dealt with by the appropriate regional organizations. However, since some disputes occur between a party in a regional organization and a non-party, there should be some type of a global mechanism. There was agreement that the priority should be given to regional settlement when possible. Finally, some said that since disputes should be resolved by regional organizations, this Conference should only give recommendations. Several delegations said that no agreement on mandatory dispute resolution is necessary at this time. [Return to start of article]