ITLOS and its structure, duties, Composition,jurisdiction, competence and authorities

The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea is an independent judicial body established by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to adjudicate disputes arising out of the interpretation and application of the Convention. The Tribunal is composed of 21 independent members, elected from among persons enjoying the highest reputation for fairness and integrity and of recognized competence in the field of the law of the sea.

The Tribunal has jurisdiction over any dispute concerning the interpretation or application of the Convention, and over all matters specifically provided for in any other agreement which confers jurisdiction on the Tribunal (Statute, article 21). The Tribunal is open to States Parties to the Convention (i.e. States and international organisations which are parties to the Convention). It is also open to entities other than States Parties, i.e., States or intergovernmental organisations which are not parties to the Convention, and to state enterprises and private entities “in any case expressly provided for in Part XI or in any case submitted pursuant to any other agreement conferring jurisdiction on the Tribunal which is accepted by all the parties to that case” (Statute, article 20)

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea was opened for signature at Montego Bay, Jamaica, on 10 December 1982 and entered into force on 28 July 1996. A subsequent Agreement relating to the implementation of Part XI of the Convention was adopted on 28 July 1994 and entered into force on 28 July 1996. This Agreement and Part XI of the Convention are to be interpreted and applied together as a single instrument. 

The Convention establishes a comprehensive legal framework to regulate all ocean space, its uses and resources. It contains, among other things, provisions relating to the territorial sea, the contiguous zone, the continental shelf, the exclusive economic zone and the high seas. It also provides for the protection and preservation of the marine environment, for marine scientific research and for the development and transfer of marine technology. One of the most important parts of the Convention concerns the exploration for and exploitation of the resources of the seabed and ocean floor and subsoil thereof, beyond the limits of national jurisdiction (the Area). The Convention declares the Area and its resources to be “the common heritage of mankind”. The International Seabed Authority, established by the Convention, administers the resources of the Area.

Part XV of the Convention lays down a comprehensive system for the settlement of disputes that might arise with respect to the interpretation and application of the Convention. It requires States Parties to settle their disputes concerning the interpretation or application of the Convention by peaceful means indicated in the Charter of the United Nations. However, if parties to a dispute fail to reach a settlement by peaceful means of their own choice, they are obliged to resort to the compulsory dispute settlement procedures entailing binding decisions, subject to limitations and exceptions contained in the Convention.

The mechanism established by the Convention provides for four alternative means for the settlement of disputes: the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, the International Court of Justice, an arbitral tribunal constituted in accordance with Annex VII to the Convention, and a special arbitral tribunal constituted in accordance with Annex VIII to the Convention. 

A State Party is free to choose one or more of these means by a written declaration to be made under article 287 of the Convention and deposited with the Secretary-General of the United Nations (declarations made by States Parties under article 287).

If the parties to a dispute have not accepted the same settlement procedure, the dispute may be submitted only to arbitration in accordance with Annex VII, unless the parties otherwise agree.

The Tribunal is open to States Parties to the Convention and, in certain cases, to entities other than States Parties (such as international organizations and natural or legal persons) (Access to the Tribunal).


The jurisdiction of the Tribunal comprises all disputes submitted to it in accordance with the Convention. It also extends to all matters specifically provided for in any other agreement which confers jurisdiction on the Tribunal. To date, sixteen multilateral agreements have been concluded which confer jurisdiction on the Tribunal (relevant provisions of these agreements).

Unless the parties otherwise agree, the jurisdiction of the Tribunal is mandatory in cases relating to the prompt release of vessels and crews under article 292 of the Convention and to provisional measures pending the constitution of an arbitral tribunal under article 290, paragraph 5, of the Convention.

The Seabed Disputes Chamber is competent to give advisory opinions on legal questions arising within the scope of the activities of the International Seabed Authority. The Tribunal may also give advisory opinions in certain cases under international agreements related to the purposes of the Convention.

Disputes before the Tribunal are instituted either by written application or by notification of a special agreement. The procedure to be followed for the conduct of cases submitted to the Tribunal is defined in its Statute and Rules.

Members of the Tribunal since 1996

NameStatePeriod of OfficePresidentVice-President
Akl, JosephLebanon1996-2017 2005-2008
Anderson, DavidUnited Kingdom1996-2005  
Attard, David JosephMaltasince 2011 2017-2020
Ballah, Lennox Fitzroy*Trinidad and Tobago2002-2003  
Bamela Engo, Paul*Cameroon1996-2008  
Bouguetaia, BoualemAlgeriasince 2008 2014-2017
Brown, Kathy-AnnJamaicasince 2020  
Cabello Sarubbi, ÓscarParaguaysince 2017  
Cachapuz de Medeiros, Antonio*Brazil2016-2016  
Caminos, Hugo*Argentina1996-2011  
Caracciolo, IdaItalysince 2020  
Chadha, NeeruIndiasince 2017  
Chandrasekhara Rao, P.*India1996-20171999-2002 
Cot, Jean-PierreFrance2002-2020  
Duan, JielongChinasince 2020  
Eiriksson, GudmundurIceland1996-2002  
Gao, ZhiguoChina2008-2020  
Gómez-Robledo Verduzco, AlonsoMexicosince 2014  
Golitsyn, Vladimir VladimirovichRussian Federation2008-20172014-2017​ 
Heidar, TomasIcelandsince 2014 since 2020
Hoffmann, AlbertSouth Africasince 2005since 20202011-2014
Infante Caffi, María TeresaChilesince 2020  
Jesus, José LuisCape Verdesince 19992008-2011 
Kamga, MauriceCameroonsince 2020  
Kateka, JamesUnited Republic of Tanzaniasince 2005  
Kelly, ElsaArgentina2011-2020  
Kittichaisaree, KriangsakThailandsince 2017  
Kolodkin, Anatoly Lazarevich*Russian Federation1996-2008  
Kolodkin, RomanRussian Federationsince 2017  
Kulyk, Markiyan Z.Ukrainesince 2011  
Laing, Edward Arthur*Belize1996-2001  
Lijnzaad, LiesbethThe Netherlandssince 2017  
Lucky, Anthony AmosTrinidad and Tobago2003-2020  
Marotta Rangel, Vicente*Brazil1996-2015  
Marsit, Mohamed Mouldi*Tunisia1996-2005  
Mensah, Thomas A.*Ghana1996-20051996-1999 
Ndiaye, Tafsir MalickSenegal1996-2020  
Nelson, L. Dolliver M.*Grenada1996-20142002-20051999-2002
Paik, Jin-HyunRepublic of Koreasince 20092017-2020 
Park, Choon-Ho*Republic of Korea1996-2008  
Pawlak, StanislawPolandsince 2005  
Treves, TullioItaly1996-2011  
Türk, HelmutAustria2005-2014 2008-2011
Vukas, BudislavCroatia1996-2005 2002-2005 
Warioba, Joseph SindeUnited Republic of Tanzania1996-1999  
Wolfrum, RüdigerGermany1996-20172005-20081996-1999​
Xu, GuangjianChina2001-2007  
Yamamoto, Soji*Japan1996-2005  
Yanai, ShunjiJapansince 20052011-2014 
Yankov, Alexander*Bulgaria1996-2011  
Zhao, Lihai*China1996-2000  

Administrative Sessions

The Tribunal holds two administrative sessions a year to carry out functions not necessarily related to cases. These include the preparation of budget proposals, adoption of an annual report to the Meetings of States Parties, consideration of organizational and procedural matters related to the Tribunal and the preparation of further reports and publications.

To date fifty administrative sessions have been held by the Tribunal.

The Tribunal has established six committees to deal with matters not directly related to cases. Each committee is constituted annually. The committees are as follows:

Committee on Rules and Judicial Practice
The Committee on Rules and Judicial Practice is entrusted with the function of reviewing the Rules of the Tribunal and their application, the Resolution on the Internal Judicial Practice of the Tribunal and the Guidelines concerning the Preparation and Presentation of Cases before the Tribunal. The Committee is responsible for proposing any modification which it may determine necessary or appropriate for the consideration of the Tribunal. The Committee is chaired by the President of the Tribunal, Judge Hoffmann; its other members are Vice-President Heidar and Judges Pawlak, Yanai, Kateka, Paik, Chadha, Kittichaisaree, Kolodkin and Kamga.

Committee on Budget and Finance
The Committee on Budget and Finance makes proposals to the Tribunal on budgetary and financial matters. In particular, the Committee is responsible for considering and making recommendations on draft budget proposals and financial regulations, as prepared by the Registrar, and on the management of the finances and accounts of the Tribunal. It also reviews the accounting and financial reports of the Tribunal and makes recommendations thereon, as necessary. Judge Yanai is the Chairman of the Committee; the other members of the Committee are Judges Jesus, Pawlak, Bouguetaia, Kulyk, Cabello Sarubbi, Chadha, Lijnzaad and Duan.

Committee on Staff and Administration
The Committee on Staff and Administration is mandated to make recommendations to the Tribunal on matters concerning the administration and the staffing of the Registry, with special reference to the terms and conditions of service and the procedures for recruitment, discipline and separation from service. The Chairman of the Committee is Judge Lijnzaad; the other members of the Committee are Judges Jesus, Kulyk, Chadha, Infante Caffi and Caracciolo.

Committee on Library, Archives and Publications
The Committee on Library, Archives and Publications advises on the organization, requirements and functioning of the library including, in particular, policy and procedures for the development of the collections. The Committee also makes recommendations concerning publications, with special reference to the nature and format of publications to be issued. The Chairman of the Committee is Judge Kolodkin; the other members of the Committee are Judges Attard, Gómez-Robledo Verduzco, Kittichaisaree, Infante Caffi and Kamga.

Committee on Buildings and Electronic Systems
The Committee on Buildings and Electronic Systems makes recommendations with respect to the permanent premises of the Tribunal, including associated e