ISA: Organs, decision-making processes and operating principles

The principle of "Common Heritage of Mankind" called for international management of mining activities on the deep-sea floor. This was the reason for establishing the ISA. It has five important organs: Assembly, Council, ISA Secretariat as well as Legal and Technical Commission (LTC) and Finance Committee (FC).

Declaring “The Area” to be "Common Heritage of Mankind" is a special feature under international law. While the implementation of international legal agreements is usually the responsibility of the State Parties, UNCLOS Part XI established an administration by setting up an international institution. However, it should be emphasized that the ISA does not act autonomously, but is governed by the State Parties to UNCLOS (UNCLOS Articles 156 and 157).

The seat of the ISA is in Kingston, Jamaica. All State Parties are represented in the Assembly, and each state has one vote. The Assembly, as the supreme body of the ISA, meets at regular "annual sessions." Among other things, the Assembly elects the members of the Council and the Secretary General of the ISA, fixes the budget of the Authority, approves rules, regulations and procedures adopted by other bodies and reviews their (annual) reports.

According to UNCLOS Article 161, the Council comprises 36 contracting states, which are selected according to geographical and economic aspects. The Council is the executive body of the ISA (UNCLOS Article 162). It temporarily adopts "rules, regulations and procedures" and approves mining projects. The Council has met twice a year since 2018 for effectively negotiating rules for mining projects. The Federal Republic of Germany is a member of the Council.

According to UNCLOS Article 163, the LTC is . It is to combine both legal and scientific competences. The members are appointed with regards to their expertise, they are not obliged to follow any instructions (Article 167 UNCLOS). The LTC meets twice a year for two weeks - usually in the absence of State Parties and other members of the public. Currently, one German expert is a member of the LTC.

Principally, the LTC is an advisory body to the Council. The Council takes the decisions – with one quite important exception. In case the LTC recommends the approval of a mining project to the Council, the latter may reject this recommendation only by a majority of two thirds of the present and voting states (cf. section 3(11)(a) of the Implementing Agreement of 1994). This provision applies to exploration and exploitation projects. Details are governed by the mentioned Implementation Agreement.

Functioning as advisory body to the Council, the Finance Committee prepares the decisions regarding finances.

The ISA Secretariat is responsible for the administrative functions, especially if the Council gives corresponding instructions (UNCLOS Articles 166 et seq.).

Within the ISA, a habit has developed resulting in the Secretariat and the LTC both having a major influence on decisions taken by the ISA. Among other things, this is due to the fact that the LTC generally meets in secret. This is also true when regulatory decisions, i.e. matters that in principle do not require secrecy, or environmental issues are discussed and prepared. Furthermore, recommendations of the LTC regarding the approval of exploration projects are hardly discussed within the Council in terms of content, and existing uncertainties are not presented. As a rule, there is no in-depth discussion of content either in the Council or in the Assembly.

Clear criticism was being raised recently about the lack of discussion in the Council. A proposal was advanced that meetings of the LTC should only be held in secret if confidential information is dealt with. Finally, the documents to be negotiated during Council meetings should be made available in such a way that State Parties would be able to consider them in a serious manner. Finally, it was suggested that, similar to other international regimes, "summary records" of the annual meetings should be compiled.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, negotiations at the ISA have been limited since 2020. The tacit agreement procedure has been used to take decisions on procedural aspects. An important decision at the end of 2020 was the re-election of the incumbent Secretary General Michael Lodge.

Printer-friendly version
 International Seabed Authority  Legal and Technical Commission  Finance Committee