Zulfiya Amanzholova. Legal Status of the Caspian Sea: the Importance of the Aktau Convention


Ambassador at-Large

of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

of the Republic of Kazakhstan

Legal Status of the Caspian Sea:

the Importance of the Aktau Convention

At the Caspian Summit in Aktau (Kazakhstan), 12 of Aug. 2018.

From left: the presidents of Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan (Akorda.kz)

Aug. 12, 2018 is a landmark day in the history of the Caspian Five, since it was marked by signing the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea in Aktau, a fundamental international

treaty among the Presidents of Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan that defined the legal framework for cooperation of the littoral states in all spheres of activity in the Caspian Sea.

The Convention is the result of an extensive and very complex negotiating process, accompanied by persistent and principled debates on each issue requiring a legal settlement. The achievement of the agreement was facilitated by a common desire to address the existing problems, as well as by constructivism and mutual understanding of the negotiators. Political and territorial compromises have resulted from five Caspian summits, seven meetings of the ministers of foreign affairs of the Caspian states and fifty-two meetings of the Special Working Group (SWG) on the Development of the Convention, not including regular consultations and formal and informal meetings of the parties in various formats.

The delegations of the Caspian states have done a lot of hard work to create the fundamental document that takes into consideration the interests of all parties. The parties used the existing world experience to prepare it. The applicable rules of international maritime law were adapted to the Caspian Sea and incorporated into the text of the Convention on the Legal Status. Proposals from experts and national authorities who participated in the talks were widely used in the search for suitable wording.

It is remarkable that the multi-year negotiation process within the SWG format had started in January 1997 in Almaty and its outcomes were summarised on the Kazakh coast at the International Day of the Caspian Sea. Now, the much-anticipated document is informally referred to as the Aktau Convention.

According to the felicitous and concise definition of President of the Republic of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev given at the fifth Caspian Summit, the Convention is the “Constitution of the Caspian Sea." Indeed, it has become a new backbone for the balanced international legal system of relations between the littoral states of the sea.

This international treaty formalises the basic operating principles and defines the rights and obligations of the parties regarding the use of the Caspian Sea, including its waters, seabed, subsoil, natural resources and the airspace above it. The Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea delimits national zones of jurisdiction and sovereignty; procedures for the exercise of sovereign rights to subsoil use, navigation, fishing and marine scientific research in areas with different legal regimes were established and issues of security cooperation, as well as the conservation and rational use of aquatic biological resources and the protection of the marine environment, were settled.

In accordance with the Convention, matters relating to the Caspian Sea shall be exclusively addressed within the competence of the parties and settled on the basis of respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity, independence, sovereign equality of the states, non-use of force or the threat of force, mutual respect, cooperation and non-interference in the internal affairs of each other.

Complex negotiations on the division of the Caspian water area resulted in the mutually acceptable agreements, according to which the sea area is delimited by internal, territorial waters, fishery zones and the common maritime space, where different legal regimes will be applied.

The Caspian littoral states agreed to establish state maritime borders along the outer limit of 15-mile territorial waters. At the same time, the delimitation of internal and territorial waters between states with adjacent coasts should be made by agreement between them, taking into account the principles and norms of international law.

Ten-mile fishery zones adjacent to territorial waters were also established. Each state obtained exclusive rights to harvest biological resources. Fishing will be carried out on a quota basis. As for the so-called shared aquatic biological resources, such as sturgeon species, seals and sprat, agreed norms and rules for reproduction and regulation of their use are applied. Scientific research serves as the basis for both the conservation of aquatic biological resources and the management of shared biological resources. The parties have made mutual commitments to combat the illegal fishing of shared biological resources.

The common maritime space is preserved outside the fishery zones. Freedom of navigation is established outside the state maritime borders and is exercised without prejudice to the sovereign and exclusive rights of the parties, covering subsoil use and fishing, respectively. Navigation in the Caspian Sea and passage to/from the sea can be carried out exclusively by ships under the flags of the states of the Caspian Five.

The agreement was reached that each state shall exercise sovereign rights to subsoil use within the boundaries of its seabed sectors of the Caspian Sea. The main pipelines and cables can be laid in the seabed and the existing environmental requirements and standards should be strictly observed in order to avoid damage to the unique marine environment. An important condition is the need to coordinate the route for pipelines only with the party whose sector will host the pipeline.

The agreement on freedom of transit by all means of transport from the Caspian Sea to other seas, oceans and back creates favourable opportunities for economic development. It helps us to unite the efforts of our states in expanding the transport infrastructure. Thanks to this, the transit and transport potential of the Caspian region will be significantly increased and the landlocked countries will be connected with the rest of the world. This also will be achieved through the agreements, concluded by the Caspian Five at the fifth Caspian Summit, on cooperation in the field of trade and economic relations and transport.

Considering the environmental part of the convention, the parties first of all assumed that any activity in the Caspian Sea should not cause damage to the marine environment and biological diversity. The ecological system of the Caspian Sea and all its components must be fully protected and preserved. For a long time, the littoral states have been actively cooperating in this area on the basis of the Framework Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Caspian Sea, signed 15 years ago in Tehran, by jointly and comprehensively regulating anthropogenic impact on the marine environment and solving the problems associated with pollution of the sea from various sources, including those located in the coastal area.

In addition to that, the Convention thoroughly spells out the exclusive rights of the parties to regulate, authorise and conduct marine scientific research in their territorial waters, fishery zones and sectors. Marine scientific research within the territorial waters, fishery zones and sectors of the coastal states can be carried out only with their written permission and on the terms established by them.

The Convention pays special attention to security issues in the Caspian Sea. A mutually acceptable solution was found to the problem of the potential military activities. Given the likelihood of new challenges and threats to stability in the region, and taking into account the need for the presence of military formations in the Caspian Sea for antiterrorist purposes, the parties developed a principle on “ensuring a stable balance of armaments of the parties in the Caspian Sea, developing military capabilities within the limits of reasonable sufficiency with due regard to the interests of all the parties and without prejudice to the security of each other." This principle is considered in conjunction with other conventional principles, namely “compliance with the agreed confidence-building measures in the military field in the spirit of predictability and transparency in line with general efforts to strengthen regional security and stability, including in accordance with international treaties concluded among all the parties," as well as “using the Caspian Sea for peaceful purposes, making it a zone of peace, good-neighbourliness, friendship and cooperation and solving all issues related to the Caspian Sea through peaceful means."

The Communiqué of the fifth Caspian Summit reflects a common understanding of the heads of the coastal states on ensuring security interests confirming the need to develop and adopt agreed confidence-building measures in the field of military activities in the Caspian Sea.

We managed to reach a consensus on the important principle of non-presence in the Caspian Sea of armed forces not belonging to the parties.

In a follow-up to the above principles, in Aktau the littoral states concluded the Agreement on Prevention of Incidents in the Caspian Sea, defining the rules for navigation of warships and flights of aircraft of the armed forces.

The Convention has an agreement to collectively counteract any illegal activities in the Caspian Sea. With a view to its practical implementation, on the fields of the Aktau Summit the states signed three intergovernmental protocols on cooperation in combating terrorism and organised crime, as well as on interaction among border authorities.

Speaking about the significance of the Convention at the Summit in Aktau, President Nazarbayev stressed that it created not only an effective legal framework, but also opened a new page in the history of pentalateral cooperation and would promote cooperation of the Caspian states under the new conditions.

To date, the littoral states together built a strong architecture of relations in various fields of activity in the Caspian Sea. Together with the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea, we have a significant legal base of 17 pentalateral international treaties. Obviously, it will be expanded, supplemented by new necessary documents. In the near future, the parties will ratify the Convention, since this is a necessary condition for its entry into force.

By concluding the Convention, the Caspian littoral states demonstrated to the world a unity in creating an effective mechanism to increase the opportunities for tapping their potential. They created favourable conditions for the deepening of mutually beneficial economic cooperation and the development of a new transit-transport infrastructure. The settlement of different territorial and resource issues is aimed at resolving potential differences. This will contribute to sustainable development and stability in the region and will have a beneficial effect on all aspects of life in our countries.

Created at : 21.12.2018, 11:45, Updated at : 21.12.2018, 11:45