Press Releases

     
    For information only - not an official document.
    Press Release No:  UNIS/OS/216
    Release Date:  7 April 2000
     UN Outer Space Legal Subcommittee Concludes
    Thirty-Ninth Session in Vienna,  27 March to 6 April

    Reaches Agreement on Utilization of and Equitable Access to Geostationary Orbit
    Sets up Working Group to Review Concept of “Launching State”
     
     

      VIENNA, 7 April (UN Information Service) – Reaching an agreement on the utilization of and equitable access to the geostationary orbit,  reviewing the concept of  “launching State” and promoting  the widest and fullest adherence to the existing five treaties relating to outer space were the main subjects discussed at the meeting of the Legal Subcommittee, one of the two subsidiary bodies of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Use of Outer Space (COPUOS), which ended here yesterday.    
     
     The meeting – the thirty-ninth session of the Subcommittee -- adopted an agreement representing the culmination of long-standing discussions on matters relating to the character and utilization of the geostationary orbit, including consideration of ways and means to ensure the rational and equitable  use of this limited resource. The geostationary orbit is a special band some 36,000 km above the equator that offers optimal global satellite coverage. 

     The Legal Subcommittee agreed to recommend that countries engaging in coordination with a view to the utilization of satellite orbits, including the geostationary orbit, should take into account the fact that access to the geostationary orbit must take place, inter alia,  in an equitable manner and according to the radio regulations of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). In the case of comparable requests for access to the orbit, a country already having such access should take all practicable steps to enable developing countries or other countries to have equitable access to the orbit. In order to guarantee effective use of the orbit, delegates also agreed that countries wishing to use frequencies and satellite orbits, file such requests according to the relevant provisions of the ITU regulations. It was also agreed that these recommendations would be made available to the ITU.
     
     In view of the importance of the obligations and responsibilities imposed on a launching State under the Liability and Registration Conventions, the current session of the Subcommittee reviewed the concept of the “launching State”, as defined in those Conventions. 

     The Subcommittee established a Working Group which will consider a number of questions on this topic over the course of a  three-year work plan. A key amongst those is whether the definition of the “launching 

    State” in the Conventions still covered all existing activities. Also, the Working Group is to review what steps might  be necessary to improve application of the concept in the context of new developments in space transportation. The first year of the work was allocated to “Special presentations on new launch systems and ventures”. 

     The current session reviewed the actions undertaken and planned by Member States concerning accession to the five international legal instruments governing outer space.  Delegates  concluded the three-year work plan on this item and accordingly, endorsed the recommendations of the Working Group, relating to the promotion of the widest and fullest adherence to the existing five international treaties. 

     According to those  recommendations States that have not yet become parties to the treaties should be invited to consider ratifying or acceding to those treaties. Secondly, States Parties should consider binding themselves on a reciprocal basis to the decisions of the Claims Commission established in the event of a dispute in terms of the provisions of the Liability Convention. The issue of strict compliance by States to the provisions of the international legal instruments governing outer space to which they were currently parties should be further examined to ensure that the provisions of the treaties were being properly implemented and if necessary, States should consider establishing appropriate domestic regulatory mechanisms to ensure effective compliance. 

     This year’s session was the first session of the  Subcommittee under a new agenda structure that allowed for a flexible work plan. The new agenda structure, adopted by COPUOS last year, allows  the Subcommittee  to explore with flexibility the nature and scope of possible new legal issues which might be relevant to activities in outer space, while ensuring the continuation of substantive discussions of issues of importance to Member States. The revision of the agenda structure reflects the reform initiatives of the Secretary-General which aim at making the work of the Organization more effective and result oriented. 

     In the discussion of a new regular agenda item, “Information on the activities of international organizations relating to space law”, Member States commented  on the contents of the reports presented by various international organizations (intergovernmental and non-governmental) on their activities relating to space law, with the intention of  promoting increased international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space.
         
     The Subcommittee also continued its consideration of legal issues relating to the review and possible revision of the United Nations principles relevant to the use of nuclear power sources.

     A Symposium entitled “Legal Aspects of Commercialization of Space Activities” was held shortly after the opening of the session of the Subcommittee, sponsored by the International Institute of Space Law (IISL) in cooperation with the European Centre for Space Law (ECSL).

    Treaties 

     The 1967 Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (“Outer Space Treaty”) provides that space exploration shall be carried out for the benefit of all countries, irrespective of their degree of development.  It also seeks to maintain outer space as the province of all mankind free for exploration and use by all States and not subject to national appropriation.  

     The 1968 Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space (“Rescue Agreement”) provides for aiding the crews of spacecraft in the event of accident or emergency landing, and establishes a procedure for returning to a launching authority a space object found beyond the territorial limits of that authority.  
     The 1972 Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects (“Liability Convention”) provides that the launching State is liable for damage caused by its space objects on the Earth`s surface or to aircraft in flight and also to space objects of another State or persons or property on board such objects. 

     The1975 Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space (“Registration Convention”) provides that launching States shall maintain registries of space objects and furnish specified information on each space objet launched, for inclusion in a central United Nations Register. 

     The 1979 Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and other Celestial Bodies (“Moon Agreement”) elaborates in more specific terms the principles relating to the Moon and other celestial bodies set out in the 1966 Treaty and sets up the basis for the future regulation of the exploration and exploitation of natural resources found on such bodies.  
      
    Membership

     Membership in the Subcommittee, the same as in COPUOS, its parent Committee, consists of 61 countries each year. The following are members:

     Albania, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Benin, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Canada, Chad, Chile, China, Colombia, Cuba*, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Lebanon, Malaysia*, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru*, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea*, Romania, Russian Federation, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Spain, Sudan, Sweden, Syrian Arab Republic, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela, Viet Nam and Yugoslavia.
     

    (*Peru and Malaysia rotate their memberships every two years with Cuba and the Republic of Korea).

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