The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) sets out the legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out. The legal order established by the Convention is balanced, sound and comprehensive. It provides a basis for the settled order of the oceans and seas for the foreseeable future. The Convention entered into force on 16 November 1994 and over the past years has achieved nearly universal acceptance. As at 30 September 2010, 161 States Parties, including the European Community were bound by it.
The foundation of the legal regime for the world's oceans and seas established by UNCLOS is the balance between the rights and obligations of coastal States in maritime zones under their sovereignty or jurisdiction (such as territorial sea, contiguous zone, exclusive economic zone, and continental shelf) and the rights and obligations of other States in those maritime zones. The comprehensive regime under UNCLOS specifies also the rights and obligations of all States in maritime space beyond national jurisdiction (high seas, international seabed Area). Among the important features of the Convention are the regime for navigation with provisions concerning navigational rights, passage of ships within the territorial sea, through straits and archipelagic waters, conservation and management of living marine resources, protection and preservation of the marine environment, a marine scientific research regime and, a more unique feature, a binding procedure for settlement of disputes between States Parties.
In their practice, States have endeavoured to implement the Convention diligently, particularly after its entry into force. The Convention itself remains the central instrument for promoting stability and peaceful uses of the seas and oceans. It is not, however, a static instrument, but rather a dynamic and evolving body of law that must be vigorously safeguarded and its implementation forcefully advanced. Two implementing agreements - the 1994 Agreement relating to the Implementation of Part XI of the Convention and the 1995 Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the Convention relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks - as well as a number of global, regional and subregional treaties now complement and develop the provisions of the Convention. In addition, a number of non-binding global programmes of action, such as Agenda 21 of 1992, Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities or fisheries plans of action, provide guidance for sustainable development of oceans and seas and their resources. A number of institutions worldwide are now responsible for governing specific aspects of oceans under their jurisdiction.

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