The South China Sea Arbitration Award and Its Confrontation with the Maximalist Approach of Coastal States to the meaning of “Rock Islands”; a critical attitude

Document Type : Original Article


1 Assistant professor of law,Department of Law, Faculty of literature and humanities, Bu-Ali Sina University, Hamedan, Iran

2 Master of International Law, Faculty of Law and Political Science , University of Tehran



Under The Article 121(3) of Convention on the law of the Sea (UNCLOS) rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf. Therefore, the article implies that rock islands are divided into two categories including those enjoying exclusive economic zone and continental shelf and those not. The ambiguity of the article beside the great variety of geographical formations resulted in diverse interpretations of the text concerning the type of rock islands. The South China Sea Arbitration Award (2016) which decided on the Philippines-China dispute is a thorough example among international legal hearings of interpreting rocks, mentions in the 3rd paragraph of the article 121 of UNCLOS. This article clarifying key terms in the legal regime of island in Law of the Sea including islands, rock islands, reefs, low-tides elevations, and Artificial islands, interprets the article 121(3) and customary rules on it, and then, influential elements in distinction of rock islands on the basis of capacity of human habitation or economic life of their own from the perspective of the arbitration tribunal.


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