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Professor Kopal on space debris

Prof. JUDr. Vladimír Kopal, DrSc., expert on space law, at the 51st session of the Legal Subcommittee of the COPUOS on item 4 of its agenda (“General exchange of views”, Vienna, 19 March 2012)

Mr. Chairman,

On behalf of the delegation of the Czech Republic, I would like to make a statement on agenda item 4 (“General exchange of views”). But prior to it, let me extend our full satisfaction at seeing you for this 2 year period in the Chair of the COPUOS Legal Subcommittee. For the first time, a representative of an African country, who is renowned as specialist in the field of international law has been elected for chairing this body. We wish you full success in guiding its dealing during this session, which starts the second half of the century of its fruitful activities. At the same time, we would like to thank the former Chairman of the Subcommittee, the distinguished representative of Iran and Director General of APSCO, Mr. Ahmad Talebzadeh, for his very able guidance of this Subcommittee during the last period. Our warm greetings are also addressed to the Director of the OOSA, Dr. Mazlan Othman, the Secretary of the Subcommittee, Dr. Niclas Hedman and the OOSA staff members, who will assist the session and/or participated in its preparation.

Mr. Chairman,

We are aware that the UN General Assembly reaffirmed, in its resolution 66/71 of 9 December 2011, “the importance of international cooperation in developing the rule of law, including the relevant norms of space law, and of the widest possible adherence to the international treaties that promote the peaceful uses of outer space”. This idea was also expressed in the declaration that was unanimously adopted at the Commemorative Segment of the Fiftieth Anniversary Session of the COPUOS.

For these reasons, the Czech Republic has for years supported the establishment and strengthening of the legal basis for space activities. Our delegation is also ready to cooperate with other delegations in widening the rule of law in and concerning outer space. During the recent years we have particularly watched the discussions developed in the three working groups of the Legal Subcommittee:

Firstly, it has been the WG on the agenda item “Status and applications of the five United Nations treaties on outer space”. We particularly appreciated the providing of a set of questions relating to the 1979 Moon Agreement, which have been outlined in the document A/AC.105/C.2/L.272, jointly elaborated by seven states parties to the Moon Agreement. The Chairman’s questionnaire also outlined a number of other questions, which deserve to continue thorough exchange of views and answers. Secondly, the WG on Definition and Delimitation of Outer Space further developed its consideration of an old problem with due regard to the present conditions. The plan of the Chairman to present to the Legal Subcommittee a proposal on possible ways of finding a solution to this issue, should be welcome and his efforts in this respect supported. The WG on National Legislation Relevant to the Peaceful Exploration and Use of Outer Space is about to harness the fruit of its discussions lasting several years. During the 50th session of the LSC, the WG conducted review of the draft report prepared by its Chairperson, in consultation with the Secretariat. The schematic overview of national regulatory frameworks for space activities (document A/AC.105/C.2/2011/CRP.9) remains to be useful particularly for those states which are enacting their national space legislation or intend to start such endeavour in the near future. The extension of the original mandate of the WG for another year also enables us to discuss the development of recommendations to be delivered from the multiyear efforts in this field and the framework thereof. In the opinion of our delegation, the elaboration of a draft resolution for the UN General Assembly, along the lines of the 2004 resolution on the application of the concept of the “Launching State” and the 2007 resolution on enhancing the practice in registering space objects, would be the best solution.

Mr. Chairman,

I would still like to mention one issue that was also discussed at the 50th session of the Legal Subcommittee. My country has been a long time supportive of the consideration of item “space debris” in the COPUOS and in both its Subcommittees. Therefore our delegation actively participated in the development of the COPUOS Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines by the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee. However, although the Guidelines became an important step in the struggle for the mitigation of space debris, it is not possible to neglect that they remain only advisory technical standards to be implemented by States and international organizations on a voluntary basis through their own practices and procedures. As explicitly stated in section 3, the Guidelines are not legally binding under international law. Thus, they do not establish any legal duty to comply with them. And their violation would not generate any legal responsibility and liability in the case of damage caused by such misconduct.

For these reasons the delegation of the Czech Republic extended in 2001 a working paper on “Review of the legal aspects of the Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines of the COPUOS with a view to transforming the Guidelines into a set of Principles to be adopted by the General Assembly” (document A/AC.105/C.2/L.284, 9 March 2011). According to our proposal, the COPUOS Guidelines could be enacted in a special resolution of the UN General Assembly, which would belong to the series of UN Principles relating to outer space activities that were adopted during the 1980s and 1990s.

In the light of the long term practice of the United Nations, a set of principles developed by the Legal Subcommittee in close cooperation with the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee, endorsed by the Committee and adopted by the UN General Assembly, would become
a satisfactory form of an international instrument on space debris for the present time and near future. The work on the set of Principles relevant to space debris could become a new substantive item on the agenda of the Legal Subcommittee. Since it would be discussed during several years under a work plan, its consideration might be well coordinated with the continuing efforts of the STSC in this field. Our delegation hopes that the discussion on the inclusion of this new item on space debris in the agenda of the Legal Subcommittee, which started at the last session, will continue at the 51st session of this body in 2012.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for your attention.