Can the provisions of UNCLOS be invoked against Turkey?

The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is the global treaty regulating States’ rights on the sea. To date, it has been ratified by 167 States plus the European Union. Amongst the States that have not yet ratified it there are the United States, Peru, Venezuela, Turkey, Syria, Israel, several Central Asia States, and a few micro States.

On 27 November 2020, Turkey and the Government of National Accord (GNA) of Libya (one of the two factions claiming to be the legitimate government of Libya and the one that is militarily supported by Turkey) signed a Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of the Republic of Turkey and the Government of National Accord – State of Libya on delimitation of the maritime jurisdiction areas in the Mediterranean.

Under the Law of the Sea Convention (Art. 121.2) islands project all maritime jurisdictional zones, including the territorial sea, the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf. As you can see from maps, all along the Mediterranean coast of Turkey there are Greek islands. The effect of the presence of these islands makes it so that Greece, relying on the provisions of UNCLOS, claims jurisdiction over most of the Aegean Sea and Eastern Mediterranean, hemming in Turkey.

Map 1


Map 2 below indicates the border between the Turkish and Libyan exclusive economic zones under the 27 November 2020 Memorandum of Understanding (red dotted line). As you can clearly see, Turkey and the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) claim areas of the Mediterranean that are claimed by Greece and also by Egypt.

Map 2


The conclusion of the Memorandum of Understanding drew immediate condemnation by the States in the region and the larger international community. According to the European Union, the accord infringes upon the sovereign rights of third States and does not comply with the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea. Both Cyprus and Egypt dismissed the accord as illegal, while Greece regarded it as “void” and “geographically absurd”, because it ignored the presence of the Greek islands of Crete, Kasos, Karpathos, Kastellorizo and Rhodes between the Turkish–Libyan coasts.

You do not need to get in the intricacies of this dispute. All I want you to consider is the following: Turkey maintains that the Greek islands in proximity of the Turkish mainland sit on the Turkish continental shelf. Turkey maintains that Greece has no rights beyond the territorial waters of those islands (note that Greece claims a territorial sea in that region of only 6 nm, even though the UNCLOS says it can be up to 12 nm). Turkey insists that the continental shelf between the two countries should be delimited by taking into consideration only the Greek and the Turkish mainland, not their islands. That is the fair and just solution to the disputes caused by overlapping claims. However, that is not what the UNCLOS says.

Write a maximum 1,500 words essay answering the following three questions. If you need to, you are free to research and use facts from other sources. However, do not fall into the rabbit hole!

Can the provisions of UNCLOS be invoked against Turkey?
Considering the widespread, but not universal, ratification of UNCLOS, could the provisions of UNCLOS regulating maritime zones and the capacity of islands to project maritime zones be considered customary international law? If so, are they opposable to Turkey?
Can Turkey be considered a “persistent objector”, even though Turkey does not contest the application of the rules on maritime delimitation anywhere else in the world, including to its own islands in the Mediterranean and in the Black Sea, or to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus?UN