Netherlands Pushes for Release of Arctic Greenpeace Protestors
Monday, October 21, 2013

The Dutch government has lodged a rare application at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), asking it to order the immediate release of the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise and all those who were aboard for the peaceful protest against Gazprom’s Arctic oil platform, the Prirazlomnaya. If ITLOS rules in favor of the Netherlands, the 28 Greenpeace International activists, freelance photographer Denis Sinyakov and freelance videographer Kieron Bryan could go home while they await confirmation of a Russian court date.

The Dutch authorities initiated an arbitration case against Russia on October 4, and are calling for ITLOS to indicate ‘provisional measures’ pending the outcome of that arbitration. ITLOS is an independent judicial body located in Hamburg, Germany, established to resolve disputes about the interpretation and application of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Requesting ITLOS to indicate provisional measures is an unusual step for a government to take and one Greenpeace International welcomes.

“Greenpeace applauds the Dutch government for taking these very important steps,” said Greenpeace International General Counsel, Jasper Teulings. “However, it will likely take about four weeks before the Tribunal announces the verdict. Greenpeace International calls on all governments involved to step up their work to ensure the immediate release of the detainees.”

The Netherlands has never launched a case at ITLOS before and has done so now as the Arctic Sunrise is a Dutch flagged ship. The legal argument presented by the Netherlands will remain unknown until case documents become public, probably at the start of hearings. A likely argument is that the Russian Federation violated the right to freedom of navigation by boarding the vessel in Russia’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and clearly outside of Russia's territorial waters, in contravention of the UNCLOS.

Since the inception of ITLOS in 1996, 21 cases have been submitted to the Tribunal, and of those, four related to provisional measures.

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