United Nations treaties and principles on outer space: Text and status of treaties and principles governing the activities of States in the exploration and use of outer space, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly
Date of this Version
A commemorative edition Published on the occasion of the Third United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNISPACE III)
The progressive development and codification of international law constitutes one of the principal responsibilities of the United Nations in the legal field. An important area for the exercise of such responsibilities is the new environment of outer space and, through the efforts of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and its Legal Subcommittee, a number of significant contributions to the law of outer space have been made. The United Nations has, indeed, become a focal point for international cooperation in outer space and for the formulation of necessary international rules.
Outer space, extraordinary in many respects, is, in addition, unique from the legal point of view. It is only recently that human activities and international interaction in outer space have become realities and that beginnings have been made in the formulation of international rules to facilitate international relations in outer space.
As is appropriate to an environment whose nature is so extraordinary, the extension of international law to outer space has been gradual and evolutionary—commencing with the study of questions relating to legal aspects, proceeding to the formulation of principles of a legal nature and, then, incorporating such principles in general multilateral treaties.
A significant first step was the adoption by the General Assembly in 1963 of the Declaration of Legal Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space.
The years that followed saw the elaboration within the United Nations of five general multilateral treaties, which incorporated and developed concepts included in the Declaration of Legal Principles:
The Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (General Assembly resolution 2222 (XXI), annex)—adopted on 19 December 1966, opened for signature on 27 January 1967, entered into force on 10 October 1967;
The Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space (resolution 2345 (XXII), annex)—adopted on 19 December 1967, opened for signature on 22 April 1968, entered into force on 3 December 1968;
The Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects (resolution 2777 (XXVI), annex)—adopted on 29 November 1971, opened for signature on 29 March 1972, entered into force on 1 September 1972;
The Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space (resolution 3235 (XXIX), annex)—adopted on 12 November 1974, opened for signature on 14 January 1975, entered into force on 15 September 1976;
The Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (resolution 34/68, annex)—adopted on 5 December 1979, opened for signature on 18 December 1979, entered into force on 11 July 1984.
The United Nations oversaw the drafting, formulation and adoption of five General Assembly resolutions, including the Declaration of Legal Principles. These are:
The Declaration of Legal Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, adopted on 13 December 1963 (resolution 1962 (XVIII));
The Principles Governing the Use by States of Artificial Earth Satellites for International Direct Television Broadcasting, adopted on 10 December 1982 (resolution 37/92);
The Principles Relating to Remote Sensing of the Earth from Outer Space, adopted on 3 December 1986 (resolution 41/65);
The Principles Relevant to the Use of Nuclear Power Sources in Outer Space, adopted on 14 December 1992 (resolution 47/68);
The Declaration on International Cooperation in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space for the Benefit and in the Interest of All States, Taking into Particular Account the Needs of Developing Countries, adopted on 13 December 1996 (resolution 51/122).
The 1967 Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, could be viewed as furnishing a general legal basis for the peaceful uses of outer space and providing a framework for the developing law of outer space. The four other treaties may be said to deal specifically with certain concepts included in the 1967 Treaty. The space treaties have been ratified by many Governments and many others abide by their principles. In view of the importance of international cooperation in developing the norms of space law and their important role in promoting international cooperation in the use of outer space for peaceful purposes, the General Assembly and the Secretary-General of the United Nations have called upon all Member States of the United Nations not yet parties to the international treaties governing the uses of outer space to ratify or accede to those treaties as soon as feasible
From 19 to 30 July 1999, the Third United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNISPACE III) will consider the past achievements and current status of humankind’s activities in outer space and seek to map out a blueprint for future such activities, leading into the next century. One of the issues that will be discussed in that context is promotion of international cooperation, including the key aspect of the current status and future development of international space law.
The purpose of the present publication is to set out again in a single volume the five outer space treaties so far adopted by the United Nations and the five sets of principles. Also included in this publication is a table listing the current parties to and the status of the five outer space treaties as well as other related international agreements governing space activities as at 1 February 1999. Furthermore, a commentary, consisting of a collection of statements made on the occasion of the adoption of the five outer space treaties, appears at the end of the publication.
It is hoped that this collection will serve as a valuable reference document for the participants of the Conference in their deliberations on issues relating to international space law and its future development. In addition, it is hoped that this publication will serve to remind all readers interested in the legal aspects of outer space of the spirit of goodwill and cooperation that formed the basis for the legal instruments formulated and inspired the holding of this, the final United Nations conference of the twentieth century.