Arvid Pardo; Former U.N. Diplomat From Malta


Arvid Pardo, a former Maltese diplomat and USC expert on international law who proposed a radical treaty to ensure the world’s peaceful use and sharing of the oceans’ bounty, died June 19 in Seattle. He was 85.

As Malta’s representative to the United Nations, Pardo launched the world on a 17-year odyssey toward a pact that would alter the long-standing doctrine of “freedom of the seas.”

Born in 1914, the son of a Swedish mother and Maltese father, Pardo was raised in Italy and earned degrees in history and law from the University of Tours in France.

During World War II, he was a member of the Italian underground but was captured and imprisoned repeatedly between 1940 and 1945. He finally managed to walk to Allied lines, eventually reaching London, where he learned of efforts to form a new peace organization, the United Nations.


He applied to the new group, landing a job as a clerk. He gradually worked his way into more responsible positions, including U.N. representative in Somalia and Ecuador during the 1950s and early 1960s. When Malta, a nation composed of a group of islands in the Mediterranean Sea south of Sicily, joined the U.N. in 1964, Pardo became its delegate to the world body, serving until 1971.

His greatest contribution came in September 1967, when in a stirring speech to the U.N. General Assembly, he proposed that the bounty of the sea should be considered “the common heritage of mankind” and asked that some of the sea’s wealth be used to bankroll a fund that would help close the gap between rich and poor nations.

“I thought it could serve as sort of a bridge to the future and unite the world community in its quest to preserve our planet for generations to come,” he said in an interview years later.

Pardo’s proposal was motivated by political and technological developments of the last half-century, including the massive pollution of the oceans, disputes over fishing rights, the prospect of placing nuclear weapons on the ocean floor, and the discovery in the 1960s of potato-sized lumps of ore--zinc, manganese and copper--on the deep sea bed.


The discovery of the ore deposits raised the question of who should profit from their mining. Pardo argued that the world’s least developed countries should be first in line.

His vision led to the authorization of the third U.N. Conference on the Law of the Sea, which convened in 1970 to draft a constitution for the world’s oceans.

First opened for signatures in 1982, it was ratified 11 years later by the requisite 60 nations and took effect on Nov. 16, 1994. To date, 130 nations, including England, Sweden, Spain and Russia, have agreed to its principles.

Pardo joined the USC faculty in 1975, where over the next 15 years he taught political science and international relations and was a senior fellow at the Institute of Marine and Coastal Studies.


He later became a critic of the pact he helped bring about because it favored developed countries, which managed to keep the rights to the most accessible underwater mineral resources. “It is probably the most inequitable treaty that has ever been signed in the world,” he said in 1981.

Nonetheless, he supported the treaty as drafted because it still upheld the idea of global negotiation and the cooperative management of the seas’ resources.

On the 10th anniversary of the international sea pact, then-U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali called the treaty a milestone in U.N. history. He commended Pardo for helping convince the U.N. of “the necessity of adapting the law of the sea to the new world landscape.”

Pardo authored many scholarly articles, including the 1977 book “The New International Order and the Law of the Sea” with Elisabeth Mann Borgese. Among his honors were the 1983 Prize of the Third World Foundation and the National Order of Merit of Malta in 1992.


Pardo is survived by his wife, Margit, and four children.

John Jackson of the Times editorial library contributed to this story.