HRAS proposes amendments on UN’s Law of the Sea

Seafarers on board. Credit: Cai Yang/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

Human Rights At Sea (HRAS) has proposed amendments to the draft agreement under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to rectify an absence of human rights referencesThe current format of the draft focuses primarily on the conservation and sustainable use of the marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdictions.  

HRAS argues that this is contrary to the purposes of the draft agreement as there are acknowledged links between environmental conservation and sustainability and the people required to ensure the success of such an endeavour. This leaves unaddressed the protection of those tasked with carrying out the realities of such undertaking and, they argue, will undermine the potential likelihood of success. 

HRAS founder David Hammond noted that this was “the best and only opportunity in recent time” to update the international Law of the Sea so that it accounts not only for safeguarding marine diversity and long-term sustainability, but also allows it to address the needs of “all persons living, working, transiting, or engaged in any other type of activity at sea in territorial and international waters around the globe”.  

The proposed minor amendments are to be passed to the UN and state departments by HRAS. It recommends an additional clause in the preamble that is based on the UN charter “recognising that the human rights and freedoms set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights apply on sea as they do on land – a long-standing goal of the organisation and part of the developing Geneva Declaration on Human Rights at Sea. HRAS also recommends that Article 4 to be updated to note that the provisions of the agreement must be interpreted and applied “in a manner that respects the rights and freedoms set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant international human rights laws”. 

The draft agreement, first discussed on the 30 August 2019 report from the third session (16–30 August 2019) in New York, is expected to come into force in 2020.