Human Rights at Sea seeks industry input for new declaration

Freed Cambodian fishermen. Human Rights at Sea’s declaration will address the rights of all at sea. Credit: TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP via Getty Images

UK-based charity Human Rights at Sea has launched this December an online platform to encourage the maritime industry to view and input into the development of a new declaration on human rights at sea. Known as the Geneva Declaration on Human Rights at Sea, it is being established to address the wider issues of human rights in the maritime supply chain, which includes seafarers, fishermen, migrants, refugees, and dependents living and working in the littoral and maritime space. The charity estimates that figure is about 40 million people.

Speaking to SAS, the charity’s CEO, David Hammond, said the online portal has been created to encourage “all shipowners, insurers, flag states, and unions” to engage with its development. “The process is a deliberately transparent and iterative process which allows for states to take a view of wishing to become involved in due course.”

The charity hopes that the declaration will eventually be sponsored by a state that will take it to the United Nations for due consideration, and potentially propose its further development into a convention.

The first draft of the declaration was published in April 2019, and since then has garnered support from the city of Geneva and the Swiss Basel parliament. UN agencies have attended drafting and briefing events and have offered to review the work. Furthermore, it has been included in the 2019 Oceans and the Law of the Sea in the General Assembly of the United Nations.

“In due course, it could be a case that the IMO and the International Labour Organization [ILO] become officially involved, subject to their respective positions in relation to support or otherwise from IMO members and the ILO tripartite structure. As in every piece of international development work, vested interests are the key factor in determining success or otherwise,” said Hammond.

He hopes that the online portal will encourage engagement in the declaration from the maritime community.

Development of the declaration has been questioned by some in the industry. While some commentators on LinkedIn praised the development of the declaration, others questioned its necessity given the requirements set out by the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) and other standards developed through the ILO.

Hammond asserts that the MLC only covers seafarers and not fishermen. The latter, he notes, fall under the ILO Work in Fishing Convention 118. He told SAS that this “does not have wide uptake especially among key states where abuses occur at sea, and neither explicitly speaks about wider human rights protections under the 30 internationally accepted articles of the Universal Declaration [of Human Rights] 1948”.

He said the declaration will offer all those working and living at sea with “a reference against the 30 fundamental rights which they can use to call on states and commercial entities to take into account and apply under national remedies”.