HUMAN Rights at Sea, a nongovernmental organisation, launched a declaration that defines and defends the human rights of the global maritime population and those crossing the world’s oceans and seas.

The UK-based nongovernmental organisation’s Geneva Declaration on Human Rights at Sea targets human rights abuses stemming from piracy, criminal violence, breaches of maritime labour rights, seafarer abandonment, slavery, trafficking, child labour and failures in equality and inclusion.

According to HRAS, the launch follows three years of research and drafting by a team of experts in public, international, humanitarian, and refugee law. The declaration applies to seafarers, fishers, workers in offshore oil and gas, and the tourism industry and extends to passengers, scientists, state officials on naval and coast guard vessels, migrants and refugees, and people involved in unlawful activities.

HRAS said abuse of human rights. At sea is inadequately reported, enforced or remedied.

“People continue to disappear, die, and be assaulted at sea,” the organisation said in a statement.

Professor Steven Haines, who was involved in drafting the declaration, said an estimated 30 million people are at sea at any one time.

“All have human rights. Sadly, they are out of sight and out of mind as far as most people are concerned. Far too often, their human rights are breached or wantonly abused,” Mr Haines said.

“Those responsible for the ill-treatment of vulnerable people at sea far too frequently act with impunity. This declaration is aimed at protecting the vulnerable and ending the impunity of those doing the abusing.”

HRAS said if these abuses were occurring on land, they would be publicised and addressed. However, in the maritime environment, those with the authority and responsibility to intervene frequently turn a blind eye.

Professor Irini Papanicolopulu said the declaration corroborates that human rights abuses occurring at

The Geneva Declaration of Human Rights at Sea aims to generate global awareness and an international response to human rights violations at sea and ensure effective remedy for victims.

It is structured around the understanding that the protection of human rights at sea rests on four fundamental principles:

  1. Human rights at sea are universal; they apply at sea, as they do on land.
  2. All persons at sea, without any distinction, are entitled to their human rights.
  3. There are no maritime-specific reasons for denying human rights at sea.
  4. All human rights established under both treaty and customary international law must be respected at sea.

The overlap of the human rights obligations of flag states, port states, and coastal states are addressed in the Declaration. Co-operation between these parties is encouraged.

The guidelines in the declaration note it is good practice for port states to monitor flag states’ compliance with human rights on board their vessels and take necessary steps to ensure an effective remedy for those individuals whose rights may be breached.

The declaration encourages coastal states to monitor flag states’ compliance with human rights onboard while those vessels are present within internal waters and to ensure its own domestic legislation is extended to its territorial waters to better protect human rights at sea.

The declaration has been peer-reviewed by several law firms: Norton Rose Fulbright, HFW, DLA Piper, and Reed Smith.

HRAS CEO David Hammond said the organisation is grateful to the drafting team and the law firms who have supported the development of the declaration.

“This is the first time that the human rights of all people at sea have been codified in one document. For far too long, the sea has been a space where those who want to abuse the human rights of people are allowed to do so freely and without consequence,” Mr Hammond said.

“The declaration will help to stop that. We look forward to advocating for its adoption by states over the coming months.”