HRAS Evaluates Three Flag States' Human Rights Performance
The U.K.-based charity Human Rights at Sea, in partnership with the University of Bristol Law School Human Rights Implementation Centre, has issued its second independent public report: An evaluation of Flag State Practice in Monitoring, Reporting and Enforcing Human Rights Obligations on Board Vessels.
The report reviews Panama, Denmark and Taiwan as part of an ongoing research project into the engagement, policies and remedies affected by flag states in relation to their duties to uphold human rights at sea.
The research project aims to reveal deficiencies in human rights protection and offer informed recommendations. The central question asked was: ‘How do flag states comply with their international human rights obligations vis-à-vis persons on board vessels registered under their flag?’ with three supporting questions: 1).What registries do the flag states hold? 2). What are the human rights obligations of the flag states? and 3). How do flag states monitor human rights compliance on board vessels?
Regarding human rights obligations, it was concluded that:
“In comparison to Denmark and Panama, Taiwan’s lack of ratification of the core U.N., Maritime and Labour Conventions represents a remarkable gap in the protection of human rights at sea. However, neither Denmark or Panama are beyond reproach, as both have certain shortcomings or distinctive issues arising from their human rights coverage.
“For example, although Denmark should be commended for its excellent treaty ratification and rights compliance, it appears to devalue the interests of migrant seafarers by failing to ratify the ICMW and Work in Fishing Conventions. By Denmark ratifying these outstanding treaty commitments, it would be a welcome denouncement of far-right and anti-immigration populism spreading across Europe.
“Panama also has areas of concern, such as the loophole of Article 92 which seriously lessens the impact of any safeguards included within its Maritime Law. It is clear, therefore, that whilst Taiwan has a more noticeable human rights gap, Denmark and Panama do still have areas on which to improve.”
Regarding monitoring and reporting, it was concluded that:
“While the maritime authorities have the main responsibility of ensuring the effectiveness of the flag states’ monitoring and reporting systems, the report shows that these mechanisms are not always sufficiently implemented. For instance, the PMA will only carry out an inspection upon a complaint, and only if that complaint is backed by the majority of the staff.
“Meanwhile, with respect to Taiwan, there is a significant disconnect between its listed standard and the efficacy of its human rights and labour law protection mechanisms. This is especially so in the fishing sector, where differential labour standards for foreign-workers and split institutional competence limits regulatory effectiveness.
“As it stands, Denmark seems to provide the most effective process for the protection of seafarers’ rights, which justifies their ranking on the Paris MoU. That said, the DMAIB may decide not to carry out investigations of a length below 15 meters regarding fishing vessels, and only 15 investigations of the accidents are published. Consequently, more work is needed in all three flag states to better improve their conditions.”
Regarding flag state engagement, it was concluded that:
“Unfortunately, no response to these questions was provided by the selected points of contact. Given the limited scope of outreach to just three flag states, at this time few conclusions can be drawn from Stage 2. However, it is seemingly consistent with limited publicly available information and effort by the flag States to proactively provide clear and informative guidance related to human right obligations and monitoring.”
The report recommends:
1. Flag states must ratify the core U.N. human rights treaties, IMO and ILO Conventions which provide for safety, human and labor standards. “That said, it is not enough to merely ratify the treaties. A flag State needs to put in place bespoke mechanisms for the implementation of their human rights obligations.”
2. Flag States need to improve the clarity of their websites, publish investigations and ensure better access to information. Flag States should regularly update their contact details to allow more swift complaints to be made and to create a user-friendly complaint mechanism. Where no complaint mechanism is available, it is of utmost urgency to establish a point of contact for vulnerable workers at sea.
3. Achieving a white list status on the Paris and Tokyo MoUs should not be considered the ‘end game’ for flag States. In this way, the MoUs’ compartmentalization should be challenged. Instead, human rights and labor standards should be part of the inspections and considered as part of the listings.
4. The respective Maritime Authorities, such as the PMA and DMA, should explicitly mention human rights obligations as purposes of their organizations. The Maritime Authorities should become actively involved in the enforcement of maritime-related treaties. Suggested improvements involve the authorities conducting an Annual Report on Human Rights at Sea which presents empirical studies on human rights violations and requiring a specific standard for the effectiveness of communications.
Human Rights at Sea issued a statement saying: “This second comprehensive report on flag States and the role that they should, and indeed need to, take in terms of protecting human rights at sea, highlights inadequacies which need to be rectified. Further, the lack of direct engagement to fair and reasonable enquiry, demonstrates further failures of accessibility and transparency. There were similar such findings in the 2018 Report.”
The 2019 research report is available here.