Human Rights Amendments Proposed for New UN Oceans Treaty

Credit: Human Rights at Sea
Credit: Human Rights at Sea

Published Sep 29, 2019 12:02 AM by The Maritime Executive

The NGO Human Rights at Sea has proposed amendments to the draft agreement under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea currently under development. 

The agreement focuses on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction and is expected to come into effect in 2020. While human rights are not the focus of the draft agreement, the charity believes the agreement should explicitly refer to the applicability of international human rights standards in its implementation. There is an increasing recognition internationally that environmental issues and human rights are inextricably linked, and this is the case as much at sea as it is on land.

The August 30, 2019 report from the third session (August 16-30, 2019) in New York of the Intergovernmental Conference on the proposed instrument stressed the treaty needed to be robust and practical in application. Drafts have dominantly focused on the conservation and marine biodiversity aspects of the proposed treaty leaving a gap for the protections of the people who will be required to ensure the treaty’s success at sea.

Human Rights at Sea, as an independent civil society NGO, has initiated proposed minor amendments which if implemented could make a significant difference to the international reinforcement of human rights at sea. Further, it has linked the amendments to the developing Geneva Declaration on Human Rights at Sea, the aim of which is to raise global awareness of the abuse of human rights at sea and to mobilise a concerted international effort to put an end to it.

Proposed Amendments

Additional Clause in the Preamble:

“Recognising the need to promote and encourage the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion in achieving international cooperation to solve international problems,” (Based on UN Charter)


“Recognising that the human rights and freedoms set out in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights apply on sea as they do on land.”

ARTICLE 4: Relationship between this Agreement and the Convention and other [existing] relevant legal instruments and frameworks and relevant global, regional and sectoral bodies….

3. This Agreement shall be interpreted and applied in a manner that [respects the competences of and] does not undermine [existing] relevant legal instruments and frameworks [including international human rights laws] and relevant global, regional and sectoral bodies, and that promotes coherence and coordination with those instruments, supportive of and do not run counter to the objectives of the Convention and this agreement [or the purposes contained in the UN Charter].


[5. The provisions of this Agreement shall be interpreted and applied in a manner that respects the rights and freedoms set out in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and other relevant international human rights laws.]

An Opportunity

Human Rights at Sea Founder, David Hammond, commented: “This is probably the best and only opportunity in recent time to update the international Law of the Sea regime to become wider in effect, not just for the safeguarding of marine bio-diversity and conservation essential for the sustainability of our oceans for future generations, but for all persons living, working, transiting or engaged in any other type of activity at sea in territorial and international waters around the globe.”

Human Rights at Sea will be passing its recommendations to the UN and state government departments and has prepared a legal briefing note available here.