Migrants: Human Rights at Sea Reviews U.N. Report


By The Maritime Executive 08-24-2019 08:38:54

The U.K.-based charitable NGO Human Rights at Sea has published a new briefing note reviewing the latest report of the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights, examining its implications for human rights at sea.

The U.N. report is the third prepared by the Independent Expert, Obiora Chinedu Okafor, and the second that he has addressed to the Human Rights Council. In the report, submitted pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 35/3, he discusses the issue of the criminalization or suppression of the rendering of humanitarian assistance to migrants and refugees.

The report notes that the duty to rescue any person in distress at sea is well established in international law including UNCLOS, the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, the International Convention on Salvage and the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue.

The Independent Expert notes there is some argument about the legal gap between the duty to rescue at sea and the obligation on coastal states to allow for disembarkation of those rescued. Human Rights at Sea supports the Independent Expert's analysis that “the international treaties could not have established the obligation to rescue persons in distress at sea without contemplating an implied requirement that such persons be allowed to disembark in as nearby a port as is practicable.” Without this, the duty to rescue could not be fulfilled in practice.

Additionally, says Human Rights at Sea, criminalizing people for saving lives is not compatible with international human rights law or the international law of the sea. The NGO has produced the publications: Volunteer Maritime Rescuers: Awareness of Criminalisation and Legal and Policy Matters Arising from the Increased Criminalisation of Civil Society Search and Rescue Activities in the Mediterranean. 

Migrants Brought to Shore

The review comes as the 356 migrants stranded on Ocean Viking rescue vessel were brought to shore in Malta on the weekend, following a 14-day standoff. The Ocean Viking is a rescue vessel operated by SOS MEDITERRANEE in partnership with Médecins sans Frontières (MSF). The move follows an agreement to relocate the people between six European Union member states (Ireland, Portugal, France, Romania, Germany and Luxembourg). The Ocean Viking will now change crews, refuel and resupply before heading back to the Libyan Search and Rescue region.

Human Rights at Sea Advocacy

For six years, Human Rights at Sea, has been researching, educating, advocating and lobbying for a change of attitude in the maritime sector for better awareness, protections and effective remedies stemming from human rights abuses at sea, reflecting the fundamental rights established the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

The discussion and emerging international narrative concerning human rights at sea as a concept and its practical application continues to rapidly develop from academic, commercial, State and civil society perspectives; something which was not occurring in 2013 when the Human Rights at Sea platform was conceived.

The report of the U.N. Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity reflects much of the work being carried out and often triggered, if not led by Human Rights at Sea. However, this maritime focus area for human rights development still remains little known about, or if known about, shunned and ignored in favor of commercial and competitive advantage. 

The briefing note is part of the continuous awareness raising campaign led by Human Rights at Sea.

The briefing note is available here.