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Human Rights at Sea Moves Ahead with Arbitration System for Victims

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File image courtesy HRAS

By The Maritime Executive 01-26-2021 07:51:00

The Human Rights at Sea Arbitration initiative, a collaboration between UK-based independent charitable NGO Human Rights at Sea and the international arbitration practice of global law firm Shearman & Sterling LLP, has entered a new phase of its work towards the creation of an arbitration-based mechanism to address human rights abuses occurring at sea.   

Established in 2020, the Human Rights at Sea Arbitration initiative seeks to establish a standalone, institutional system of international arbitration that is specifically tailored to the sensitivities and complexities of human rights at sea issues. A central feature of this system is that it will put the enforcement of human rights in the victim’s hands by giving the victim the right to bring claims directly against alleged responsible parties. The foremost aim of this design – and of the initiative more generally – is to provide victims of human rights abuses at sea with access to an effective remedy, while at the same time combating impunity for the perpetrators of such abuses.

Throughout 2020, the initiative focused mainly on the conceptual underpinnings of an arbitration-based system for addressing human rights at sea issues.  This first phase kicked off with the initiative’s publication of a White Paper on March 24, 2020 (available in English and French), which set out the essential contours of a Human Rights at Sea Arbitration system.  This led to further blueprinting efforts, including through a series of dedicated colloquia: a June 3, 2020 presentation by Dr. Yas Banifatemi, partner at Shearman & Sterling and the firm’s Global International Arbitration Practice Group Leader, in which she explored the interplay between international arbitration and human rights (accessible here); a July 9, 2020 webinar hosted by the initiative, where leading experts in arbitration, human rights and shipping considered some of the main challenges the initiative will face (accessible here); and in October 2020, a panel organized as part of the American Branch of the International Law Association’s International Law Weekend, which explored how a victim-driven system of human rights arbitration could improve human rights protection at sea.

In September 2020, “Human Rights at Sea Arbitration” website was launched to document each stage of the initiative’s development and to serve as an online sounding board for the exchange of ideas, a repository of relevant research and writing, and a medium through which future events and opportunities for collaboration will be announced.  

With the research, analysis and blueprinting accomplished in 2020 as a foundation, the initiative is now turning attention to creating the first elements of what it is hoped will ultimately become a standalone arbitration system for resolving human rights at sea disputes.  These first elements include a model offer of consent to arbitrate human rights disputes that can be given by States, as well as model arbitration clauses for use in employment and other contracts, both of which are expected to be ready for publication in the first quarter of 2021. The initiative is also in the process of developing a set of dedicated arbitration rules that could be used for the resolution of human rights at sea issues, for publication later in the year.

Human Rights at Sea CEO, David Hammond, commented, “2021 will see significant developments refining this vitally important joint initiative for establishing a new and innovative route to effective remedy for victims of abuse at sea.”

Dr. Yas Banifatemi, partner at Shearman & Sterling and the firm’s Global International Arbitration Practice Group Leader, added, “Providing all victims of human rights abuse at sea access to a fair and adapted legal process is our priority. The Human Rights at Sea initiative is delighted to embark on this new phase of work and to create the building blocks of a neutral and efficient forum to resolve human rights at sea disputes."

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