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UNA Westminster: As human rights abuse at sea persists, new calls for its elimination

In opening his address, David Hammond, Chief Executive of the NGO Human Rights at Sea, revealed alarming statistics: there are thirty million people at sea at any moment; amongst those, forty-five percent of women working at sea reported sexual harassment; and an unknown number, thought to be between thirty and one hundred thousand fishers lose their life at work every year. 

In responding to the title of the meeting, ‘Who cares about human rights beyond the horizon?', he stated that his organisation’s mission was to end human rights abuse at sea. A landmark effort towards this has been the launch of the Geneva Declaration of Human Rights at Sea in 2022. This important international instrument is structured around four principles central to the protection of human rights at sea:
a) Human rights are universal; they apply at sea, as they do on land.
b) All persons at sea, without any distinction, are entitled to their human rights.
c) There are no maritime specific reasons for denying human rights at sea.
d) All human rights established under both treaty and customary international law must be respected at sea.

However, such Declarations need governmental support, as evidenced by the historic move taken by the New Zealand government which has updated its Maritime Transport Act (1994) responding to effective lobbying by the New Zealand Seafarer’s Welfare Board into failures to financially support seafarers and their welfare services by Human Rights at Sea.

David Hammond listed other cases where human rights at sea continue to be flouted, referring to the plight of women and children, fishers, slavery at sea, mariners abandoned on their ships - there are 3000 at this moment - and migrants seeking to traverse the Mediterranean and the Dover Strait. 

David Hammond served as an officer in the Royal Marines in many of the world’s oceans and founded Human Rights at Sea, a UK-registered charitable NGO, in 2014, having witnessed the scale of human rights abuses that take place at sea. Having qualified as a barrister, he also teaches on international human rights and international humanitarian law worldwide. In 2022, Human Rights at Sea gained special consultative status with the UN’s Economic & Social Council (ECOSOC). Also, it holds Observer status for the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.

The meeting was held in the House of Lords and hosted by Lord Teverson, a patron of Human Rights at Sea.