By invitation, Human Rights at Sea International submitted an oral intervention during a 56th Human Rights Council side event.

In doing so, HRAS International was supporting the Republic of the Philippines 'Working and Living at Sea: Challenges and Risks to Seafarers' Human Rights and Safety' discussion on Tuesday, 25 June 2024, at the Palais des Nations, Geneva, Switzerland.

On the International Maritime Organisation’s Day of the Seafarer, Executive Director, David Hammond Esq., provided an intervention at the side event alongwith representatives of the ILO, ITF, International Chamber of Shipping, Stella Maris and members of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines. This culminated in a single question for the panel.

"When will we see transparently reported state-led prosecutions for egregious human rights abuses being regularly exercised under existing maritime law provisions?"

David Hammond. Geneva, 25 June 2024



As safety, security and wellbeing issues at sea continue to be prominent matters in the daily lives of seafarers, the actions of port, coastal and flag states to address impunity and stamp out bad practices continue to dominate the needs of seafarers for acheiving decent working conditions and human rights protections.


Intervention Text


"Thank you for allowing this intervention from Human Rights at Sea International.

For context, and before I pose a single question to the panel, I would like to make three short points on the matter of human rights at sea. 

Overarching is the core philosophy that ‘human rights apply at sea, as they do on land.

Alongside is the headline that while ‘it takes a village’ to achieve change, we are still not sufficiently resourced at the front-end to comprehensively address and prevent human and labour rights abuses at sea. We should also note the $billions being made in profit in the Global North, and which rarely finds its way to seafarers in-need.


The three points I want to briefly touch on are: awareness, impunity and justice.


The concept of human rights at sea is not just about commercial seafarers and fishers under respective ILO Conventions – but it applies to all persons who live, work at and move by sea, including migrants and refugees and suspected pirates, by way of example.

In terms of focusing explicitly on fundamental human rights protections under the 1948 Universal Declaration and its associated underpinning not just of the entire UN system, but also as a necessary commercial requirement reflecting responsible business actions; in the last 10  years it has taken the combined academic and civil society efforts through combinations of direct action, hard-hitting advocacy, watchdog roles and an unpopular ‘name-and-shame approach’ to bring human rights at sea to the forefront. 

This should not need to happen. 

In terms of wider awareness, the underlying concept of human rights at sea was effectively validated by the UN Secretary General, Mr António Guterres, in September 2020 during the pandemic and resultant crew crisis. Then, the focus turned on the wider human rights needs of crew under a humanitarian banner. Yet, that was only four years ago.


The impunity of bad actors remains rife at sea.

In 2024, it is rather unbelievable that all the issues correctly raised in this event’s concept note, are still live and remain largely unresolved, noting that a decade ago we were speaking about precisely these very same issues.

This translates as not enough constabulary enforcement forces able to interdict at sea with reliance instead on port state interventions, as well as through commercially driven ship arrests, and necessary union-led vessel detentions.

In short, this would not occur on land and as such, impunity continuously extends its malign influence at sea.


We know that the swift reduction in human rights abuses at sea will only be affected by effective enforcement and intervention measures through resourced capacity. 

This intimately stands alongside the necessary and required deterrent effect and the unified agreement across stakeholders that impunity by abusers cannot be allowed to flourish.

Simply put, in an overarching multi trillion-dollar supply and value chain the abuse of workers at sea is unacceptable, but yet current legal and policy measures do not encourage tough enforcement measures such as accountable prosecutions - other than for those often-unfortunate seafarers where criminalisation remains virtually de facto, in particular, for ship masters.

In Conclusion

Application of the maritime rule of law alongside in force and applicable conventions and the genuine achievement of justice for both victims and survivors, arguably remains far too far apart from one another. This must not be allowed to continue. 

I now turn to the question for the panel."

Panel Question
"When will we see transparently reported state-led prosecutions for egregious human rights abuses being regularly exercised under existing maritime law provisions?"



ILO Link: Stella 

Stella Maris Link: 


Source: HRAS International.

Photo credits: HRAS International David Hammond.

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