Specific mechanisms dealing with human rights reporting are lacking at sea

Human Rights at Sea, in partnership with the University of Bristol Human Rights Clinic and Human Rights Implementation Centre, has published a first report on flag states’ monitoring, reporting and enforcing of human rights obligations onboard vessels.

It said that specific monitoring and reporting mechanisms dealing with human rights violations were lacking or absent, especially those dealing specifically with violations at sea.

The report stated that there was “much uncertainty due to the absence of public complaints procedures that would guarantee effective redress for human rights abuses on board vessels. Seafarers are especially vulnerable for being isolated in the ocean for long periods of time and therefore require a public, accessible and transparent procedure which ensures that they are not being exploited or left unprotected. These mechanisms should be made clear to seafarers prior to their maritime activities, both as a registration requirement and through accessible, clear and simple procedures published on relevant websites.”

Any system of human rights protection relies heavily on the availability of resources and political will, said the researchers.

The research team consisted of a group of 10 University of Bristol Law School students; they examined three flag states: Marshall Islands, Saint Kitts and Nevis and the United Kingdom.

The study looked at how these flag states monitored human rights compliance on board vessels and whether or not there were any reporting procedures in place to help facilitate and demonstrate compliance.

The researchers covered the obligations that flag states have under article 94 of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as well as international human rights law.

The research demonstrated disparity in the number of human rights treaties ratified by the three states, with the UK having ratified the most instruments.

The report recommended that:

  1. Flag states should consider ratifying the core U.N. human rights treaties and IMO and ILO Conventions.
  2. Specific monitoring mechanisms for ensuring the compliance of a flag state with its human rights obligations on board vessels should be put in place. In cases where the ship registries operate outside the flag state, the latter should be involved in the monitoring process.
  3. Reporting mechanisms should be put in place that will allow people on board vessels to complain of human rights abuses. In cases where these mechanisms are in place, they should become more accessible and user-friendly. Relevant information on how these can be accessed, the reporting procedure and remedies should become available online by each flag state.
  4. Compliance with human rights on board vessels should also be considered for listing flag states under MOUs. In cases where MOUs do consider this, it should be explained how human rights compliance is measured.