Geneva Declaration on Human Rights at Sea on-line platform launched on World Human Rights Day

Press Release

10th December 2019

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home — so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. […] Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

London. UK.The 10thof December is World Human Rights Day.

This is the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is a key date in the calendar for human rights defenders to profile their valuable, challenging and often dangerous work helping to uphold and develop human rights provisions, policies, effective remedies and standards globally.

This year, the Declaration is 71 years old, and it is the most translated document in the world available in more than 500 languages.

In response to the emerging public international awareness of terrible abuses which occur at sea invariably out of sight and therefore out of mind, Human Rights at Sea, as an independent charitable NGO, today launches its on-line platform for the development of the new soft-law instrument; the ‘Geneva Declaration on Human Rights at Sea’.

Human Rights in the Maritime Sector

It is estimated that there are circa 40 million persons at sea at any one time who have fundamental human rights and associated protections equal to those who find themselves within the territorial jurisdiction of States.

Until now, those persons have not been adequately protected and there are some persons who are extremely vulnerable because they are beyond the jurisdiction of the States that bear responsibility for their protection.

The time is therefore right to explicitly address the issue of maritime human rights protections for all persons living, working, transiting, or engaged in any other type of activity at sea in territorial and international waters around the globe.

Notably, the emergence of academic and policy focus on human rights at sea in the maritime environment has come to the forefront of international awareness through the growing ‘human rights at sea’ debate and its developing narrative across all sections of society. A debate that has been developed by the charity and its online platforms since 2014.

The Geneva Declaration on Human Rights at Sea

The principal aim of the Geneva Declaration on Human Rights at Sea (“the Declaration”)is to raise global awareness of the abuse of human rights at sea and to mobilise a concerted international effort to put an end to it.

The end goal of this work is to achieve a finalised soft-law and voluntarily applied version of the Declaration within three to five years that is supported at State level around the world.

The subsequent logical step would be for it to be championed for development into a binding State-level ‘Convention on Human Rights at Sea’ to protect all persons living, working, transiting, or engaged in any other type of activity at sea in territorial and international waters around the globe including seafarers, fishers, migrants and refugees.

European Commissioner on Human Rights[1]

On 22nd November, the Commissioner on Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, published her written observations submitted to the European Court of Human Rights in connection with the case of S.S. and others v. Italy.  The case concerned the interception and rescue operation of a boat in distress in the Mediterranean Sea, carrying around 150 persons who had left Libya, and the alleged human rights violations resulting from this operation.

Importantly, the Commissioner stressed and indeed effectively upheld the founding principle of Human Rights at Sea that ‘human rights apply as sea as they do on land’ in her findings.

Specially, she stated the effective protection and promotion of the human rights of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, at sea and on land, requires the full implementation of member states’ obligations under international maritime law, human rights law and refugee law, read consistently with each other.

The consistent cross reading of established international law for the development of wider human rights at sea protections underpins the Geneva Declaration development work and its modus operandi.

CEO, David Hammond, commented: “Alongside many colleagues and stakeholders we continue to patiently develop the Declaration through a transparent process publicly linked to the online platform, most recently drafting the second version last week in Milan, Italy. This new platform ensures that everyone interested can review and comment on the work being undertaken to ensure that we eventually deliver a truly inclusive soft-law document to the international community.”

Geneva Declaration weblink:

For full access to all documents and versions users must register on the first occasion.



  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights empowers us all.
  • Human rights are relevant to all of us, every day.
  • Our shared humanity is rooted in these universal values.
  • Equality, justice and freedom prevent violence and sustain peace.
  • Whenever and wherever humanity’s values are abandoned, we all are at greater risk.
  • We need to stand up for our rights and those of others.

[1]Dunja Mijatović was elected Commissioner for Human Rights in January 2018 by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly and took up her position on 1 April 2018. She is the fourth Commissioner, succeeding Nils Muižnieks (2012-2018), Thomas Hammarberg (2006-2012) and Alvaro Gil-Robles (1999-2006).



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