Press Release

Thursday 24 June 2021

London. UK.  The question of what the UK Government is doing to protect human rights at sea was raised as an oral question by Human Rights at Sea Patron, Lord Teverson of Tregony, in the UK Parliament and was discussed in the House of Lords for the first time on 22 June 2021.

With the specific intent to trigger an initial Parliamentary discussion and further the UK-based charity’s enquiries into the scope of what the UK government understood by the term ‘human rights at sea’ and its associated human rights protections, the charitable NGO has succeeded in better profiling the issue and narrative on the public record.

Regretfully, the response to Lord Teverson’s supplementary question concerning Government support for the development of the Geneva Declaration on Human Rights at Sea, was met by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Department for Transport, Baroness Vere of Norbiton, with a negative response.

Baroness Vere said: “The Government are not able to provide formal UK support for the declaration that has been established by the charity of which I believe the noble Lord has been a patron for the last three months, and that has been discussed today. But what I can say is that we are hugely supportive of the existing international frameworks that already exist.”

In short, the core references were to existing international instruments and frameworks for labour rights focused conventions such as the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 and the ILO C188 Work in Fishing Convention 2007. The International Bill of Rights, which includes the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the 1966 Covenants on Civil and Political and Economic and Social rights were not referred to.

Nonetheless, Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle pressed the issue in her submission where she said. “My Lords, in her answer to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, the Minister referred to the Geneva declaration on human rights at sea, with which she is obviously familiar. The current draft says: “There is a profound need for the concept of ‘Human Rights at Sea’ to be accepted globally. It is primarily States that have responsibility for enforcing human rights standards at sea.” Does the Minister agree with those two statements?”

Baroness Vere responded: “I can certainly agree that states predominantly have the responsibility for enforcing and making sure that human rights at sea are indeed followed. Of course, the Government share the concern about human rights abuses at sea. We work incredibly hard with our international partners through the UN organisations responsible for those human rights and with the IMO and the ILO—the International Labour Organization—which are able to set international law that applies to seafarers.”

As such, the UK Government has recognised that the concept of ‘human rights at sea’ exists, that it is a state responsibility that they are followed and enforced, and that the UK Government “shares the concern about human rights abuses at sea” explicitly raised in the Geneva Declaration on Human Rights at Sea.

Lord Teverson stated: “I was pleased to raise the issue of human rights at sea in Parliament, and for the support from other members of the Lords.  Crews at sea can be uniquely vulnerable to abuse and intimidation. It is important to raise these issues with Government. I hope that with further meetings with ministers we will be able to promote further safeguards and action.”

HRAS Comment

“Human Rights at Sea is very satisfied that the issue of ‘human rights at sea’ has been put as an oral question by Lord Teverson before the Upper House and debated for the first time in the UK Parliament after eight years of advocacy on this key and wide-ranging issue.”

“Baroness Vere of Norbiton, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) highlighted that the UK Government “shares the concern about human rights abuses at sea’ but at this time it cannot support the Geneva Declaration on Human Rights at Sea, which would be a first step in the right direction for the UK championing the cause of human rights protections at sea.”

“What is crucial, however, is that the public conversation has begun to mainstream ‘human rights at sea’.  Having said this; there is much more work to be done to understand that human rights at sea covers the entire maritime environment and that it is wider than just labour rights. It covers every single person living, working, transiting, and otherwise operating in the maritime environment.”

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