Human Rights at Sea, WWF raise joint concerns on human rights to WCPFC

Published on
July 28, 2022
A fishing vessel at sea.

Human Rights at Sea (HRAS) and the WWF have raised joint concerns about ongoing legal and human rights challenges through a joint letter to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC).

The two groups said they aim to ensure there is specific language protecting human and labor rights in the regional fishery management organization's fisheries conservation and management measures (CMMs).

CMMs are binding decisions about conservation and management measures regulating the behavior of the RFMO's members. The CMM for labor standards for crews on fishing vessels’ development was introduced in 2020, and has been reviewed and commented on by the states engaged and the accredited WCPFC observers, including WWF and HRAS.

"How can we possibly expect the laws pertaining to conservation of our ocean resources to be followed if we cannot even ensure that these vessels are following the law with respect to labor and human rights? The WCPFC must pass a CMM targeting crew welfare subject to stringent compliance standards this year," WWF Western and Central Pacific Tuna Program Lead Bubba Cook said.

The letter calls for the WCPFC not to allow vague language that allows a wide interpretations of the text, leading a lack of accountability. HRAS and WWF said the language should be discussed during the WCPFC's intersessional work on the CMM labor standards of crews.

The two nonprofits have called for the adopted text to include explicit referencing to the International Bill of Human Rights, explicit referencing to upholding the international rule of law at sea, language prohibiting a veto of the regulations and or any watering down of the draft text, and language requiring enforcement at sea and remedies for victims of abuse.

WWF and HRAS said without strong wording around human and labor abuses, accountability and enforcement by state authorities may be avoided.

“Official civil society observers to WCPFC are consistently pushing for explicit and unequivocal language that drives effective national enforcement at sea and specifically avoids kicking the can down the road due to national interests being placed ahead of safety and justice at sea,” Human Rights at Sea CEO David Hammond said.

Photo courtesy of Xenia_Photography/Shutterstock

Contributing editor reporting from Hawaii, U.S.A.

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