August 2021 · Covid-19 port closures show flaws in human rights international law

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The consequences of port closures during the Covid-19 pandemic have highlighted flaws in the implementation of international law designed to protect the human rights of those at sea, according to a study by Dr Sofia Galani, Senior Lecturer in Public International Law at the University of Bristol and Human Rights at Sea Advisory Board member.

Speaking to Human Rights at Sea (HRAS), Galani says: “The systematic protection of persons at sea remains flawed. This is not because international law does not afford protection to persons at sea but rather because the many different legal regimes that apply to persons at sea often clash leaving them in something of a legal vacuum.”

For years, the plight of persons abandoned at sea has gone unnoticed, she says. “The global pandemic has changed this, as the suffering of persons stuck at sea during the pandemic, be it for employment, recreational, migration or other purposes, is now well-documented. The time is ripe to recognise that human rights apply at sea and find effective ways to enforce them.”

The right of states to close their ports for public health reasons is recognised under international law, but her study, published in the International and Comparative Law Quarterly (Cambridge University Press), highlights examples of how state actions and port closures have left people vulnerable. 

Source: The Maritime Advocate