Human Rights at Sea Arbitration

Arbitration as a Means of Effective Remedy for Human Rights Abuses at Sea

L’arbitrage comme mécanisme permettant d’obtenir une réparation effective pour la violation des droits humains en mer



Welcome to the Human Rights at Sea Arbitration website, a freely-accessible platform dedicated to the innovative concept originated by Human Rights at Sea and Shearman & Sterling LLP, for using international arbitration as a means for providing victims of human rights abuses at sea with an alternative route to effective remedy and justice.


The United Nations (UN) defines human rights as “rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status.”

The philosophy of human rights at sea builds on this basic definition to add the following four core principles: that human rights apply at sea to exactly the same degree and extent that they do on land; that all persons at sea, without any distinction, enjoy human rights; that there are no maritime-specific rules allowing derogation from human rights standards; and that all human rights established under treaty and customary international law must be respected at sea.

At present, these fundamental principles are not being adequately respected, complied with or enforced. Widespread and systematic human rights abuses continue to occur at sea, including slavery, abandonment, sex trafficking, sexual assault and deprivation of basic labour rights.

That these issues have persisted and even worsened notwithstanding the existence of a well-established body of international human rights law confirms that human rights abuses at sea require special attention. This is especially true of human rights violations on the high seas, where the policing and enforcement of human rights violations is all the more difficult.

A concomitant of the chronic state of impunity and lack of accountability for human rights abusers at sea is the lack of effective remedy for victims. Despite the existence of a number of well-developed human rights mechanisms at the international, regional and domestic levels, the reality is that victims of maritime human rights abuses are not accessing these existing fora in any significant numbers. The vast majority therefore are left without a remedy.

An arbitration-based mechanism of redress for human rights abuses at sea would address both the procedural and the substantive dimensions of a victim’s right to a remedy. It would do so by providing: (i) a neutral and visible forum in which human rights issues could be resolved; (ii) a procedure that is both efficient and financially accessible to victims; (iii) an adjudicative process that is highly specialised and tailored to the sensitivities of human rights issues as well as to the particularities of the maritime space; and (iv) binding arbitral awards that would be enforceable internationally.

Principal Aim

The principal aim of this initiative is to provide victims of human rights abuses at sea with the ability to enforce their rights through an international arbitration-based mechanism of recourse, which provides victims with access to an effective remedy while at the same time combating impunity for those responsible for their abuses.

Key Objectives

In pursuit of the principal aim outlined above, the human rights at sea arbitration initiative is focused on achieving five key objectives:

  • Identifying the essential parameters of an arbitration-based system specifically tailored to address human rights at sea issues, including: (i) neutrality; (ii) transparency; (iii) accessibility to victims; (iv) ability to cater to particularly sensitive human rights issues; and (v) ability to enforce awards internationally.
  • Demonstrating, including through speech and publication, the value and benefits that such a system could generate, not only for potential victims, but also for States, companies and individuals with a maritime nexus.
  • Developing a set of arbitral rules optimized for use in human rights at sea arbitrations.
  • Setting the groundwork for various users’ involvement in this system, including model offers of consent to arbitrate that can be given by States or private parties and model arbitration clauses for use in employment and other contracts.
  • Working with key players in the maritime space (including flag States, coastal States, shipowners and operators, financial institutions and other companies engaged in, or with some nexus to, maritime activity) to ensure sufficient participation and buy-in for human rights at sea arbitration to function.

Latest Updates

  • Herbert Smith Freehills highlights HRAS Arbitration Tribunal Project
    Press Release 27 July 2021 London. UK. The international law firm, Herbert Smith Freehills LLP, has highlighted the ongoing arbitration project work of Human Rights at Sea and Shearman and Sterling LLP in developing a new voluntary victim-led route to effective remedy for abuses suffered at sea by repurposing arbitration as the mechanism for a…
  • World Oceans Day 2021 Webinar: Confronting the Human Rights Crisis in Fisheries with Arbitration
    Press Release 8 July 2021 London. UK. / Paris. France. On 8 June 2021, on the occasion of this year’s United Nations World Oceans Day with the theme of: “Ocean: Life and Livelihoods”, Human Rights at Sea and global law firm Shearman & Sterling LLP held a webinar entitled “Confronting the Human Rights Crisis in Fisheries:…
  • Development of an Arbitration-based Mechanism for Resolution of Human Rights Disputes
    Press Release 25 January 2021 HUMAN RIGHTS AT SEA ARBITRATION TAKES STEPS TOWARDS CREATION OF ARBITRATION-BASED MECHANISM FOR RESOLUTION OF HUMAN RIGHTS DISPUTES London. UK. / Paris. France.  The Human Rights at Sea Arbitration initiative, a collaboration between UK-based independent charitable NGO Human Rights at Sea and the international arbitration practice of global law firm…
  • Swiss interest grows for Human Rights at Sea Arbitration Tribunal Project
    Press Release 13 January 2021 London, UK. / Basel, Switzerland. Prof. Dr. Anna Petrig, Chair of International Law and Public Law at the University of Basel (Switzerland) and Board advisor to Human Rights at Sea, on 8 January 2020 introduced the concept of Maritime Arbitration and Human Rights during the 2021 online Swiss-based Competence Centre…
  • Safety at Sea Article coverage of 9 July Introductory Webinar
    Press Release 9 September 2020 London. UK. Reproduced with Permission. Safety at Sea reporter, Gabriella Twining, has covered the Human Rights at Sea Arbitration project’s 9 July introductory webinar in the October edition of the Safety at Sea Magazine, as well as online in July, highlighting key points of comment during the initial public online…


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Original Concept & Co-Authors