Human rights concerns shared about deep-seabed mining  

As the negotiations of new international rules on deep-seabed mining resume at the International Seabed Authority (18-29 March 2024), the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights has published a letter to underscore the international human rights obligations of States and responsibility of business in the exploration and exploitation of minerals in the deep seabed. 

The letter is co-signed by the UN Special Rapporteurs on Toxics and on Human Rights and the Environment. It underscores that the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and relevant international human rights law “already apply to the business enterprises that are currently engaged in or planning deep seabed mineral exploration.” The letter expresses concern surrounding the “mounting scientific evidence and stakeholder disquietude that, if deep seabed mining becomes an industry, there will be irreversible human rights impacts, particularly related to the rights to a healthy environment, food, cultural rights and Indigenous Peoples’ rights”, citing also Hub evidence (here and here). 

The letter urges ISA Member States to include in the regulations under negotiations “a credible accountability framework” for businesses engaged in these activities including State-owned entities, “in accordance with international human rights law.” The recommended framework must “effectively integrate a precautionary approach” and “must account for the jurisdictional challenges posed by harms impacting multiple States when the damage is originally done in marine areas beyond national jurisdictions.”  

The letter follows the 2022 statement by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the potential for negative impacts on human rights from deep seabed mining, and builds on the 2023 report on just transition of the UN Working Group, which stressed the importance of considering the human rights and environmental impacts of deep seabed mining projects, as recommended in a Hub submission

In addition in 2022, the UN Special Rapporteur on Climate Change and Human Rights reported that ‘serious concerns have been brought to [his] attention … about the potential environmental and human rights impacts from deep seabed exploration and mining for minerals that could be used in battery production for electric vehicles and other forms of electrical storage’, which was discussed in a Hub paper on procedural human rights at the ISA.  

In 2023, the UN Special Rapporteur on Toxics and Human Rights reported that ‘the extraction of so-called transition minerals and metals can aggravate the toxic impacts of mining’ and called on States to ‘adopt mandatory standards on environmental and human rights due diligence and supply chain transparency to address the impacts of proposed climate action’. And also in 2023, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment published a report, citing the submission from the One Ocean Hub and IIED, to underscore the high risks for biodiversity and human rights in the context of blue economies


On 25 March, the American Journal of International Law “Unbound” special issue on “The Cultural Stakes of Deep Seabed Mining” (edited by Lucas Lixinski, Julian Arato and Aline Jaeckel) will be published online and contain an article by Hub Director Elisa Morgera titled “Participation of Indigenous Peoples in decision-making over deep-seabed mining”. See earlier Hub research papers here and here

On 28 March (13.00-15.00, Room XXII, Palais des Nations), the Permanent Missions of Costa Rica, Ecuador, Germany, Morocco, Panama, Samoa and Switzerland, with the Dona Bartelli Philanthropy foundation, IUCN, the OHCHR, the One Ocean Hub will explore the links between human rights and deep-seabed mining, and the need for precaution, on the side-lines of the Human Rights Council. Hub Director Elisa Morgera and early-career researcher Holly Niner (University of Plymouth) will be among the panellists. 

In July 2024, the Working Group of the Parties to the Aarhus Convention will hold a thematic session on the promotion of the principles of the Convention in international forums that will include a focus on the International Seabed Authority (see tab “thematic session on PPIF”), in the context of Article 3(7) of the Aarhus Convention, which reads: “Each Party shall promote the application of the principles of this Convention in international environmental decision-making processes and within the framework of international organisations in matters relating to the environment.” In this connection, a video-message by Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur for Environmental Human Rights Defenders under the Aarhus Convention, was released last week. 

Photo: Surasak,

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