Key messages from the UNEP Winter/Summer School on Human Rights “From Oceans to Taps” (Part 1): focus on Small-scale Fishers

‘The human rights dimensions of ocean crimes and its impact on small scale fishers’ webinar screenshot.

In June 2022, the Hub co-developed with the Global Network for Human Rights and the Environment (GNHRE) and UNEP  six panels for the Summer/Winter School on Human rights and the Environment (20-28 June 2022) that highlighted the theme ‘Water – from Oceans to Taps’. Key messages and next steps from these panels are summarised into two separate blogposts. This first blogpost focuses on small-scale fishers’ rights as a contribution to the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture – 2022. The three panels explored the links between ocean crimes, the ocean-climate nexus, and the protection of small-scale fishers’ human rights.

The human rights dimensions of ocean crimes and its impact on small scale fishers (20th June 2022).

This panel explored the human rights, equity and justice dimensions of ocean crimes and their impacts on small scale fishers. The speakers presented their perspectives on the conceptualisation of ocean crime, its consequences for small-scale fisheries, and the remit of possible human rights implications within the larger context of blue justice.

Key messages

  • Ocean crime is a critical issue in ocean governance, and its scope ranges from the more prominent illegal unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing to various infractions connected with ocean-based activities.  Meanwhile, national laws and policies create blue injustices by criminalising and excluding small scale fishers, as well as failing to address the drivers of illegal activity.
  • There is strong nexus between (IUU) fishing activities and other organised criminal offences such as drug and gun trafficking, trafficking in persons and the smuggling of fuels and other contraband. These crimes negatively impact on the human rights of small-scale fishers and on national plans to pursue a sustainable blue economy. Addressing the relationship between ocean crime and small-scale fisheries is critical for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
  • Recreational fisheries have only recently been shown to have significant impacts on marine ecosystems and fisheries globally. The cumulative effect of the millions of individual fishers operating globally does has substantial impacts. Inefficient regulation and monitoring of recreational fisheries contributes to the negative impacts on ecosystems and on the integrity of small-scale and subsistence fisheries.

As the next steps,

  • Dr Nathan Bennett (The Peopled Seas Initiative & People and the Ocean Specialist Group for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature) and One Ocean Hub researchers are exploring future joint work on ocean defenders. The first collaborative working paper co-authored by Dr Bennett and the Hub Director, Professor Elisa Morgera, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment David Boyd and colleagues, titled ‘Environmental Justice in the Ocean’ was published online in 2022.  
  • Dr Alana Malinde S.N. Lancaster (University of the West Indies, Barbados) is undertaking research on ocean crimes in the Caribbean, including through an emerging collaboration with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and in relation to the Caribbean’s endorsement of the 2018 Copenhagen Declaration on Blue Justice. She amins to assess the far-reaching political and social (e.g., rule of law, criminalisation of fishing communities, nutrition and food security), economic (costs to states and legitimate industries) and environmental (decline in fish stocks, ocean plastic pollution, wildlife crime, harm to marine environment, associated ecosystems and species) impacts of ocean crimes in the Caribbean region.

The event recording is available here.

Critical human rights issues at the ocean-climate nexus (21st June 2022)

This panel examined the different human rights challenges arising from the interface of climate change and the ocean (the ocean/climate nexus). The panellists discussed the intersection between the ocean and climate in science and law, ocean acidification, fisheries, and deep-seabed mining, reflecting on integrated and inclusive approach that can contribute to the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture – 2022.

Key messages

  • There are several interconnected impacts from climate change on the ocean, including warming, acidification, and deoxygenation. These limit the ocean’s ability to regulate our global climate and provide ecosystems services, negatively impacting on the material conditions for several human rights, such as the right to life, health, food, water and culture.
  • Although the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea contains obligations to protect the marine environment and the ocean is mentioned in Preamble of the Paris Agreement and explicitly recognised in the Glasgow Climate Pact (2021), ocean-based climate action still needs to be fleshed out in future climate change negotiations, including for the purposes of directing climate finance to human rights-based ocean climate measures.
  • Climate change laws and policies do not often explicitly address fisheries and rarely small-scale fisheries. In turn, there are few fisheries policies addressing climate change (e.g. Gambia). But both the 2014 Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries and the 2018 UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas affirm the rights of small-scale fishers, to participate in the design and implementation of climate change policies, which contributes to protect small-scale fishers’ rights to life, livelihoods and culture, as well as everyone’s human right to a healthy environment.
  • Robust marine environmental protection is needed to ensure that deep-seabed mining activities do not negatively impact on everyone’s human right to a healthy environment. In currently international negotiations at the International Seabed Authority, little attention is being paid to the impacts of deep seabed mining upon ecosystem services and what these mean for human rights.

In terms of next steps,

  • Julia Nakamura and Mitchell Lennan (Hub early-career researchers, University of Strathclyde) and another colleague are preparing on an article on small-scale fishers’ human righs at the ocean-climate nexus for the Hub-led special issue of the International Journal of Marine and Coastal Law;
  • Mitchell Lennan and Hub Deputy Director Berny Snow will attend COP27 in Egypt, and are exploring with other Hub researchers and partners key opportunities for countries to implement the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Paris Agreement through ocean-based climate action that are built upon a mutually supportive interpretation of international biodiversity law, the law of the sea and international human rights law with a view to achieving co-benefits across the different Sustainable Development Goals and reduce vulnerabilities to climate change;
  • Dr Joanna Dingwall (University of Glasgow, UK) intends to develop her analysis of the human rights implications of deep seabed mining further in forthcoming publications, including a chapter contribution to an edited book.

In reflecting on the panel, Julia commented: ‘The connectivity among species, habitats, ecosystems, from the deep-sea to the atmosphere became even more evident to me, showing the increasingly detrimental impacts of climate change on the ocean, and the urgency of ensuring human-driven activities in the ocean are adequately regulated or, as needed, halted for the benefit of all, with due consideration to the most vulnerable and marginalized people’.

The event recording is available here.

Protecting human rights of small-scale artisanal fishing actors and achieving multiple Sustainable Development Goals’ (23rd June 2022)

This panel presented the perspectives of researchers, and of international and regional organisations (UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR) and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)) that have been working closely on the protection of the human rights for small-scale fisheries. The panellists engaged in a discussion to further understand how existing initiatives have contributed to multiple benefits and SDG synergies outlined above.

Key messages

  • Small-scale fishers remain largely invisible in national policy and planning – there is a need to document their situation, recognise their needs, and ensure compliance with labour rights as well as access to government services (social protection, health, banking and access to credit), and not least to dismantle deep-rooted patterns of discrimination.
  • The core human rights instruments, including on women’s rights, an adequate standard of living and the rights of Indigenous peoples, need to be applied in fisheries policies, laws and planning must be aligned with human rights standards.
  • Knowledge co-production with small-scale fishers is a way to protect their human rights, through engagements with authorities at multiple scales and the creation of dedicated spaces for small-scale fishers to reflect, strategize and advocate (such as  provincial and national workshops that link small-scale fishers with NGOs, research ers and legal aid groups who share common concerns for ocean governance).
  • The gendered nature of fisheries has direct consequences for the position and livelihood opportunities of women in fisheries. Women are often left out of technical and capacity-building initiatives, community consultations and fisheries management decision-making processes. Knowledge of human rights can provide a basis to strengthen women fishers’ participation in decision-making.
  • Different stakeholders need to join forces for implementing the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fishers in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication at the national, regional and local level for ensuring the protection of small-scale fishers’ human rights.
  • Interdisciplinary research and collaboration are needed to better document and address the human rights impacts of fisheries and aquaculture.

In reflecting on the panel, Sille Stidsen (The Danish Institute for Human Rights) commented: ‘It was extremely rewarding to have a clear and strong voice from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights among us. I found it promising for our future work and continuous articulation of these issues to have the OHCHR firmly on board, so thanks for organising that.’

Ana Suarez-Dussan (Human Rights Specialist, FAO) added that different insights and examples of projects and programs for the protection of human rights of globally and specific country examples ‘ will assist to incorporate information in different briefs and guidance we are developing to build synergies with the work others are doing.’ 

In terms of next steps,

  • UNOHCHR, FAO and One Ocean Hub are co-developing a policy brief on unpacking the human rights-based approach to small-scale fisheries titled “How the integrated protection of substantive and procedural human rights can contribute  to achieving multiple Sustainable Development Goals”
  • In late 2022, UNOHCHR, the Hub, FAO and the Danish Institute for Human Rights will co-organise a workshop on fostering cooperation among UN bodies and national human rights institutions on small-scale fishers’ human rights.
  • One Ocean Hub researchers Jackie Sunde (University of Cape Town, South Africa), Taryn Pereira (Rhodes University, South Africa), Bolanle Erinosho (University Cape Coast, Ghana) and Tapiwa Warikandwa (University of Namibia) have collaborated with FAO, after this event, providing inputs into the development of a new FAO database on national policies and legislation relevant to small-scale fisheries that will be launched in late 2022.
  • The Danish Institute for Human Rights is continuing the development and application of a new database The Human Rights Guide to Fisheries, and finalising a working paper on The Human Rights Impacts of Fisheries Subsidies, and two guidance notes for national human rights institutions on fisheries, aquaculture and human rights and on blue economy processes.

The event recording will be made available here.