Ocean defenders research at the Association of Human Rights Institutes’ Conference

Conference in Bilbao, 7-9 September 2023

Two Hub researchers, Elaine Webster and Elisa Morgera (University of Strathclyde, UK), will contribute to the Annual Network Conference of the Association of Human Rights Institutes, that will be hosted by the University of Deusto in Bilbao, Spain, under the theme, “Human Rights Defenders Under Siege.” The Hub will contribute to the panel focused on ‘The Role of Academia in the support to HRDs.’ Another related paper is being prepared by Taryn Pereira (Rhodes University, South Africa) on this theme. 

Elaine Webster

Elaine Webster, Strathclyde University, UK, will present a paper on “Challenges and Benefits of International Human Rights Transfusion: Reflections from academia on supporting the defence of ocean-dependent human rights.” The paper first expands on the idea of ‘transfusion’, understood as a process of injecting international human rights as an additional layer of discourse with the aim of promoting integration of legal frameworks, and of benefiting those engaged in justice struggles related to the ocean. It then traces five challenges, from the academic perspective, of integrating an international human rights lens in such contexts: ‘novelty’ of connecting human rights protection to ocean space, ‘expansiveness’ of ocean-human rights connections, ‘indivisibility’ of ocean-dependent human rights, ‘legalism’ in perspectives on the relevance of international human rights, and ‘disciplinarity’ as it plays out in different academic perspectives on human rights/law.

The paper considers what these challenges mean for the way in which academic researchers are able to recognise and support ocean-dependent human rights defenders. The paper then considers the potential benefits of international human rights ‘transfusion’ in the ocean protection context. Throughout, the paper draws on examples from the One Ocean Hub research findings, solidarity practices, and experiences of engagement with international institutions. The paper concludes with reflections on the utility of the idea of international human rights ‘transfusion’ in thinking about academic support for the defence of ocean-dependent human rights.  

elisa morgera

Hub Director Elisa Morgera, Strathclyde University, UK, will present a paper titled, “Learning from multi-level partnerships between environmental human rights defenders, academic researchers and the United Nations.’ This paper reflects on the lessons learnt so far under the One Ocean Hub as a Global North/South inter- and transdisciplinary research collaboration working with a variety of UN bodies in enhancing the protection of environmental human rights defenders at the local level, and in supporting defenders in speaking directly to UN bodies to articulate their needs.

The paper explores the experiences of One Ocean Hub researchers who shared local-level evidence with, and co-developed new approaches to channel international support for the protection of EHRDs. The paper critically reflects on the opportunities and limitations in: raising awareness about blind spots in current UN efforts (such as the need to protect “ocean defenders” in addition to “land defenders”); integrating standards on EHRDs in global capacity-building tools, as well as bilateral technical support for the reform of national laws on natural resources; and co-creating new spaces and methodologies for direct dialogue between UN bodies and EHRDs.  

Taryn Pereira

Early-career researcher Taryn Pereira, Rhodes University, South Africa, although not able to participate in the conference, is working on a related paper titled ‘Reframing ‘risk’ in collaborations between academics and environmental human rights defenders – reflections from the One Ocean Hub, South Africa.’ This paper will reflect on the experiences of transdisciplinary scholar activists working in support of small-scale fishers and other ocean defenders in South Africa; with a particular focus on the opportunities and tensions we have had to navigate within our own universities, in carrying out this work. The paper focuses on the way in which ‘risk’ is framed in formal university ethics procedures, with university ethics procedures concerned with ensuring that no harm is done to research participants in the course of research engagements, and that researchers themselves are not incurring risk in the course of their work.

The risks to academics, in our context, are a lot lower than those faced by community-based activists, so researchers can absorb or deflect some of the risk already faced by defenders. The paper reflects on the experience of advocating for this expanded understanding of ‘risk’ when applying for ethical approval to undertake our research with and for defenders, and it remains a contested issue with some colleagues in academia. This paper proposed an expanded approach to understanding ethical research in partnership with defenders, including co-developed codes of practice, protocols for emergency responses in case of threats, and advocating for a ‘situated solidarities’ approach to researcher-defenders partnerships.  

Artwork: Margherita Brunori

Related SDGs:

  • Reduced inequality
  • Life below water
  • Peace, justice and strong institutions