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Vatican Calls For An End In Human Rights Violations At Sea

On World Fisheries Day, Pope Francis expressed his closeness for those who work in the fishing industry.

The Vatican and the United Nations teamed up to call for a stop of human rights violations at sea. In a just-concluded conference, the Vatican and the UN aimed to draw attention to the plight of sea workers, and to how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the fish trade, impoverished workers and increased insecurity, child labour and disempowerment of women due to loss or reduction of income.

“Stemming the tide: together we can stop human rights violations at sea,”–the title of the conference– was organized by Stella Maris at the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to FAO, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP). It coincided with World Fisheries Day celebrated on November 21. (Read: 3 Ways You Can Help Ensure Food Security in the Coming Years)

Safety and dignity

In this Feb. 27, 2015 photo provided by fisherman Renato Etac, Chinese Coast Guard members approach his fellow fishermen near Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea. (Photo from AP/Philippine Star)

Monsignor Fernando Chica Arellano, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to FAO, made an urgent appeal not to neglect the fishery sector because so much is at stake: “the safety, the dignity and the wellbeing” of those whose lives are involved in it.

He upheld the Holy See’s exhortation to “fight the human rights violations fishers are subjected to and human trafficking,” and said it is necessary to do everything possible to stop “illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.”

Within this perspective, Monsignor Chica Arellano added,  the UN Sustainable Development Goals provide a valuable guide for action. In some areas, there has been progress in reducing marine pollution and promoting a circular economy. And while there has been a significant improvement in reducing the use of plastic and energy produced by fossil fuels, he said that there is still a need to continue to safeguard marine biodiversity and improve the living conditions of crew onboard fishing vessels. (Read: LOOK: Pag-asa Research Station Opens in West Philippine Sea)

Pandemic effects

Photo from Greenpeace

The conference also discussed the adverse effects on the working conditions during the pandemic. The health crisis has directly affected the fisheries and aquaculture sector.

The main factors of concern regard changes in consumer demand generated by problems linked to distribution channels and access to markets and fishing grounds; the limited availability of migrant workers; the reduction of income of fisheries workers and fisheries-dependent communities that have led to food insecurity and malnutrition; and increased child labour.


A young boy looks at departing fishermen from a fisherfolk community in Barangay Alimo, Bacoor, Cavite on National Fisherfolks Day, marked on May 31 of every year. Rural fishermen are among the country’s poorest, grappling with income below the poverty threshold. (Photo from ABS-CBN News)

The conference concluded to jointly support sea workers and their families and work for a renewed fishing industry that “respects the dignity of persons and cares for our common home, a common home in which we must all live as brothers and sisters” and in which to share socio-economic benefits.

The Holy See has reiterated its support for Catholic institutions and other entities that work to protect the rights and safety of fishers and their families, and are committed to the protection of oceans and marine resources.

On World Fisheries Day, Pope Francis expressed his closeness for those who work in the fishing industry. (Read: Mercedes FISHtival: A Thanksgiving Celebration of Fishermen For The Blessings in Seafaring)

“I am praying for all those who may be living in difficult conditions or even forced labour,” he said and paid tribute to the chaplains of Stella Maris, the Catholic Church agency which offers practical and pastoral care to all seafarers.

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