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Encounters and their Consequences: A Review of Itamar Mann’s “Humanity at Sea”

Published on August 3, 2017        Author: 

Humanity at Sea explores the outer frontiers and inner tensions of human rights law in its treatment of migrants who, intercepted at sea, challenge the interpretive boundaries of international law as well as the literal boundaries of states.

In providing an impressive and often moving overview of legal and administrative responses to migrants at sea, Mann also seeks to offer a “new theory of human rights” (p.6). The jurisprudential focus lies with whether states can be obligated to assist. Though international law confers a duty of rescue on the high seas, that duty extends only to immediate emergency assistance: once out of physical danger, it would not prevent migrants from being returned to their home territories.  By contrast, the duty of non-refoulement, which compels states not to “expel or return” migrants to territories where they could be persecuted (Art. 33, 1951 Refugee Convention), has traditionally been interpreted to apply only to receiving states’ territories, not to interception outside territorial waters on the high seas.

Mann’s theory provides a framework for understanding how states may come to extend this obligation, through a more general conceptualization of how new human rights come to be recognized. Whereas international legal thought has oscillated between positive law and natural law as a basis for state obligation, Mann’s innovation is to reject this dyad.  Read the rest of this entry…

 
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