Human Rights and Maritime Law Enforcement

77 Pages Posted: 11 Aug 2016

See all articles by Brian Wilson

Brian Wilson

United States Navy; United States Coast Guard

Date Written: July 2016


Maritime law enforcement responses since 2010 have sparked unprecedented attention to the intersection of human rights and maritime security. This article examines four major response areas: Drug trafficking, piracy, migration, and illegal fishing. Seminal authorities and recent judicial opinions are explored along with specific questions, such as how long a suspected criminal captured at sea may be detained aboard a warship, when lethal force may be employed, and under what circumstances may a suspicious vessel be destroyed. Courts are increasingly addressing issues once considered within the sole discretion of government officials and operational commanders. The result, unfortunately, is an ad hoc collection of judicial opinions, treaties, and multilateral agreements that lack coherence and consistency. This article sets forth an essential road map for harmonizing human rights obligations with the inherent challenges of high seas maritime law enforcement.

Keywords: human rights, Law of the Sea, Law of the Sea Convention, Coast Guard, Navy, maritime law enforcement, humane treatment, detention, fishing, IUU, piracy, migration, maritime migration, piracy, drug trafficking, ECHR, European Court of Human Rights, ICCPR

JEL Classification: KOO

Suggested Citation

Wilson, Brian, Human Rights and Maritime Law Enforcement (July 2016). Stanford Journal of International Law Vol. 52, No. 2. Available at SSRN:

Brian Wilson (Contact Author)

United States Navy ( email )

Washington, DC
United States

United States Coast Guard ( email )

United States

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