International Law and the Protection of People at Sea

Event date
19 November 2020
Event time
12:45 - 14:00
Oxford week
Online via Zoom
Professor Irini Papanicolopulu , University of Milano-Bicocca

If you wish to participate in this (remote) seminar, RSVP is necessary. Please complete the form*  by noon Wednesday 18 November and prior to the seminar, you will be sent a link to join. *Anyone registering after the deadline will be unable to participate.


For a long while, international law ignored the presence of people at sea. The two fields of international law which relate more closely to “people at sea”, in fact, were not concerned with them. The old traditional field of law of the sea was developed by states and for states. Its rules, which often refer to vessel and, more recently, to fish, only occasionally mention some type of human, mostly the master and crew of a vessel. Along a parallel track, the relatively new field of human rights, that acquired a solid international standing in the XX century and is today considered by most as one of the backbones of modern international law, appears to consider that individuals may be found only at sea. For a long time, and with few exceptions, law of the sea and human rights never met.

Yet this has changed in the last 10 years. Piracy off the coasts of Somalia, first, and flows of irregular migrants in the Mediterranean Sea, later, polarised the attention of the international community and brought to the forefront of legal discourse the need to ensure that people at sea are protected. This paper aims at presenting this shift in perspective and providing the basis for a conceptualisation of the relationship between people at sea and international law that goes beyond specific categorisations – pirates, migrants etc. It will argue that international law contains a general principle and other rules that may be used to better ensure protection for people at sea and will discuss the role that different international actors may play in reaching this aim.

Irini Papanicolopulu is Associate Professor of International Law at the University of Milano-Bicocca (Italy). She conducts research and has published widely in international law, including among others law of the sea, delimitation of maritime boundaries, environmental law, international humanitarian law, human rights law and the protection of cultural heritage. She has previously worked at the University of Oxford and the University of Glasgow (UK). She is a Visiting Professor at Catolica Global School of Law (Portugal) and at the University of St. Gallen (Switzerland) and has lectured, among others, at the International Maritime Law Institute (Malta), the Institute for Advanced Defence Studies (Italy), the Oxford International Law Course for Military Lawyers (UK), and the San Remo International Institute of Humanitarian Law (Italy). She is the author of International Law and the Protection of People at Sea(OUP 2018) and ll confine marittimo: Unità o pluralità?([The maritime boundary: Unity or plurality?] Giuffrè 2005), the editor of Gender and the Law of the Sea(Brill, 2019) and other collective volumes, as well as the author of numerous other and book chapters. Professor Papanicolopulu is Co-Convenor of the Interest Group on Law of the Sea of the European Society of International Law and of the Italian Society of International Law. She has occasionally acted as legal advisor for the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Italian Ministry of the Environment, and other States and international organisations.


The PIL Discussion Group hosts a weekly speaker event and is a key focal point for PIL@Oxford.  Due to the current public health emergency, the PIL Discussion Group series will be held remotely for Michaelmas 2020. Speakers include distinguished international law practitioners, academics, and legal advisers from around the world. Topics involve contemporary and challenging issues in international law.  The speaker will commence at 12:45 and speak for about forty minutes, allowing about twenty-five minutes for questions and discussion. The meeting should conclude before 2:00pm. 
If you wish to participate in this (remote) seminar, RSVP is necessary. Please complete the form* before noon Wednesday 2 December and prior to the Thursday seminar, you will be sent a link to join.  Practitioners, academics and students from within and outside the University of Oxford are all welcome.

The discussion group’s meetings are part of the programme of the British Branch of the International Law Association and are supported by the Law Faculty and Oxford University Press.

PIL Discussion Group Convenors: Tsvetelina van Benthem and Xiaotian (Kris) Yu

The group typically meets each Thursday during Oxford terms. 

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This event

PIL Discussion Group
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PIL Discussion Group

Found within

Public International Law