Displaced fishermen seek UN help to keep China at bay
A group of Filipino fishermen have asked the UN to stop Beijing from harassing them as they cast their nets around Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, which the Chinese Coast Guard annexed in 2012, their lawyer said.
The fishermen alleged that China, which has controlled the shoal since a brief 2012 stand-off with the Philippines, is violating their rights to food and livelihood by driving them away, lawyer Harry Roque told Agence France-Presse.
Signed by 30 fishermen, the petition was sent via email to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and other UN organisations in Geneva on Wednesday, he said.
“They are asking for a remedy. No one (is) telling them where and when they can fish,” Roque added.
The current situation is “very, very sad,” he said, adding that some of the men are now forced to fish in shallow waters with little success, while many of their wives work abroad to support the family.
The shoal lies 220 kilometres off Zambales province and 650 kilometres from Hainan island, the nearest major Chinese land mass.
The Philippines claims that the shoal is within its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.
The government has lodged a separate appeal before a UN arbitration tribunal to declare illegal China’s sovereignty claim over most of the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).
In April, Philippine authorities accused the Chinese Coast Guard of robbing Filipino fishermen of their catch at gunpoint at Panatag Shoal and shooing away one group with a water cannon.
In their petition, the Filipino fishermen cited another supposed incident in April last year when Chinese authorities on speedboats and armed with assault rifles allegedly drove them away, shouting: “Go away, go away, three miles, China island,” the 22-page “urgent appeal” read.
The 30 fishermen asked the UN to “remind, declare and direct China and its state agents to cease and desist from violating (their) human rights–including the right to livelihood, the right to adequate food and the right to life.”
China recently reinforced its claim over almost the entire South China Sea by building artificial islands on disputed reefs.
A recent poll showed eight in 10 Filipinos fear the festering sea dispute with China might lead to “armed conflict” with their powerful Asian neighbour.