A group of Filipino fishermen have asked the United Nations 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 on Thursday.
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 organizations 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 kilometers off Zambales province and 650 kilometers 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 United Nations 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 United Nations 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 neighbor.
Obama: Take ‘concrete steps’
US President Barack Obama urged Beijing to take “concrete steps” to ease tensions over cyber hacking and its wide-ranging maritime claims, as the United States and China ended three days of candid talks.
American officials have voiced deep concerns about both issues at the annual strategic and economic dialogue aimed at setting guidelines to steer future ties between the world’s two leading economies.
During talks in Washington with top Chinese officials, Obama “raised ongoing US concerns about China’s cyber and maritime behavior, and he urged China to take concrete steps to lower tensions,” the White House said.
Ties were strained over US accusations of cyber espionage and this week’s talks come after revelations of huge breaches of US government computer networks at the Office of Personnel Management.
Washington has also voiced concerns about China’s territorial claims to much of the South China Sea and East China Sea, calling on Beijing to resolve the issue peacefully with its neighbors.
The US had “made it crystal clear that this is not acceptable and we need to work through… how we are going to work this out in terms of the bilateral relationship.”
But China’s State Councilor Yang Jiechi called on the US to “respect and accommodate the concerns of China and handle differences and sensitive issues with caution.”
He said he “urged the US to respect facts and work together with China to improve the cyber relations between the two countries.”
It was important for the US “to respect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and respect the development path chosen by the Chinese people,” Yang added.