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International relations

Indonesia seeks UN protection after deaths on Chinese fishing ships

Lawyers for three Indonesia fisherman who died allege widespread abuses

An Indonesian Navy vessel, left, inspects a  Chinese-flagged fishing ship in 2016.   © Reuters

JAKARTA -- Indonesia has urged the United Nations Human Rights Council to be vigilant of abusive practices in the fisheries industry, its U.N. mission said Tuesday, after the bodies of three Indonesian fishermen were thrown overboard from Chinese fishing vessels in recent months.

"Indonesia underlines the urgent need for the council to protect the rights of vulnerable groups, specifically the rights of people working in the fisheries sector," said Hasan Kleib, the Indonesian ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, according to a release issued by the mission.

The Indonesian mission in Geneva raised the issue on Friday with the U.N. council, which is discussing ways to balance the response to the coronavirus pandemic with protecting human rights.

Three Indonesian fishermen died aboard Chinese fishing vessels in the Pacific Ocean between December and March. The captain said they died from an infectious disease, and had to be buried at sea to keep the rest of the crew safe.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi has called for a review into the deaths of three fisherman on Chinese ships.   © AP

"China takes that report very seriously and is looking into it," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters on Monday.

"The Chinese side is in close communication with the Indonesian side on this and will properly deal with the issue based on facts and law," he said.

The deaths came to light after some of the Indonesian crew members disembarked at Busan, South Korea, in late April. One of the crew members later died from pneumonia.

Lawyers for the fishermen issued a statement Sunday outlining human rights abuses aboard Chinese vessels. The statement said the Indonesian crew were forced to work 18 hours a day and drink distilled seawater, while the Chinese crew had access to mineral water. Part of their pay had apparently been withheld as well. Indonesian police plan to launch an investigation into the allegations.

The issue has become a diplomatic flashpoint between Indonesia and China as well. Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi summoned the Chinese ambassador Thursday to express Jakarta's concern, and to push for a review on what happened.

An organization representing Indonesian migrants also issued a statement urging the Indonesian government to recall its ambassador to China and to expel the Chinese ambassador to Indonesia.

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