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Humanity at Sea
  • Cited by 44
  • Itamar Mann, University of Haifa Faculty of Law, Israel
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Book description

This interdisciplinary study engages law, history, and political theory in a first attempt to crystallize the lessons the global 'refugee crisis' can teach us about the nature of international law. It connects the dots between the actions of Jewish migrants to Palestine after WWII, Vietnamese 'boatpeople', Haitian refugees seeking to reach Florida, Middle Eastern migrants and refugees bound to Australia, and Syrian refugees currently crossing the Mediterranean, and then legal responses by states and international organizations to these movements. Through its account of maritime migration, the book proposes a theory of human rights modelled around an encounter between individuals in which one of the parties is at great risk. It weaves together primary sources, insights from the work of twentieth-century thinkers such as Hannah Arendt and Emmanuel Levinas, and other legal materials to form a rich account of an issue of increasing global concern.


‘At a time when both Europeans and Americans speak of building walls to stop the flow of refugees, we are in desperate need of a new moral and legal vision. In Humanity at Sea, Itamar Mann offers that vision. A work brimming with insights, it will make us rethink the very foundations of international law.'

Paul Kahn - Director, Orville H. Schell, Jr Center for International Human Rights, Yale Law School

‘In this lyrically written book, Mann throws light on the refugee condition through the metaphor of ‘the universal boatperson'. The episodes he recounts of refugees at sea, spread over time and geography, amount to one of the most original discussions of these topics yet to appear.'

Seyla Benhabib - Eugene Meyer Professor of Political Science and Philosophy, Yale University, Connecticut

'In his exemplary study of migration past and present, Itamar Mann has responded to a topic of burning currency and moral importance with agile and profound theoretical sophistication, achieving a unique proposal for why human rights law is binding and should come to the rescue of the forlorn victims of history. Compelling, eloquent, and rich, Humanity at Sea is a must-read for ethicists, historians, and lawyers.'

Samuel Moyn - Harvard Law School, and author of The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History

'Mann’s theory of the rights of encounter addresses the gap that many critical approaches have left unaddressed - the rights of the person at the border, of the person not yet present on the territory and within the community. It does so in a way that bridges demands of concreteness and universality: the ‘rights of encounter’ are concrete in that the moment of encounter between particular persons brings them about, and they are universal in that they arise from a sense of universal equality, which makes the mere knowledge of the other person’s humanity sufficient for an obligation to save her life.'

Dana Schmalz Source: The European Journal of International Law

'I would recommend this book to those that are interested in maritime law, those interested in the refugee crisis, and those looking for a good read in general. Mann made great arguments and I learned about several events and atrocities that I hadn’t heard of before.'

Ashlee N. Williams Source: AmeriQuests (

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