Thursday, June 17, 2010

Somali Pirates Sentenced to Five Years' Imprisonment in the Netherlands

A group of five Somali pirates received five year prison sentences after they were convicted for acts of piracy in a Dutch court (click here to read the story: The five pirates were originally detained by the Danish navy, after attacking a ship flying a Dutch flag; the Danish authorities quickly handed the pirates to the Dutch for prosecution purposes. The Dutch prosecution of pirates marks the first successful European trial of this sort. Another group of alleged Somali pirates is awaiting trial in Germany, and the French authorities have also brought some detained pirates back to France for trial. One pirate has plead guilty in an American court (the Southern District of New York) and is awaiting sentencing. Another group of pirates has been brought to an American district court in Virginia, where they will be tried later this year.
These kinds of domestic piracy trials represent one potentially successful prosecutional model for combating Somali piracy. Major maritime nations often have the resources available, and can logistically handle the prosecution of a Somali pirate. However, for political and strategic reasons, such nations have only shown interest in prosecuting pirates in domestic courts if and when pirates have attacked these nations' ships or hijacked these nations' nationals. When the maritime powers' national interest are threatened, they will extend their courts and apply their jurisdictional rule to cover acts of Somali piracy.
In the absence of direct attacks on major maritime nations, pirates have faced differing fates. Some pirates have simply been released, and have returned with impunity to their lucrative criminal livelihood. Others have been released on the high seas, with no food, water, or other supplies, and have thus faced an almost certain death sentence. Finally, some have been transferred to a regional partner, Kenya, for prosecution there. While some have argued that African courts provide a better solution for this African problem than European or American prosecutions do, many others have pointed toward problems with the Kenyan court system. For one, Kenyan procedural rules are imperfect and do not allow for more sophisticated evidentiary manoeuvres. Moreover, there have been allegations of the lack of adequate representation for the detained pirates. World powers have financially supported the Kenyan authorities in their detention and prosecution facilities, but have not provided any support for the legal defense regime. Thus, some pirates are unrepresented, and some have poor and inexperienced attorneys. Ultimately, some have called for the creation of an ad hoc regional piracy tribunal, which would handle all Somali piracy prosecutions. This solution appears attractive from a legal standpoint, but it lacks political backing by the world's great powers, and may be riddled with logistical and organizational hurdles.
One thing appears certain: the world powers have understood the dangers of Somali piracy, and have begun combating it with serious efforts. More coordination and cooperation may be needed in this endeavor, but a successful model may have been started and may provide a solid basis for the future.