U.N. Considers Special Courts for Pirates

by Julian Ku

The U.N. Security Council heard a proposal yesterday for the establishment of special courts in Somalia and Tanzania to try suspected pirates.

25 January 2011 – The United Nations special envoy on maritime piracy off the coast of Somalia today proposed the setting up of two special courts inside the country and one in Tanzania to try suspected pirates, saying the problem in the Indian Ocean was getting out of hand and required “strong and decisive action.”

Jack Lang, the Special Adviser on Legal Issues related to Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, said the international community should work towards “Somaliazation” of responses to piracy by helping local authorities in the regions of Puntland and Somaliland to enhance their judicial and prison capacities in order to prosecute and jail captured pirates.

In his report to the Security Council, Mr. Lang also proposed the establishment, for a transitional period, of a Somali “extraterritorial jurisdiction court’ in the northern Tanzania town of Arusha to deal with piracy cases.

He told the Council, as well as a news conference following the meeting, that the raiders who seize ships and sailors and demand huge ransoms are becoming “masters of the Indian Ocean” with their increasingly sophisticated means of carrying out the criminal actions.

The international component of the cost to train judges, prosecutors, lawyers, prison guards is “essential,” Mr. Lang said, adding that the UN, the African Union, the European Union and other organizations should contribute.

The cost of the measures he has proposed is estimated at about $25 million, a “relatively modest” expense compared to the estimated $7 billion which he said was the cost of piracy.

This seems like a reasonable start, although I think the details are crucial. Nor is this a complete solution, since we are talking about two courts (and two prisons).  But in combination with self-help measures, and perhaps loosening the rules of engagement for naval forces defending against pirates, the courts can certainly help.  Locating a court in Somalia seems a good idea, hopefully it won’t become another NGO boondoggle.


4 Responses

  1. What a great idea! is it part of a re-employment program for international judges. I wonder if also a victims unit will be set up as perhaps some seafarer has been sexually harassed. I suppose the first decision will be on jurisdiction as an international or internationalized court isn’t such if doesn’t first affirm its “Kompetenz Kompetenz”! this is part of the initiation ceremony of any to some extent international court. Then expert witness will be provided on the causes of piracy and the existence of an international or non international conflict ongoung in Somalia. Several former or re-emplyied international judges will provide their “amicus curiae brief” expecially on topics like JCE concept and piracy (judges of neigbour courts can do so). What a nightmare! it would be so simple if each State making the capture would exercise its jurisdiction! is there some one doubting that any national court would do a better job!  

  2. Jack Lang has recommended one of the least expensive of the seven options put forward by the Secretary General.  Indeed a national court might be well-situated to address these issues and the Court in Mombasa had been doing just that until the Kenyan High Court determined it did not have jurisdiction to preside over piracy charges occurring outside Kenya’s territorial waters.  One concern with trying pirates in the U.S., South Korea, Malasia, etc., aside from cost, is the potential for asylum claims from the pirates.  The Somaliland, Puntland and Tanzania courts could be more cost efficient answer, but the potential for graft should also be considered.

  3. That’s the point Archipirata,
    by helding pirates and armed robbers under custody under the responsibility of a something in ternational Court sitting extraterritorially somewhere prevents them from claiming asylum … because the host State will have no jurisdiction/responsibility if ever under the 1951 Geneva Convention. Simply you place them in a legal guantanamo outside the reach of any reasonable State jurisdiction. The problem doesn’t exist only for the USA or Korea. Old Europe isn’t willing (apart from some exceptions in which national interests were hit) to prosecute pirates, because Government aren’t willing to explain their electors why they doesn’t have already enough illigal migrants claiming asylum and they felt the need to take some more home from the Horn of Africa. And all prison systems are overcrowded. And all these Somalis unfortunately will meet the requirement of the convention on stateless people! Kenya was a good interim solution for the above problem, but lack of jurisdiction was highly predictable. I suppose also the more strict provisions on arrest and judicial review in the new Kenyan Constitution should have been considered timely as a signal that pirate dumping would have come to a stop. Now there are several judges chopping out from the ICC, ad litem judged and so on and they are not willing to attend a resocialization program in order to be able to survive non longer being paid a 560K$ a year. It is easier to lobby for another international (Barnum styled) court/tribunal. And goverments feel it easier to explain that’s a great step forward. After tre years we will see the first Somali lubanga sitting in front of our new court with judges wearing pink (there is a color turnation established by the U.N.). Then we will see the usual problems on discosure of intelligence provided to a nice prosecutor whose face we have already seen somewhere else. But perhaps piracy will be affected by the next closure of the Suez channel!     

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