Kenyan Ready to Start Hearing Piracy Cases Again?

In November 2010, the Kenyan High Court in Mombasa ruled that Kenyan courts did not have jurisdiction to try the crime of piracy. As I have previously noted, the case followed on the the Kenyan Foreign Minister’s assertion that, “We discharged our international obligation. Others shied away from doing so. And we cannot bear the burden of the international responsibility.” The Kenyan Director of Public Prosecutions, is now appealing the High Court decision. Special Prosecutor Patrick Kiage asserts that Kenyan courts derive their jurisdiction from international law, which declares piracy an international crime and that “Under international law, suspected pirates can be charged in any country where they are captured.”

The timing of this appeal is striking as it follows two separate attacks on tourists near Kenya’s border with Somalia, potentially devastating Kenya’s tourist industry. The two recent attacks near Lamu, Kenya (see map) were committed on Kenyan territory. Therefore, even if the High Court’s ruling were to stand, the acts could be prosecuted as murder, kidnapping, armed robbery, assault, or other such crimes under Kenyan national law. Nonetheless, as attacks affect more than just commercial shipping interests (which are in any case insured) and start to affect economic interests closer to home, Kenya will have more of an incentive to advertise its diligence in prosecuting pirates, whether for attacks in its own territory or in international waters.

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