Ali post-script – Potential Rehearing en banc

As readers will note from the last two posts, the Federal Court of Appeals in Washington DC ruled in US v. Ali, that piracy may include aiding and abetting committed from shore (i.e. not on the high seas). As per custom, a three-judge panel issued this ruling. Ali’s attorney has now filed a Petition for Rehearing en banc (by the entire court). Federal Courts of Appeal are reluctant to grant rehearing en banc because of the drain on judicial resources. This is especially true in the DC Circuit which has only granted rehearing in a single case in each of the last few terms. Nonetheless, the DC Circuit has indicated some interested in Ali’s petition for rehearing as last week it ordered the government to respond. Rehearing of the case could result in the same or different outcome. But it would also raise the profile of the case for possible hearing at the US Supreme Court.

The DC Circuit’s Ali Decision

DC Circuit Court of Appeals

DC Circuit Court of Appeals

On June 11, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia decided the case of United States of America v. Ali Mohamed Ali, a case about which I have written extensively. This post will provide a brief factual and procedural background of the case, briefly discuss the DC Circuit’s treatment of three of the four charges against Ali, and explain how and why the court rejected my argument about a high seas requirement for facilitators of piracy.

Background

Ali Mohamed Ali, the Minister of Education for the semi-autonomous Somali region of Somaliland, negotiated the release of eleven hostages aboard the Bahamian-flagged, Danish-owned merchant vessel CEC Future. Regrettably, in the era of piracy off the Horn of Africa, this is not an uncommon occurrence. What is interesting about Ali’s case, however, is that he negotiated the ransom from Somali territorial waters, never facilitating while on the high seas. Nonetheless, the United States government built a case against him, planned a fairly elaborate ruse to invite Ali to an education conference in North Carolina, and arrested him on the tarmac when his plane touched down in Washington, D.C. on April 20, 2011.

After a number of superseding indictments, a grand jury charged Ali with conspiracy to commit piracy, aiding and abetting piracy, conspiracy to commit hostage taking, and aiding and abetting hostage taking. Ali filed a motion to dismiss and was successful on a number of counts, with the lower court dismissing the conspiracy to commit piracy count, narrowing the aiding and abetting count to acts of facilitation that occurred on the high seas, and dismissing both hostage taking charges as a violation of due process.

On appeal, the DC Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the conspiracy to commit piracy charge, but reversed the dismissal of the hostage taking charges and held that the United States may assert universal jurisdiction over acts of facilitation that take place entirely within the territory of another state.

Conspiracy to Commit Piracy and Hostage Taking Charges

Of the four charges considered by the court, three were relatively uncontroversial. In affirming the lower court’s dismissal of the conspiracy to commit piracy charge, the court relied on the Charming Betsy canon, concluding that because “UNCLOS [art. 101]’s plain language does not include conspiracy to commit piracy,” the government cannot charge conspiracy to commit piracy “as defined by the law of nations.”

As for the hostage taking charges, Ali’s principle argument was that asserting universal jurisdiction over hostage taking – a non-UJ offense – the government violated Ali’s right to due process under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. constitution. However, the court concluded that the Hostage Taking Convention provided global notice that an alleged hostage taker could be haled into court. That, combined with the fact that 18 USC § 1203, the American hostage taking statute, asserts jurisdiction over all offenders “found in the United States,” was enough to sustain Ali’s hostage taking charges. This section contains some interesting discussion of the relationship between United States and international law, but it remains to the side of what I believe the most interesting aspect of the Ali case: whether universal jurisdiction exists over facilitators of piracy who never leave the territorial jurisdiction of a state.

Aiding and Abetting Piracy

In considering whether “piracy as defined by the law of nations” allows for universal jurisdiction prosecutions over territorial facilitators, the court considered the text of UNCLOS art. 101, the context provided by surrounding provisions, as well as the relevant drafting history. Though it did not consider the underlying policy implications of criminalizing piracy, the structure of the court’s argument closely mirrored that from my law review article. However, the similarities between our analyses went no further.

The court begins with a textual analysis of art. 101, which takes only three sentences and is re-printed in full here:

Explicit geographical limits – ‘on the high seas’ and ‘outside the jurisdiction of any state’ – govern piratical acts under article 101(a)(i) and (ii). Such language is absent, however, in article 101(c), strongly suggesting a facilitative act need not occur on the high seas so long as its predicate act has. So far, so good; Charming Betsy poses no problems.[1]

Although the court could have ended its analysis there, it turned to Ali’s contextual arguments concerning arts. 86 and 105, introducing the relevant Part in UNCLOS and describing states’ power to capture pirates, respectively. Regarding art. 86, the court concluded that it was not meant to limit the provisions of the Part to high seas acts, but rather to explicate the meaning of “high seas” for the purposes of the Part. As for art. 105, the court explained that “the provision’s reference to the high seas highlights the broad authority of nations to apprehend pirates even in international waters.” The court further asserted that Ali’s argument that art. 105 limits universal jurisdiction captures to the high seas “proves too much, leaving nations incapable of prosecuting even those undisputed pirates they discover within their own borders.”

Finally, the court considered UNCLOS’s drafting history, or, as it phrased the inquiry, the “drafting history’s drafting history.”  The court traced UNCLOS back to the 1932 Harvard Draft Convention’s explicit pronouncement that acts of facilitation must take place on the high seas to be subject to universal jurisdiction. The court found this evidence unpersuasive, stating that, “[e]ffectively, Ali would have us ignore UNCLOS’s plain meaning in favor of eighty-year-old scholarship that may have influenced a treaty that includes language similar to UNCLOS art. 101. This is a bridge too far.”  Indeed, the court stated that it would not completely address the drafting history, as the plain meaning of UNCLOS art. 101(c) was clear.

The court concluded that UNCLOS art. 101, and by extension 18 USC § 1651, and by further extension 18 USC § 2, all allow for universal jurisdiction prosecutions for acts of piratical facilitation which take place entirely with another state’s borders.

In the end, the D.C. Circuit’s analysis and my own departed ways at the very beginning, perhaps even before.  In conceptualizing piratical facilitation as a form of liability distinct from piracy rather than piracy in and of itself, the court was able to resolve the textual argument in one short paragraph. From there, the court sought independent justifications for the limitation in the context and drafting history, where I looked to the context, drafting history, and underlying policy rationale to resolve the ambiguous language.


[1] Omitting the internal citation to the general proposition that inclusion of language in one section of a statute and exclusion in another should be taken as purposeful.

Kiobel Postscript

Further to my earlier analysis here, there was one other remarkable detail in the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Kiobel. Although, the opinion in Kiobel was devoted to the application of the Alien Tort Statute, it injected some confusion into a strictly piracy matter. Citing to Blackstone’s definition of piracy the court majority noted, “the offence of piracy by common law, consists of committing those acts of robbery and depredation upon the high seas, which, if committed upon land, would have amounted to a felony there.” This is an outdated definition of piracy inconsistent with the law of nations. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has held in two recent opinions that piracy does not require an intent to rob (animus furandi) because the piracy statute 18 USC 1651 incorporates modern developments in “the law of nations” including the customary definition of piracy in Article 101 on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Only a few months ago, the Supreme Court declined to hear these two cases, thereby taking no view on whether the definition of piracy has been updated by modern developments. By now citing to Blackstone’s definition in the Kiobel opinion, however, the court has muddied the waters.

Piracy – Not just Kiobel’s Analogy

Justice Kennedy – the deciding vote in Kiobel

Cross-posted at opiniojuris.org

The majority opinion in Kiobel precludes Alien Tort Statute claims for foreign conduct against foreign victims, leaving a small door for potential future claims that involve extraterritorial conduct so long as they touch and concern US territorial interests. But, when does a claim “touch and concern” the territory of the United States? Roger Alford notes that piracy may present an incident of “cross-border” conduct that could clarify this issue. Indeed, two piracy cases will imminently arrive at SCOTUS’ courthouse steps.

The piracy statute 18 USC 1651 shares much in common with the Alien Tort Statute: both were passed in the same time frame and both have reference to “the law of nations.” The presumption against extraterritoriality applies to 18 USC 1651. However, the plain language of the piracy statute and its historical context clearly rebut the presumption for all conduct that occurs on the high seas. Further, neither the victim nor the defendant need be American (U.S. v. Klintock). That said, there remains an important subset of piracy cases that involve conduct both on the high seas and within the territory of another sovereign: acts of aiding and abetting piracy through financing or negotiating ransoms for acts of piracy; or recruiting of child pirates.

In US v. Shibin (4th Circuit) and US v. Ali (DC Circuit), currently on appeal, the underlying criminal conduct of hijacking vessels occurred on the high seas. But, the negotiators in these cases only boarded the vessels upon entry into Somali territorial waters. Hence the mixed loci delecti on the high seas and within the territory of another state. Does this type of mixed conduct touch and concern the territory of the United States?

First, the plain language of the piracy statute would not rebut the presumption against extraterritoriality for conduct occurring within the territory of another state (the statute merely applies to conduct on the “high seas”). However, the historical context of the piracy statute indicates that it was intended to prevent impunity for acts of piracy wherever committed. That is why the modern definition of piracy applies to conduct outside the jurisdiction of any state, as well as to the high seas.

Here is where a case-by-case analysis, suggested in Part IV of the Kiobel majority, could be determinative. In Shibin, the defendant is accused of negotiating the ransom of two vessels. The first vessel has a strong nexus to US interests; the victims were American nationals and the targeted vessel was flagged in the US. Although a vessel’s flag does not designate its surface as territory of the sovereign, it is treated in much the same fashion (Lauritzen v. Larsen) which is to say that there are strong domestic interests in exercising jurisdiction over acts of piracy on one’s flagged vessels. But the second course of conduct charged in Shibin involves a vessel with no links to the US apart from a general interest in suppressing acts of piracy. The same is true in Ali. As the district court described the case: “Defendant Ali Mohamed Ali, a Somali citizen, is accused of helping Somali pirates hijack a Bahamian ship, hold its Russian, Georgian, and Estonian crew hostage, and compel the ship’s Danish owners to pay a ransom for its release.” These latter facts would not prevent the exercise of jurisdiction if the alleged criminal conduct occurred on the high seas. The question is whether aiding and abetting conduct occurring within the territory of another state must touch and concern US interests. If answered in the affirmative, it would curtail the US’s ability to suppress and prosecute acts of piracy, which is contrary to the historical purpose and intent of 18 USC 1651. It would also be inefficient as those who initiate an act of piracy on the high seas and continue acts of piracy in foreign territorial waters could only be prosecuted for the former conduct.

One significant factor Kiobel instructs to consider is the imperative to avoid enmeshing US courts in foreign affairs. In this regard, the specific facts of the Somali cases militate in favour of exercising jurisdiction. For the then Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia did not have effective control over the territorial waters where these acts of piracy occurred. The UN Security Council authorized States and regional organizations “to undertake all necessary measures that are appropriate in Somalia, for the purpose of suppressing acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea,” including in its territorial sea. The UNSC took great pains to note the TFG retained full sovereignty, that these exceptional measures did not create customary international law, and that they were authorized because the TFG had requested this assistance. It has been argued that the UNSC Resolutions authorized enforcement and stopped short of authorizing the prosecution of acts of piracy or armed robbery in Somalia’s territorial waters. Notwithstanding these provisos, the interest in preventing “unintended clashes between our laws and those of other nations which could result in international discord” (Morrison) that lies at the heart of the presumption against extraterritoriality, is greatly diminished in these piracy cases.

Justice Kennedy notes in his concurrence in Kiobel that in disputes not involving solely extraterritorial conduct, “the proper implementation of the presumption against extraterritorial application may require some further elaboration and explanation.” Although the majority appears to exceptionalize piracy (“pirates may well be a category unto themselves”), such a reading is inconsistent with Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain which explicitly asked “who are today’s pirates?” The terms “pirate” or “piracy” appear in the various opinions in Kiobel 50 times. Perhaps it is time to address piracy directly, and not merely by analogy. Such could elucidate the “touch and concern” requirement applicable in ATS cases.

Book Review: The Pirate Organization – Lessons from the Fringes of Capitalism

The Pirate Organization_Cover_Harvard Business Review Press

What do the following have in common: the pirates of the high seas, the pirates of the radio airwaves in post-World War II’s Britain, as well as modern day internet cyberpirates and DNA bio-pirates? and how do they affect capitalism?

In “The Pirate Organization – Lessons from the Fringes of Capitalism”, Rodolphe Durand and Jean-Philippe Vergne take us beyond the traditional idea of pirate as solitary anarchists hunting down capitalism and argue that they all share a consistent series of traits, roles, tactics and goals which bring them to organize into groups, ad hoc communities where “alternative norms of social interaction and economic exchange are designed” and ultimately spread across a broader social realm. More importantly, despite their shorter life-expectancy, these “pirate organizations” manage to profoundly alter our society, particularly through their impact on today’s capitalism, driving its growth and evolution.

“The pirate organization is a social group that controls people, resources, channels of communication, and modes of transportation (for people, goods, capitals, or just information). It maintains trade relations with other communities, other groups, sometimes other states, and often legitimate companies. To reach its goals, it develops new strategies that favor speed and surprise. Its goal is to adapt and improvise, to develop the appropriate means to deal with its enemy. In order to protect itself, it operates from hidden locales outside a sovereign territory. To grow, it appeals to a desire for discovery; it seeks to control parts of a territory and claims certain rights to it. To attract recruits, it plays up its outsider status, and it makes change seem possible.  As long as the state strengthens its hold on norms, the pirate organization is ensured a flood of new members who feel marginalized by society.”

The Pirate Organization explores the quasi-symbiotic, often conflicting relationship between the pirate organization and capitalism. It takes us on a journey through unchartered territories, be it the high seas, the radio waves or internet and DNA. From the advent of the sovereign state to globalism, piracy has proven to be a transcendent force and the pirate organization has thus become a necessary counterpart to capitalism.

“Are pirates simple bandits or counterfeiters? Enemies of humanity? Defenders of a public cause? Agents of capitalist normalization? Oftentimes, they are all those things together.”

The Pirate Organization does not attempt to trivialize piracy or portrait pirates as heroes of our society acting as seeming iconoclasts of the wrongs of capitalism. It focuses on those pirate organizations pursuing novel, at times radical, values which impact on the norms of a society. Thus, it excludes modern day Somali pirates, in light of their violent banditry and merely profit oriented business model. The opposite interpretation, however, could also be true. Albeit unwittingly, pirates in Somalia exposed a lacuna in the implementation of the Convention on the Law of the Sea and in the framework for the prosecution of piracy at the national level. They drove the international community, in attempting to mitigate piracy impact on global trade, to initiate a comprehensive process of judicial reform and inter-state cooperation.  They also confirmed the frailties of failed States and their effect on local communities which will hopefully encompass more inclusive social and economic reform at both the national and international level. In the words of the authors, “piracy is not random. It is predictable. And it cannot be separated from capitalism”.

From New Delhi to Rome (and Back) via Hamburg or The Hague: the Enrica Lexie Incident and the UNCLOS Dispute Settlement Mechanism

The Italian Marines upon their initial return in Italy in December 2012. Will they remain for good?

The Italian Marines upon their initial return in Italy in December 2012. Will they remain for good?

The recent decision of the Italian Government not to return two Italian marines to India for trial in connection with the killing of Indian fishermen is heightening tensions between Italy and India and is spawning an international diplomatic fallout. Since its inception, the case attracted much debate and conjecture, both by the media but also by specialized political and legal commentators. We have provided our point of view, for instance here and here. In essence, Italy and India disagree on who has jurisdiction to try the Italian marines. Each of their respective arguments is premised on international law, notably the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, as well as municipal law. India contends that it has jurisdiction to try the marines because (1) the victims were Indian nationals, (2) the victims were killed on an Indian ship and (3)  the incident occurred within India’s Contiguous Zone, which extends beyond its territorial waters. For its part, Italy claims it has jurisdiction to try the pair because (1) they are Italian citizens; (2) they were deployed as a Vessel Protection Detachment on the Italian ship Enrica Lexie and (3) the incident occurred within international waters. Worthy of note is that both countries, separately but concurrently, have indeed initiated criminal proceedings against the marines before their internal judicial systems.

Recently, the Italian government formally clarified that since the issuing of the Indian Supreme Court decision in January 2013 in this matter, indicating that the marines shall be tried by a special chamber set up within the Indian judicial system, it has pursued the cooperation of the Indian government under Articles 100 and 283 of UNCLOS for a settlement of this matter under international law. From a formal point of view, therefore, the actions of the Italian government are an attempt to bring the question of which State has jurisdiction to try the marines within the legal framework of UNCLOS provisions related to the settlement of disputes.

UNCLOS builds on the commitment by all United Nations Members States to settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security are not endangered. In particular, one of the main characteristic of UNCLOS and its dispute settlement system is the possibility for a State Party to unilaterally trigger the compulsory and binding jurisdiction of certain judicial institutions for the resolutions of such disputes. Given UNCLOS comprehensive reach, the range of controversies subject to resolution varies, and includes issues relevant to seabed and maritime delimitation, navigation, fisheries and the environment, etc.

Part XV of UNCLOS requires States Parties to first attempt to settle any dispute between them by peaceful means and seek a solution in compliance with the United Nations Charter (Articles 279-280). Importantly, States Parties can agree to seek the settlement of the dispute by peaceful means of their own choice (Article 281), including recourse to general, regional or bilateral agreements (Article 282). Parties also have an obligation to exchange views on the possible settlement (Article 283) and can decide to submit the dispute to a non-binding conciliation (Article 284). Where, however, no settlement has been reached, UNCLOS stipulates that the dispute must be submitted at the request of either party to the dispute to a court or tribunal having jurisdiction in this regard (Article 286). The relevant rules contained in Part XV of UNCLOS are quite complex and foresee the possibility of seeking relief before different fora, depending on the subject matter of the controversy, also setting forth a series of exceptions and opt-outs. With regard to controversies akin to that concerning the Enrica Lexie incident, Article 287 of UNCLOS defines available courts or tribunals as the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, in Hamburg (ITLOS), or the International Court of Justice, in the Hague (ICJ). In ratifying the UNCLOS, Italy already declared its acceptance of the jurisdiction of either of these institutions as binding, while India reserved its rights to any such declaration. Alternatively, the parties might choose to refer the unsettled dispute to an ad hoc arbitral tribunal. A Party to a dispute not covered by a declaration in force shall be deemed to have accepted arbitration.  If the parties to a dispute have not accepted the same procedure for the settlement of the dispute, this may be submitted to arbitration unless the Parties otherwise agree. Finally, any decision rendered by a court or tribunal having jurisdiction over the dispute shall be final and shall be complied with by all the parties to the dispute (Article 296).

Arguably, the positions of the two States on this matter have not been more discordant. Italy’s sudden decision not to return its marines to India is premised on a change in circumstances following the perceived lack of cooperation by the Indian authorities in resolving the dispute in accordance with international law. This in itself is considered by the Italian government as a dispute on the scope of application of UNCLOS. The Indian government, on the other hand, has reacted strongly and called the Italian decision “unacceptable”. The Indian Supreme Court is currently precluding the Italian Ambassador, who acted as a guarantor for the return of the marines to India, from leaving the country. While it is unclear whether the Italian Ambassador has any immediate intention to leave India, the Indian Supreme Court should be cognizant of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961) which provides in Article 29 that the person of a diplomatic agent shall be inviolable. The Indian Supreme Court appears to misconstrue the Italian ambassador as a personal guarantor for the return of the marines, rather than a diplomatic agent of the Italian government. The two states maintain irreconcilable positions. India needs Italy to return the marines back on its soil to eventually commence a meaningful trial before its courts, while Italy needs India to comply with its international rogatory requests to complete its investigations into the matter, thus relaxing the jurisdictional dispute by bringing the marines to trial before its own courts.

ITLOS sits in Hamburg - Is the Enrica Lexie Case on its way there? Courtesy ITLOS

ITLOS sits in Hamburg – Is the Enrica Lexie Case on its way there? Courtesy ITLOS

The recent adjudication by the International Court of Justice in the Hissène Habré case provides useful guidance on the expected complexities of instances where the Parties cannot agree to settle their differences. The judgment of the Court in this case, particularly the findings concerning its admissibility, reveals several years of diplomatic exchanges between Belgium, which petitioned the Court, and Senegal, which was accused of neither prosecuting nor extraditing Mr. Habré, the former President of Chad, based on violations of the Convention Against Torture. The ICJ decision in Habre includes, in the first place, lengthy discussions on whether a disagreement occurred among the Parties, whether this could not be settled by them and whether the jurisdiction of the Court had been triggered.

Paradoxically, the divergences between Italy and India might facilitate recourse to compulsory jurisdiction with ITLOS or the ICJ. The route between New Delhi and Rome in the resolution of the Enrica Lexie incident therefore might  pass through Hamburg or The Hague. The voyage is far from clear and it will continue to be a perilous one.

The “Private Ends” Requirement of UNCLOS in the 9th Circuit: Are Sea Shepherds Pirates?

Sea Sheperd Conservation Society Vessel

The United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit recently discussed the “private ends” requirement of the crime of piracy under international law.  In Cetacean v. Sea Shepherds, Judge Kozinski reversed the lower court and enjoined the Sea Shepherds, an international non-profit, marine wildlife conservation organization, from coming within 500 meters of any Japanese whaling vessels.  Judge Kozinski held that Sea Shepherds satisfied the “private ends” requirement of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and that they could accordingly be considered pirates under international law, regardless of their political and non-pecuniary motivation.    According to Judge Kozinski:

“You don’t need a peg leg or an eye patch. When you ram ships; hurl glass containers of acid; drag metal-reinforced ropes in the water to damage propellers and rudders; launch smoke bombs and flares with hooks; and point high-powered lasers at other ships, you are, without a doubt, a pirate, no matter how high-minded you believe your purpose to be.” (p. 2).

Scholars interested in the field of maritime piracy have been most fascinated by Judge Kozinski’s discussion of the “private ends” requirement.  Many have already debated Judge Kozinski’s determination that Sea Shepherds could be considered pirates under UNCLOS, with both enthusiasm and disagreement.  Eugene Kontorovich on Volokh Conspiracy agreed with Judge Kozinski and argued that the relevant distinction under UNCLOS is between private ends committed by private parties, and other acts committed by governments.  Thus, according to Kontorovich,

“It does not turn on whether the actor’s motives are pecuniary, political, operating under mistake of fact, or simply insane. Private ends are those ends held by private parties. The converse is also true: a government-owned ship in government service cannot commit piracy even if it attacks another vessel solely to enrich itself.”

According to Kontorovich, as long as the Sea Shepherds were acting as private parties, and not governmental agents, their actions would satisfy the “private ends” requirement, despite the fact that the Sea Shepherds’ goals may be purely political (“private” clearly means ‘non-governmental,’ rather than selfish or not selfish”).   Kevin Jon Heller on Opinio Juris disagreed, and argued instead that the “private ends” requirement of UNCLOS excludes all politically motivated acts, not simply those committed by governments or governmental agents.  According to Heller,

“politically-motivated acts of violence on the high seas were not traditionally considered piracy under international law, but were instead simply criminal acts that the offended state could prosecute as it saw fit.”

Pursuant to Heller’s argument, as long as the Sea Shepherds were acting toward a political goal, their actions could not satisfy the “private ends” requirement and they could not be considered pirates under UNCLOS.  Both Kontorovich and Heller would apparently agree that the Shepherds’ acts could be considered acts of maritime violence under the SUA Convention.

Finally, Jon Bellish on EjilTalk! acknowledged the debate between Kontorovich and Heller, and noted that both positions had significant support in the drafting history of UNCLOS and in other international law documents.  Bellish also argued that the question of what exactly the “private ends” requirement constitutes today was more nuanced than either Kontorovich or Heller seem to acknowledge:

“The outer bounds of the private ends requirement are relatively clear. On one end, proving animus furandi – or the intention to steal for personal pecuniary gain – is not required to satisfy the private ends requirement. On the other end, it is undisputed that acts of violence committed on the high seas under state authority fail to satisfy the private ends requirement. But there is significant room between these two extremes. Just exactly where the line should be drawn between these two extremes, and on which side of that line the Sea Shepherds fall, is a more difficult issue.”

Bellish concludes by agreeing with Kontorovich, and Judge Kozinski.  Bellish notes that if one were to adopt a narrow interpretation of the “private ends” requirement and to inquire in each instance about the perpetrator’s subjective intent (whether it was private/pecuniary or political), then one would have to exclude acts of Somali “pirates” from piracy, because their alleged motivation was announced as protecting their waters from illegal fishing exploitation and environmental dumping.

While it is difficult to disagree with this argument, it is equally difficult to conclude that Sea Shepherds easily fit within the traditional paradigm of piracy.  They do not.  Their goals truly are political and non-pecuniary, and their intent belongs more in the “political” category rather than the “private” one.  The Ninth Circuit may have adopted a too formalistic approach and a too wide reading of UNCLOS in holding that they were pirates.  When interpreting UNCLOS, modern-day judges may need to resort to a more flexible approach.  Instead of adopting a strict private/public distinction when interpreting the “private ends” requirement, it would be possible for judges to adopt a presumption that private parties act for private ends, unless such parties can demonstrate convincingly that their acts had a bona fide political purpose.  Under this approach, Sea Shepherds, as private parties, would first be classified as acting for private ends, but presumably they would be able to demonstrate that their purpose is purely political.  Sea Shepherds are not pirates, although their acts of violence at sea may be reprehensible.  Kevin Jon Heller, in the above-mentioned post, quoted the following language, from an essay by His Excellency Jose Luis Jesus, a judge on the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea:

“This requirement seems to exclude sheer politically motivated acts directed at ships or their crew from the definition of piracy. In the past the issue of whether a politically motivated act was a piratical act drew substantial support from some publicists and governments. The piracy rules, specifically tailored to handle piratical acts, were in the past stretched in their interpretation and application by some national jurisdiction and by some commentators to also cover, by default, other unlawful, politically related, acts against ships and persons on board, such as terrorist acts….Today, however, especially after the adoption of the SUA Convention, it would appear to be a lost cause to continue insisting on considering such a politically-motivated act as piracy. If, in the past, politically-motivated acts of violence or depredation against ships and persons aboard, short of being piracy, were left out of the international regulatory system, as it were, today they are covered by Article 3 of the said SUA Convention.  Likewise, the ‘private ends’ criterion seems to exclude acts of violence and depredation exerted by environmentally-friendly groups or persons, in connection with their quest for marine environment protection. This seems to be clearly a case in which the “private ends’’ criterion seems to be excluded. “

I agree with Judge Jesus, and Kevin Jon Heller, and would encourage courts to adopt a more flexible approach in their interpretation of the “private ends” requirement.

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