Specialized Chambers to Prosecute Kingpins – Long promised

The Regional Anti-Piracy Prosecution and Intelligence Coordination Centre whose objective is to  create sustainable regional capability and capability to undermine the piracy business model by bringing pirate leaders, financiers and enablers to justice

The Regional Anti-Piracy Prosecution and Intelligence Coordination Centre (RAPPICC) in Seychelles, the objective of which is to undermine the piracy business model by bringing pirate leaders, financiers and enablers to justice

As we have reported here, here, and here, the UN Security Council has long expressed its interest in the creation of specialized chambers to prosecute pirates in the East African region. On 18 November 2013, the UN Security Council again raised the prospect of creating such chambers (Resolution 2125), following the UN Secretary General’s report on piracy off the coast of Somalia of 21 October 2013 (UNSG Report), which Matteo analysed here. This comes on the heels of a donor conference at which substantial funds were pledged to assist Somalia. It also comes as the failure to prosecute pirate kingpins has become increasingly conspicuous.


In October 2011, the UN Security Council decided in Resolution 2015: “to continue its consideration, as a matter of urgency, without prejudice to any further steps to ensure that pirates are held accountable, of the establishment of specialized anti-piracy courts in Somalia and other States in the region with substantial international participation and/or support,” and requested the UN Secretary General to report on the modalities for the creation of such specialized chambers. The UNSG provided his report in January 2012 indicating the costs and estimated capacity of creating specialized chambers in several regional states and regions of Somalia, including Kenya, Tanzania, Seychelles, Mauritius, Puntland and Somaliland. Since that time, prosecutions have indeed continued in each of these countries, with some (mainly Kenya and Seychelles) bearing the burden. However, no specialized chambers have been created to date.

Backlog of Cases

The UNSG Report notes that 53 suspects are currently on remand for trial as pirates in Mauritius, Kenya and Seychelles. This is despite the significant contribution of the international community into prosecution and incarceration of pirates in the regular court systems of states such as Kenya, Mauritius and Seychelles, the most prominent being UNODC’s counter-piracy programme valued at $60 million. Resolution 2125 laments that “the continuing limited capacity and domestic legislation to facilitate the custody and prosecution of suspected pirates after their capture has hindered more robust international action against the pirates.” This translates to a backlog of cases in the judiciaries relied upon by the international community to prosecute such cases. As compared with regular criminal courts in these countries which suffer from significant backlogs, it is hoped that specialized piracy chambers with particularized knowledge of piracy cases would permit more efficient prosecutions.

Reduction but threat of resurgence

Apart from the persistent backlog of cases for past pirate attacks, the UNSG and UNSC indicate that the conditions are ripe for attacks to surge once again. While acknowledging the significant reduction of pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia, Resolution 2125 warns that this situation is reversible. More specifically, the UNSG concludes that “the situation with regard to the rule of law, security, development and governance in Somalia that has allowed piracy to arise has not changed sufficiently so as to deter criminals from attacking ships and holding seafarers hostage for ransom. Pirate attacks may increase if the international naval presence is reduced or if commercial vessels relax their self-protection measures.” He further estimates that due to the proceeds already collected from prior ransoms, pirates retain the capacity to attack vessels.  Finally, he indicates that “several pirate financiers are engaging in other criminal activities as well and that they have built significant paramilitary capacities on land, and thus have the potential to destabilize the region.” In short, the UNSG appears to call for continued action on piracy until pirate criminal enterprises have been dismantled. This would keep the international community busy for the foreseeable future.

Kingpins the focus

Resolution 2125 and the UNSG report discuss all pirate perpetrators, but the clear focus of both is on pirate kingpins, the failure to prosecute such high-level perpetrators, and the dangers this creates for the broader goal of stabilizing Somalia. The UNSG notes that “neither the Government of Somalia nor the Puntland administration nor any other local authority had seriously investigated and prosecuted any senior pirate leaders, financiers, negotiators or facilitators, and that the leadership of the principal piracy networks and their associates continued to enjoy impunity and had not been hindered in their ability to travel or transfer funds.” Resolution 2125 emphasizes that if specialized piracy courts are created, they must have jurisdiction over “anyone who incites or intentionally facilitates piracy operations, including key figures of criminal networks involved in piracy who plan, organize, facilitate, or illicitly finance or profit from such attack.” The focus is clear.

As we noted here, the identities of pirate kingpins are well-known. The difficulty has been tracing proceeds, obtaining evidence, and bringing that evidence to court (and likely gaining custody of the Accused). There have been efforts to foster international cooperation to prosecute pirates. Notably, the Regional Anti-Piracy Prosecution & Intelligence Coordination Centre (RAPPICC) in Seychelles promises to “bring together experts from around the world to share intelligence and information which will help to tackle the king-pins and financiers of piracy.” Yet, despite the significant international resources brought to bear on anti-piracy operations, including the deployment of navies and international assistance for local prosecutions, pirate kingpins have not been brought to justice.

Indeed the creation of such chambers could have little purpose, but for the prosecution of pirate kingpins considering (1) there are few new arrests of pirates as reported attacks are insubstantial and (2) it is completely unfeasible to prosecute low level offenders who have been caught and released since the evidence against them is destroyed as a matter of course (see Matteo’s post here). Perhaps the rationale behind supporting the specialized piracy chambers is that a complex prosecution of a pirate financier and pirate leader will be more feasible in a court with particularized knowledge and resources devoted to such trials.


To date, there appears to be a split in the UNSC on the issue of specialized piracy chambers, with some enthusiastically supporting the idea and others permitting its exploration but little else. In Resolution 2125, the UNSC notes with appreciation the substantial pledges of support at a recent donor conference for Somalia and reiterates its decision to continue to consider the establishment of “specialized anti-piracy courts in Somalia and other States in the region with substantial international participation and/or support.” Perhaps because donors have been forthcoming, the UNSC has chosen to re-launch the 2011 idea of specialized chambers. The UNSC also requests states including Somalia and other states in the region to report back on on their efforts to establish jurisdiction and cooperation in the investigation and prosecution of piracy.” Since specialized piracy chambers have been discussed for over two years with only a feasibility study to show for it, whether such chambers will come to fruition is uncertain. Particularly as pirate attacks are at a low ebb, donors may be reluctant to shell out cash for such a focused activity especially outside of Somalia (such as in Kenya and Seychelles) when Somalia is in dire need of funds in all sectors of its government.

Report From the Piracy Contact Group, Working Group 2, Meeting in Copenhagen

Private Security Guards

Cross-posted at international law girls.

In my capacity as an independent academic, as well as a representative of the prominent non-governmental organization, the Public International Law and Policy Group, I had the honor of attending the 12th meeting of the United Nations Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, Working Group 2, meeting in Copenhagen, on April 10-11.  I will take this opportunity to briefly summarize some of the key legal issues that were discussed in Copenhagen.

First, many nations seem to be moving in favor of authorizing the use of private security guards on board their merchant vessels.  The use of such private security guards is controversial, and many in the international community feel a general sense of discomfort any times states delegate their traditional duties to private entities.  Others have expressed the view that the use of private security guards on board merchant vessels should be allowed only under strictly delineated guidelines and rules on the use of force.  Contrary to popular belief, such guidelines and rules exist already.  Several International Maritime Organization Circulars provide guidance on matters related to the employment of private security personnel on board merchant vessels.  The Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO) has drafted and made publicly available a standard employment contract between a shipping company and private security providers.  BIMCO has also issued specific Guidance on the Rule of the Use of Force, which suggest under which circumstances private security personnel may use force, including lethal force, against suspected pirates.  The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) issued additional Guidance for private security personnel on board ships, as well as a pro forma contract.  Finally, the Montreux Document provides international law rules applicable to the conduct of private security providers during armed conflict.  Although this Document most likely does not apply to the Somali piracy context because of the absence of armed conflict, it nonetheless sheds light on the international community’s consensus regarding the international law responsibilities of private security providers, operating in a domain otherwise reserved to state powers.

In addition to the above-mentioned guidance, international treaty law provides rules regarding the master of a ship’s duties on the high seas, in a situation where a merchant vessel may be under attack by suspected pirates, regardless of the presence of private security contractors on board.  It is clear under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea as well as under the SUA Convention that the master of a ship retains authority on board his or her vessel, that the master may order any private security personnel to cease using force against suspected pirates at any time, and that the delegation of power from the master to the private security personnel during a piracy incident is temporary.   The general sentiment in Copenhagen was that numerous existing guidelines, principles, and treaty law obligations apply to any use of private security personnel on board merchant vessels, and that states have plenty to work with when determining whether and how to authorize the use of private security on board their own vessels.

Second, states remain concerned with legal issues related to the treatment of juvenile pirates (I had previously reported on this issue from the last Working Group 2 meeting in September 2012).   In order to ensure that juvenile pirates are treated according to relevant human rights standards and practices, states have begun developing guidelines on the treatment of juvenile pirates.  Such guidelines include the necessity to segregate juvenile suspects from the general prison population, to provide educational and vocational opportunities for juveniles, and to generally rehabilitate them so that they re-enter society upon their release and engage in legal, as opposed to criminal, activities.  These proposed guidelines will remain the subject of future Working Group 2 meetings.

Third, states remain committed to the post-conviction transfer model: the idea that pirates, if they are successfully prosecuted and convicted in Kenya, the Seychelles, or Mauritius, will be transferred back to Somaliland or Puntland where they will serve their penal sentences.  This model is important for two reasons.  First, it relieves small capacity nations such as the Seychelles and Mauritius from having to detain convicted pirates for long period of time in their own prisons; prosecutorial nations can, under this model, accept more suspected pirates because they will not run out of detention space.  Second and more importantly, the post-conviction transfer model allows pirates to return home – although they will not be immediately freed upon re-entering their native land, they will presumably be reunited with their families through prison visits and return to their own communities after the end of their sentences.  Any post-conviction transfer requires the successful fulfillment of the following criteria: the applicant must be at least 18; he or she must waive any existing appeals (the sentence must be final); he or she must consent to the transfer; all relevant states, including the apprehending state, the transferring state, and the receiving state, must agree to the transfer.  As discussed in Copenhagen, the post-conviction transfer model has been used successfully thus far, and 59 pirates have been transferred to Somaliland and Puntland as of today.

Finally, states have expressed an important concern regarding hostages.  In many instances, pirate hostages spend months in captivity under very difficult conditions.  Once hostages are released, they may be confused, mentally or physically injured, and may have no meaningful way of returning to their home states.  Several states in Copenhagen expressed the view that it is important to create a hostage release program that would maintain contact with released hostages in order to enable them to successfully return to a normal life after captivity.

The work of Working Group 2 thus far has been outstanding.  It demonstrates that states can, through joint legal efforts and cooperation, contribute significantly to the global fight against Somali piracy.

EUCAP NESTOR: Bolstering the Rule of Law to Counter Piracy in the Horn of Africa – Interview with David HAMMOND

David HAMMONDFollowing retirement for the UK Royal Marines as a former frontline operator and then latterly as a naval barrister (Counsel), David Hammond was instructed by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office to be the UK representative and lead lawyer for the planning, establishment and delivery of the €40m European Union’s “NESTOR” Common Security and Defence policy (CSDP) Counter-Piracy Legal Advisory Programme for East Africa. As part of the advance planning team, David gained unique and valuable experience throughout East Africa, including in Somalia and where he led the legal liaison with the Somaliland and Puntland authorities at Ministerial and Attorney-General level. David successfully delivered the NESTOR Legal Advisory Programme, involving the establishment of significant rule of law programmes and which he headed up until June 2012.

As the Horn of Africa slowly progresses from a strategy of immediate counter-piracy to a strategy of post-piracy development, David kindly accepted our invitation to respond to a few questions on NESTOR’s mandate and operation. The following answers are provided on the basis that they are correct to the best of his current knowledge.

• What is EUCAP NESTOR main role in tackling piracy in the Horn of Africa and the Indian Ocean and, in particular, what are its main thematic areas of operation?

As per the EU Council Decision 2012/389/CFSP of 16 July 2012, the objective of EUCAP NESTOR is to assist the development in the Horn of Africa and the Western Indian Ocean States of a self-sustainable capacity for continued enhancement of their maritime security including counter-piracy, and maritime governance. EUCAP NESTOR will have initial geographic focus on Djibouti, Kenya, the Seychelles and Somalia. EUCAP NESTOR will also be deployed in Tanzania, following receipt by the Union of an invitation from the Tanzanian authorities.

In order to achieve the objective, the tasks of EUCAP NESTOR were identified as being:

(a) assist authorities in the region in achieving the efficient organisation of the maritime security agencies carrying out the coast guard function;

(b) deliver training courses and training expertise to strengthen the maritime capacities of the States in the region, initially Djibouti, Kenya and the Seychelles, with a view to achieving self-sustainability in training;

(c) assist Somalia in developing its own land-based coastal police capability supported by a comprehensive legal and regulatory framework;

(d) identify priority equipment capability gaps and provide assistance in addressing them, as appropriate, to meet the objective of EUCAP NESTOR;

(e) provide assistance in strengthening national legislation and the rule of law through a regional legal advisory programme, and legal expertise to support the drafting of maritime security and related national legislation;

(f) promote regional cooperation between national authorities responsible for maritime security;

(g) strengthen regional coordination in the field of maritime capacity building;

(h) provide strategic advice through the assignment of experts to key administrations;

(i) implement mission projects and coordinate donations;

(j) develop and conduct a regional information and communication strategy.

• Why the creation of a mission with such peculiar mandate in the Horn of Africa setting?

At that time, and as far as I was aware, it was determined that in concert with various other on-going counter-piracy initiatives, including military action by EUNAVFOR, established work by EU delegations alongside the IMO, UNODC piracy programme and the likes of the Djibouti Code of Conduct, that a land-based regional programme which imparted expert knowledge and training to judicial, constabulary and other engaged entities throughout the Horn of Africa was the most efficient and effect method of assisting with the suppression of the piracy threat. Bolstering the effectiveness of the rule of law throughout affected areas was also seen as being of key importance in assisting with regional political stability.

Hargeysa Secure Hotel and Compound - Courtesy of David Hammond

Hargeysa Secure Hotel and Compound – Courtesy of David Hammond

• What are, therefore, the main differences in the mandates of EUCAP Nestor and EUNAVFOR and how these coordinate their respective activities?

NESTOR, as described, focuses on the imparting of expert constabulary, judicial, coastguard and logistical knowledge by Member State subject matter experts through training courses. This is separate to, but compliments the military presence provided for by EUNAVFOR alongside the on-going initiatives led by the EU Special Representative for the Horn of Africa.

• What is the current status of EUCAP Nestor deployment and what will be its overall structure and geographic area of operation?

I understand that at the moment staff are currently deployed to three countries: Djibouti (Mission Headquarters), the Republic of the Seychelles and Kenya. They will operate in those countries, plus Somalia and which will be the main focus. Tanzania has been asked to participate but so far has not invited the mission to carry out work there. The mission is mandated to run for 2 years commencing from 16 Jul 2012 and is headed up by Jacques Launay.

• What were the most challenging aspects in EUCAP Nestor set up and preliminary deployment process, given its geographic and thematic breadth?

The lasting memory I have in relation to the initial stages of the pre-deployment planning for the Technical Assessment Mission (TAM) and subsequent drafting of the Concept of Operations which led to the Operational plan (OPLAN), was the positive drive and collegiate Member State political will in Brussels to make the operation work. This meant significant and sustained drafting, revision and constant presentational updates to the Political and Security Committee (PSC) from what was a small team, as set against the enormity of the task which then faced us. This was undertaken in a structured, collegiate and team-focused manner with many long days and nights spent brain-storming the successive issues that arose. This was undertaken with significant levels of professionalism from selected Member State individuals who had previously never before worked together and this often required a ready sense of humour from all of us.

For my part, once deployed in the Horn of Africa, the issue of establishing a new rule of law and legal advisory programme sat with me due to the limited size of the team. The TAM ran for over one month in total and involved multiple visits to five States by all team members. There was continuous ‘hot’ planning, setting up of meetings on the sour of the moment and exploiting every opportunity to meet key in-country stakeholders. It was what I would call “quick and dirty planning and mission development” and which proved most successful.

The biggest challenge was, in my mind, to achieve local buy-in for our mission and its purpose. This meant that I needed to identify and seek out the key decision makers at every stage and convince them of the benefits of the EU mission and especially of the merits of the Legal Advisory Programme.

Meeting with Puntland Attorney General - Courtesy of David Hammond

Meeting with Puntland Attorney General – Courtesy of David Hammond


The most striking mission development work for the Legal Advisory Programme that I undertook, was in Somaliland and Puntland alongside the judicial and ministerial authorities. This included being present at piracy trials in the Garowe court and spending time in discussion with the Attorney General, before going on to meet with the Chief Justice and Minister of Justice and Religious Affairs for Puntland. The issue of extending the rule of law into the coastal areas, as well as support within the IDP camps for education in terms of women’s rights and humanitarian law was of particular note and interest for me. Subsequently, I was able to draft the individual programmes that would assist in some of those areas of articulated need and which was most gratifying. In Somaliland, the essence of the interactions were the same in terms of seeking out areas in which we could assist the authorities with the development of the rule of law through imparting knowledge via training and advisory roles.

• Current available data shows that piracy attacks in Somalia are diminishing. Is this the result of the international community efforts to combat piracy and what impact will this have on the continuation of such efforts, particularly the full implementation of EUCAP Nestor mandate? 

I am informed that the decrease in attacks is due to a variety of factors, including: EUNAVFOR’s ATALANTA operation and other naval operations, greater use of PSCs, greater use of best practices to avoid risks as well as improved information sharing. However, I am informed that this reduction is probably fragile and could be reversed without careful oversight. As such, the environment in which EUCAP NESTOR was envisaged to act has changed, but arguably there is now an even greater need for the mission as the success of reducing piracy at sea has opened the possibility of doing even more to create security and stability on land, which will provide the conditions for a lasting reduction in piracy.

David Hammond can be contacted at:




Drones in Seychelles on Hold

Setbacks to US Drone Program in Seychelles

Setbacks to US Drone Program in Seychelles

Last year, it was reported that the United States was sending drones to the Seychelles for use against militants and pirates.  It appears the drone program in the Seychelles has suffered serious setbacks including crash landings attributed to pilot error.  As a result, drones have been grounded in the Seychelles since April 2012. Apparently, drones have not been gathering information about pirates for much of 2012 – at least not those drones originating from the Seychelles.  Check out the video from the Washington Post by clicking the photo.

Weekly Piracy Review: Costs & Sentencing

As reported here, in October pirates off the coast of Somalia fired at a small boat deployed from the HNLMS Rotterdam as part of its routine patrolling operations. After the ensuing fire-fight and rescue operation, the fishing boat’s captain revealed that he and his crew, along with their ship, had been hijacked off the coast of Oman several weeks earlier. The captain identified six of the people rescued from the water after the fishing boat caught fire as the pirates who took them hostage. Four of those men are now set to be prosecuted for their acts of piracy in Dutch court, as the marines they fired at from the Rotterdam were from the Netherlands. The two remaining suspected pirates were released, as they are minors. Two pirates and six of the original crew-members from the hijacked boat were wounded in this altercation, and one crew-member was killed. Two of the crew from the fishing boat are reportedly missing at this time.

Fifteen pirates were sentenced in the Republic of Seychelles on November 5 after being convicted for acts of piracy in attacking a merchant ship and abducting thirteen Iranian fishermen. The US praised Seychelles for their leadership in prosecuting those suspected of piracy, and reported that there have now been 631 convictions against pirates worldwide, with 98 of those coming from Seychelles. Additionally, 440 suspected pirates are currently facing justice in 21 countries.

After being held by Somali pirates since they were captured last November, two Seychelles fishermen were released early this week. The office of the President in Seychelles confirmed that after extensive effort and negotiations the two hostages had been released. A Somali pirate allegedly reported that a $3 million ransom was paid for their release, but this has not been confirmed. Since February 2009, pirates have hijacked five Seychelles boats, and eleven hostages have been kidnapped and subsequently released.

The Australian Navy sent its newly constructed warship on a 12,000 mile detour around Africa in order to avoid the possibility of being attacked by pirates while travelling through the dangerous waters in the Gulf of Aden. Though it likely would have taken about two weeks and $2 million less for the ship to make its journey from Spain to Australia through the Suez canal, the danger of encountering pirates on that route outweighed concerns regarding the time and expense of moving the ship to Australia. Other options were considered to thwart the possibility of pirate attacks, including sending a Navy frigate alongside the other ship and placing armed mercenaries onboard, but it was decided that the most effective method would simply be to take a safer route. That these measures were considered necessary is a clear indication that the cost of piracy is quite high.

Thursday marked the opening of a two-day Maritime and Coastal Security Africa conference in Cape Town, South Africa. A primary goal of this conference is to discuss better approaches to enhancing cooperation among different nations in the counter-piracy efforts being carried out. This concern arises due to the fact that nearly all African countries are major exporters of oil, and as such there are a large number of merchant vessels carrying valuable cargo all around Africa. These ships are attractive targets for pirates seeking to commandeer the cargo or hijack these ships and their crew for ransom, so the need to police these waters is ever-present.

According to the International Maritime Bureau, as of October 27, there have been 252 attacks and 26 hijackings so far in 2012. There have been 71 incidents, 31 successful hijackings, and 212 hostages taken by Somali pirates. Currently, Somali pirates are reportedly holding nine vessels and 154 hostages.

POST #100 – Developing Consensus on Specialized Piracy Chambers

It is perhaps appropriate that our 100th Post at Communis Hostis Omnium should discuss the issue of a prosecution mechanism and the Jack Lang Report as this was the same topic of our first post in January 2011. From its humble beginnings, this blog has grown in readership and gathered many contributors along the way. We will continue to provide objective analysis of the legal issues surrounding maritime piracy and hope to add some new features. In this regard, today we are introducing a feature called the Weekly Piracy Review which will provide a brief summary of the most important news events of the week and link to relevant analysis where appropriate. Our thanks and welcome to Christine Hentze for taking up this feature. Please continue reading and commenting!

Specialized Piracy Chambers

There appears to be a developing international consensus that something more than national prosecutions of pirates must be pursued in order to address the growing backlog of piracy prosecutions and to reduce the problem of catch and release. That solution appears to be a specialized piracy chamber. A specialized piracy chamber would be a court created within one or more regional states (i.e. Seychelles, Kenya, or possibly Tanzania) and would deal with every piracy prosecution referred thereto. The court would apply that state’s municipal law consistent with the applicable constitutional and statutory framework. Furthermore, the state’s criminal rules of procedure would apply, although specific rules of evidence might need to be adopted in view of its unique mandate. Two sources in particular indicate this is the solution that is gaining support.

The 2011 Digest of United States Practice in International Law (released in July 2012) sets forth the U.S. State Department’ s view as follows:

It is true that suspected pirates have been successfully prosecuted in ordinary courts throughout history. Because of this, the Administration has previously been reluctant to support the idea of creating an extraordinary international prosecution mechanism for this common crime. Instead, the Administration has focused on encouraging regional states to prosecute pirates domestically in their national courts. However, in light of the problems I’ve described to you today, the United States is now willing to consider pursuing some creative and innovative ways to go beyond ordinary national prosecutions and enhance our ability to prosecute and incarcerate pirates in a timely and cost-effective manner. We are working actively with our partners in the international community to help set the conditions for expanded options in the region. In fact, we recently put forward a joint proposal with the United Kingdom suggesting concrete steps to address some of the key challenges we continue to face.


In addition, we have suggested consideration of a specialized piracy court or chamber to be established in one or more regional states. The international community is currently considering this idea, along with similar models that would combine international and domestic elements. These ideas are under discussion both in the UN Security Council and in the Contact Group.” (emphasis added).

To provide some background, in July 2010, Jack Lang proposed 7 potential mechanisms for such prosecutions. As we noted here, a subsequent Secretary General Report of January 2012 discusses the modalities for several of these options, focusing on 4 of the 7 options. Initially, there was support from some members of the Security Council for the idea that an international tribunal should be created for the prosecution of pirates. However there was resistance from the U.S. and the U.K. based on the continued viability of national prosecutions based on universal jurisdiction. But strictly national prosecutions do have their limits as is noted by the 2011 Digest:

[M]any of the countries affected by piracy—flag states, states from where many crew members hail, and many of our European partners—have proven to lack either the capacity or the political will to prosecute cases in their national courts. Furthermore, states in the region that have accepted suspects for prosecution to date have been reluctant to take more, citing limits to their judicial and prison capacities and insufficient financial support from the international community. As a result, too many suspected pirates we encounter at sea are simply released without any meaningful punishment or prosecution, and often simply keep doing what they were doing. This is the unacceptable ‘catch and release’ situation that has been widely criticized, and for which we must find a solution.”

It further notes that:

 [W]e need to acknowledge the reality that many states, to varying degrees, have not demonstrated sustained political will to criminalize piracy under their domestic law and use such laws to prosecute those who attack their interests and incarcerate the convicted. The world’s largest flag registries—so-called “flags of convenience”—have proven either incapable or unwilling to take responsibility. And given the limited venues for prosecution, states have been reluctant to pursue prosecutions of apparent or incomplete acts of piracy, limiting our ability to prosecute suspects not caught in the middle of an attack.

Hence the need for specialized piracy chambers. A new article by Douglas Guilfoyle supports this view of a developing consensus in the Security Council and his view that specialized chambers are the only practical solution. First Guilfoyle dismisses the other options set forth in the Jack Lang report. He notes that “the earlier calls from some politicians and diplomats for an international piracy tribunal have seemingly fallen away, [. . .] The idea can therefore finally be treated as dead and buried.”

He also considers a dedicated territorial court in Somalia (Puntland or Somaliland) or an extraterritorial court applying Somali law (along the model of Lockerbie) to be unrealistic because “Puntland has a piracy law but no meaningful judicial capacity or immediate ability to attain international standards. An extra-territorial court would require an adequate Somali piracy law and constitutional framework (which does not exist) and a pool of Somali judges (which is not available)”

He therefore concludes that “[P]rosecutions before national jurisdictions are the only feasible option, whether in the general court system or dedicated chambers. […] The question is now largely one of modalities.” These modalities will include the following: (1) identifying which states will create specialized chambers; (2) determining whether UN support is required; (3) and if so, establishing agreements for the provision of such assistance. In this regard, Guilfoyle raises an interesting problem:

[S]ome prosecuting jurisdictions, in a climate in which foreign aid budgets are dwindling, may be in a rare position to provoke a bidding war for international assistance between the various counter-piracy missions in the Gulf of Aden in return for prosecutions. A rational allocation of counter-piracy resources may thus require a more centralized approach in negotiating future agreements.

The most likely candidate for this centralized role would be UNODC and/or UNDP as they have taken the lead in establishing the modalities for these specialized chambers. At the same time, donor states will have to be consulted. Considering all of the stakeholders and the fragmented nature of responses to piracy, strong leadership will be required to create a holistic solution.

Intentional Facilitation and Commission of Piracy as part of a Joint Criminal Enterprise

Defendant Ali Mohamed Ali, Source: Foxnews

In the U.S. government’s efforts to ramp up piracy prosecutions to include pirate kingpins, several cases of mid-level negotiators are working their way through the courts. We discussed one such case here. Another such prosecution recently met some setbacks when a U.S. District Court ruled in U.S. v. Ali that conspiracy to commit piracy was not a cognizable crime and further limited the application of intentional facilitation of piracy to acts committed on the high seas. See alsohere. The latter issue was apparently moot at the outset since the prosecution alleged that the negotiator was on the high seas when he intentionally facilitated the acts of piracy. However, in a contentious hearing last week, it became apparent that the Accused only spent about 25 minutes on the high seas and that his criminal conduct may not have occurred in that time frame. Therefore the high seas issue is now central to the outcome of the case. The Prosecution has signalled its intent to file an interlocutory appeal and the Judge has ordered that the Accused be released on bail, noting misrepresentations by the prosecution on this issue. In my view, the conspiracy ruling was correct, but intentional facilitation was improperly limited to conduct on the high seas. This latter error would impede future prosecutions of pirate leaders in U.S. courts.

It should be made clear that U.S. courts that have addressed the issue in the last several years have uniformly concluded that although the U.S. is not a party to the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, this treaty contains the definition of piracy under customary international law which is incorporated by the U.S. piracy statute (18 USC 1651). Therefore, piracy is defined in the U.S. purely by reference to international law, and not domestic U.S. law. See here for further background.

In its 13 July Decision in U.S. v. Ali, the Court held that the piracy statute requires that intentional facilitation occur on the high seas. See Memorandum Opinion at 17. I disagree with this interpretation of UNCLOS for several reasons. First, a plain language reading of UNCLOS does not impose a requirement that inciting or intentionally facilitating an act of piracy occur on the high seas. Article 101(a)(i) of UNCLOS defines piracy as “any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends […] on the high seas […]” Intentional facilitation of such an act of piracy appears in subsection (c) of Article 101 which does not include the requirement that the act occur on the high seas. In other words, the illegal act of violence or detention must occur on the high seas, but the facilitation need not occur there.

The U.S. piracy statute could create some confusion as it specifically refers to piracy committed on the high seas which might be interpreted to extend the high seas requirement to intentional facilitation. (See 18 USC 1651 which provides in full, “Whoever, on the high seas, commits the crime of piracy as defined by the law of nations, and is afterwards brought into or found in the United States, shall be imprisoned for life.”) However, the reference to piracy on the high seas in 18 USC 1651 is redundant. By definition under customary international law, acts of piracy (though not incitement or facilitation) must occur on the high seas. The reference to acts on the high seas in 18 USC 1651 was only meant to emphasize that conduct committed in the territorial waters of another state would not constitute piracy (such conduct is instead robbery at sea, solely within the purview of the littoral state). It is not at all clear that Congress would intend to modify the otherwise settled view of the law of nations. Therefore, to impose the high seas requirement on subsection (c) of UNCLOS (pertaining to intentional facilitation), which does not appear in the plain language of the treaty, would be contrary to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Charming Betsy canon (whereby a statute should be construed not to violate international law).

Furthermore, restricting intentional facilitation of piracy to crimes perpetrated wholly on the high seas is not necessary to protect the sovereignty of states where pirate kingpins may reside. The piracy statute only provides personal jurisdiction over those who are “afterwards brought into or found in the United States.” If a pirate kingpin has negotiated a ransom from the territory of another state, the U.S. must request extradition through the usual means prescribed by international law. For all of these reasons, the high seas requirement should not be added to the crime of intentional facilitation of piracy.

As to the District Court’s second holding, the decision to dismiss the conspiracy to commit piracy charge appears well-founded. However, it is worth considering whether other forms of responsibility, firmly established in customary international law, might support the criminalization of the conduct in question. For example, commission has been interpreted by the ad hoc tribunals (ICTR, ICTY, SCSL, STL) to encompass the form of responsibility referred to as joint criminal enterprise (JCE) where there exists (1) a plurality of persons; (2) a common plan, design or purpose which amounts to or involves the commission of a crime and (4) the accused’s participation in the common plan. Of course, the tribunals did not have competence to consider charges of piracy. However, similar forms of accessory liability are found in numerous domestic legal systems and piracy prosecutions in Seychelles have been successful on a theory of accomplice liability akin to JCE. See here and here. This mode of responsibility has not been considered by any U.S. court in a piracy case.

Jama Idle Ibrahim, sentenced last year to 25 years for his role in the same attack, will be a government witness against Ali.

Apart from the jurisdictional issues, the ultimate question in this prosecution is whether negotiators acting as middlemen between pirate hostage-takers and those seeking their release “intentionally facilitate” piracy pursuant to UNCLOS. The answer will depend on the factual circumstances and how the mens rea of facilitation is construed. The drafters of UNCLOS limited facilitation by requiring that the accused intentionally (not merely negligently or recklessly) facilitated the piratical act. This suggests not only that the Accused must intend to support the illegal act of violence or detention, but also that the facilitator must share the pirate’s intent to commit the act “for private ends” (i.e. for personal enrichment or other non-political purposes). Involvement in negotiations to release the hostages for humanitarian reasons would not satisfy this mens rea requirement. Elsewhere, Professor Kontorovich suggests that intentional facilitation cannot occur after an act of piracy, but must have occurred prior to it. But if the piratical act was committed with the pre-formed intent to hold hostages for ransom, then the completed piratical act would not have been possible but for the intervention and assistance of a negotiator to complete the transaction. If a negotiator also possesses the intent to personally enrich himself, the conduct would appear to fall within Article 101(c) of UNCLOS.

One final word about the fairness of this prosecution. Depending on the circumstances of a case, the negotiation of a ransom (or the financing of piracy for that matter) may appear to be less reprehensible than the acts of violence committed against seafarers on the high seas. Such is the dichotomy between low-level perpetrators and their white-collar sponsors. If a mandatory life sentence, as is imposed by the U.S. piracy statute, is inappropriate in some cases involving accomplice liability, this is a matter of charging strategy best left to the prosecutor. There are a number of other non-piracy statutes in the prosecutor’s repertoire that could be put to use. But it is an overbroad statement to assert that all white-collar facilitators of piracy deserve leniency.