Contact Group on Piracy Recommends Prosecution of Pirate Leaders

The Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia met in New York on 21 March 2011 in the first of its thrice-yearly meetings.  The Contact Group was created pursuant to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1851 and is composed of about 60 countries and several international organizations , including the African Union, the League of Arab States, European Union, the International Maritime Organization, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and various departments and agencies of the United Nations.

To date, I am unaware of any prosecution of pirate ring leaders or financiers. Those who have been prosecuted in various countries for piracy are the footsoldiers who execute the attacks.  You can remove dozens of footsoldiers from the equation, but if the financing for pirate ventures is uninterrupted, pirate attacks will continue.  In this regard, the Chairperson of the Contact Group, Ertuğrul Apakan of Turkey, stated:

In the effort to end impunity, such an approach would include a multifaceted, aggressive effort to prosecute and incarcerate pirates, including their leaders and financiers, through information sharing, other innovative mechanisms and support for national prosecution.

A key policy decision regarding the prosecution of pirates is whether or not to pursue those individuals responsible for financing piracy. Such individuals never step foot on a pirate boat which makes proving their link to attacks more challenging. Such efforts might require leveraging lower level criminals to testify against their superiors, and tracing financing and ransom payments. This implies lengthy investigations, requiring significant resources. As the ICTR/ICTY models have shown, these efforts can drag on. It is unclear whether the international community would want to tackle such a task when the cost or duration of such prosecutions could not be reasonably estimated.  Prosecuting footsoldiers is a much simpler business.

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