One Step Closer to a Pirate Amnesty
March 5, 2013 2 Comments
It is being reported that Somalia’s federal government is offering an amnesty to junior pirates in an attempt to end the hijackings of merchant vessels. The Somali President notes that the amnesty is intended for low-level pirates and not pirate kingpins. “We are not giving them amnesty, the amnesty is for the boys,” he said. Depending on how the amnesty is framed, however, it could run afoul of an international obligation to prosecute universal jurisdiction crimes. As we noted last August when President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed first discussed the possibility of a pirate amnesty, the duty to prosecute arises not only from the treaty obligations taken on by states but also the egregiousness of the proscribed conduct. Based on this international norm, there may be a duty to prosecute pirates who have engaged in the practice of torturing hostages or for any other act constituting piracy if sufficiently egregious.
Moreover, a national amnesty granted by Somalia might not be respected by other states who have prosecuted hundreds of Somali pirates over the last several years. The Special Court for Sierra Leone declared an amnesty was “ineffective in removing the universal jurisdiction to prosecute persons accused of such crimes that other states have by reason of the nature of the crimes. It is also ineffective in depriving an international court such as the Special Court of jurisdiction.” We previously noted the similar situation in Nigeria, where pirates had accepted an offer of amnesty, but subsequently returned to arms due to the Nigerian government’s failure to provide alternative means of livelihood as it had promised. For Somalia, the lesson is that an amnesty must be accompanied by job training and job creation to be effective. Such a program is potentially very expensive. However, certain international organizations and NGOs may be willing to assist in this regard.