United States Supreme Court Gets its Chance

Abdi Wali Dire, left, arrives at the the federal courthouse in Norfolk, Va. on Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2010

As I previously mentioned here, the US Supreme Court may soon take up the issue of piracy in US courts. This could have importance not only for the piracy prosecutions taking place in the US but for the development of customary international law applicable in other municipal (i.e. domestic) jurisdictions as the US piracy statute directly incorporates customary international law.

The petitions for writs of certiorari in U.S. v. Dire and U.S. v. Said  (available here and here) raise compelling arguments that interplay with Alien Tort Statute litigation. They ask whether piracy as defined by the law of nations incorporates modern developments in international law. The answer will hinge on the limits of a federal court’s authority to ascertain a narrow set of violations of international law construed as federal common law.

The place of federal common law in US courts has been a matter of debate amongst the Justices of the US Supreme Court in two recent cases addressing the Alien Tort Statute which, like the US piracy statute, is defined by reference to “the law of nations.” In Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, the majority opinion (written by Justice Souter) held:

[T]his Court has thought it was in order to create federal common law rules in interstitial areas of particular federal interest.[…] [There remain] limited enclaves in which federal courts may derive some substantive law in a common law way. For two centuries we have affirmed that the domestic law of the United States recognizes the law of nations. […] It would take some explaining to say now that federal courts must avert their gaze entirely from any international norm intended to protect individuals.

This led the US Supreme Court to determine that the Alien Tort Statute claims “must be gauged against the current state of international law, looking to those sources we have long, albeit cautiously, recognized.” These include treaties, custom, and the works of eminent jurists.

Justice Scalia was even more categorical in a partially concurring opinion that there exists only “a specifically federal common law (in the sense of judicially pronounced law) for a few and restricted ”areas in which a federal rule of decision is necessary to protect uniquely federal interests, and those in which Congress has given the courts the power to develop substantive law. […] [But] [C]ourts cannot possibly be thought to have been given, and should not be thought to possess, federal common-law-making powers with regard to the creation of private federal causes of action for violations of customary international law.”

“[T]he question to me is who are today’s pirates. And if Hitler isn’t a pirate, who is? And if, in fact, an equivalent torturer or dictator who wants to destroy an entire race in his own country is not the equivalent of today’s pirate, who is?” So asked Justice Breyer during the Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Shell oral argument on 1 October 2012

The Office of the Federal Public Defender takes up the federal common law debate in its petition, urging that although modern developments in international law might inform the existence of a civil cause of action, the same cannot inform the definition of a crime. It asserts,

Federal criminal law, unlike tort law, most decidedly is not an area in which judges are permitted to derive “substantive law in a common law way.” Sosa, 542 U.S. at 729. The elements of a federal criminal offense, in particular, must be defined by Congress alone. See, e.g., Liparota, 471 U.S. at 424. Elements of federal criminal offenses are not created by courts engaged in the uncertain enterprise of discerning the state of customary international law, unguided by an authority of last (or even first) resort.

Herein lies the crux of the issue. Must the law of nations as used as a definitional base in US statutes have a fixed meaning pertaining to crimes, when such is not required for civil causes of action? Given the central role piracy played in the recent oral argument in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Shell, the Court may decide now is an opportune time to take up communis hostis omnium.


Private or Pirate Navy?

Puntland Marine Police Forces source:Somaliareport.com

The autonomous region of Puntland in Somalia has gotten a bad rap for being a hotbed for pirates. Though unrecognized as a state, there has been some international expectation that Puntland should take steps to prevent and punish acts of piracy, particularly those originating from within Puntland. In this regard, there have been efforts to create a Puntland coastguard or Navy (the “Puntland Maritime Police Force”), bankrolled by the United Arab Emirates and with training from private security firms. This is where the story of Sterling Corporate Services takes off. The New York Times reports:

Concerned about the impact of piracy on commercial shipping in the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates has sought to take the lead in battling Somali pirates, both overtly and in secret by bankrolling operations like Sterling’s.


A United Nations investigative group described the effort by a company based in Dubai called Sterling Corporate Services to create the force as a “brazen, large-scale and protracted violation” of the arms embargo in place on Somalia


Sterling has portrayed its operation as a bold private-sector attempt to battle the scourge of piracy where governments were failing.

Somalia Report notes that the UN effectively shut down the estimated $50 million per year program by threatening sanctions against UAE for violations of the Somalia arms embargo. In addition to the illegal shipments of arms, the program may have been a criminal pirate enterprise.

A Private Navy?

There is an argument that private navies are legally permissible under the law of the sea, particularly the legal regime governing anti-piracy operations on the high seas. Such navies are permissible if the navy is “on government service and authorized to that effect” pursuant to Article 107 of UNCLOS. The idea here is that a government may hire private companies to engage in police functions so long as it is made explicitly clear by markings and identification that the ship is controlled by the government and under a presumably military chain of command. It has been argued that ships on government service could not only provide self-defence to an escorted ship but could also engage in pirate hunting. Alternatively, if a private navy is not on government service but limits its actions to those justified by individual (as opposed to sovereign) self-defence, it may also be legally permissible. Here, aggressive acts would be strictly limited to those necessary to repel an attack, as is consistent with general principles of the law of self-defence. It would not include acts intended to prevent future attacks.

This is where the status of Puntland as an autonomous region becomes important. Though the international community has chosen to engage the Puntland government, it has chosen not to recognize Puntland’s sovereignty instead deferring to the project of solidifying the new Somali Federal Government in Mogadishu. Therefore, naval vessels patrolling the territorial waters of Somalia off of the coast of the autonomous region of Puntland are not “on government service” for purposes of Article 107 of UNCLOS.

Alternatively, there is some evidence that other states may have supported the Puntland Navy:

American officials have said publicly that they never endorsed the creation of the private army, but it is unclear if Sterling had tacit support from parts of the United States government. For instance, the investigative group reported in July that the counterpiracy force shared some of the same facilities as the Puntland Intelligence Service, a spy organization answering to Puntland’s president, Abdirahman Farole, that has been trained by C.I.A. officers and contractors for more than a decade.

Even if this is the case, the Puntland naval vessels are not “clearly marked and identifiable as being on government service” by a recognized sovereign such as the United States or the UAE. Therefore, seizing pirates on the high seas would not be justified pursuant to Article 107 of UNCLOS.

A Pirate Navy?

This raises the question of whether an act of violence by the Puntland Navy against another ship on the high seas constitutes piracy. Although there is some continuing debate as to the “private ends” requirements in Article 101 of UNCLOS, the better view is that it excludes from the definition of piracy, acts of violence by a sovereign. As Puntland is not a sovereign power, this exclusion from the definition of piracy does not apply. Therefore, acts of violence, detention or depredation committed by a Puntland Navy on the high seas (even if purportedly for the purpose of protecting the territory and people of Puntland) would constitute acts of piracy.

As noted above, the other possible justification for the seizure of pirate vessels on the high seas by the Puntland Navy is the doctrine of personal self-defence. This would justify acts strictly necessary to repel an ongoing attack. It would not justify acts of violence against suspected pirate vessels prior to an attack. Nor would it justify acts within the typical mandate of a sovereign navy or coast guard, including patrolling waters and interdicting ships.

The International community was displeased that Sterling was training these individuals because it was an apparent violation of the arms embargo imposed on Somalia. But, technically, Puntland’s Navy may have also been engaged in acts of piracy.

Territorial Waters

The Puntland Navy was also likely conducting operations within Somalia’s territorial waters which are part of the sovereign territory of the Somali Federal Government. The latter has the exclusive right to protect its territorial waters and to restrict traffic through this zone (See e.g. Article 25 UNCLOS “Rights of protection of the coastal State”), although a number of Security Council Resolutions have given foreign sovereigns some powers of interdiction in these waters as an exceptional measure. It is theoretically possible that the Somali Federal Government would attempt to delegate this coast guard function to an autonomous region’s forces such as the Puntland Navy. But it is unclear if this would be permissible pursuant to international law or whether Puntland would be willing to act on behalf of the Somali Federal Government, as opposed to under its own asserted authority as a sovereign.

Free Agents

The more practical question, now that the funding for Puntland’s Navy has disappeared, is what will happen to the individuals who were trained by Sterling. The New York Times reports:

With the South African trainers gone, the African Union has turned to a different security contractor, Bancroft Global Development, based in Washington, to assess whether the pirate hunters in Puntland can be assimilated into the stew of other security forces in Somalia sanctioned both by the United States and the African Union. Among those groups are a 10,000-man Somali national army and troops of Somalia’s National Security Agency, based in Mogadishu, which is closely allied with the C.I.A.


But with the antipiracy army now abandoned by its sponsors, the hundreds of half-trained and well-armed members of the Puntland Maritime Police Force have been left to fend for themselves at a desert camp carved out of the sand, perhaps to join up with the pirates or Qaeda-linked militants or to sell themselves to the highest bidder in Somalia’s clan wars — yet another dangerous element in the Somali mix.

New Article: Pirate Accessory Liability

In view of the debate concerning the prosecution of pirate leaders and financiers, I have posted a new article on SSRN entitled: Pirate Accessory Liability – Developing a modern legal regime governing incitement and intentional facilitation of maritime piracy. I attach the abstract for your information:

Despite the exponential growth of piracy off the coast of Somalia since 2008, there have been no prosecutions of those who have profited most from ransom proceeds; that is crime bosses and pirate financiers. As U.S. courts begin to charge higher-level pirates, they must ascertain the status of customary international law as reflected in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. UNCLOS includes two forms of accessory liability suited to such prosecutions, but a number of ambiguities remain in the interpretation of these forms of liability. These lacunae cannot be explained by reference to the plain terms of the UNCLOS or the travaux préparatoires and leaving domestic jurisdictions to fill these gaps risks creating a fragmented, and potentially contradictory, legal framework. On the contrary, resort to general principles of law ascertained by international criminal tribunals creates a predictable, and consistent, understanding of these modes of responsibility. This article shows how the jurisprudence of the ad hoc criminal tribunals fills the gaps in the law related to incitement and intentional facilitation of piracy. It further shows how these modes of responsibility are particularly suited to charges of financing pirate organizations or inciting children to participate in pirate enterprises.

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.

News Brief – Two more Trials in European States

Somali defendants and their lawyers at the opening of the trial against the pirates accused of attacking the ship Taipan on the Indian Ocean, at Hamburg Regional Court. Photographer: Joern Pollex/Getty Images

A piracy trial in German has closed and is awaiting a verdict, while a new Dutch piracy trial is set to begin. The German trial is the first piracy prosecution in that country for over 400 years. The press reports there has been confusion over the age and names of the Accused. It further notes that the trial began in November 2010 and it is unknown when a verdict can be expected, raising obvious speedy trial concerns. It will be interesting to see how the German court addresses these issues.

The Dutch trial concerns an April 2011 incident in which Somalis fired shots at Dutch marines who were attempting to board the Iranian flagged ship that had been hijacked. According to the story:

“The marines then boarded the ship and arrested 16 Somalis and found 16 Iranian fishermen who had been held hostage on the boat for four months as well as automatic weapons and rocket launchers, according to the prosecution.

Seven of the Somalis were released and the rest brought to the Netherlands for trial on charges of piracy and attempted murder.”

The case may raise questions as to the scope of the right of visit and the right to seize pirate ships (Articles 110 and 105 of UNCLOS respectively).  It could also be interesting to verify whether the Dutch military sought the consent of Iran prior to boarding the fishing vessel as may be required pursuant to Article 110 (See Petrig and Geiß, p. 56). We will provide further details upon availability.

The Mistreatment of Somalis Accused of Piracy

This guest commentary, cross-posted at ilawyerblog, is by Rachel Lindon, who has represented Somalis charged with piracy in legal proceedings in France. An English version is available here. We have previously discussed piracy trials in France, here and here.

Three of the six Somalis charged with taking the crew of Le Ponant hostage walk along a wall of La Sante jailhouse in Paris on 15 June 2012, a day after being released from prison (Photo: THOMAS COEX/AFP/GettyImages)

Deux procès se sont tenus à ce jour en France, à l’encontre de somaliens accusés d’actes de piraterie au large des côtes somaliennes. Lors du premier procès, qui s’est tenu en novembre 2011, dans l’affaire dite du Carré d’As, sur les six personnes accusées, une a été acquittée, et les cinq autres ont été condamnées à des peines de 4 à 8 années d’emprisonnement. Le Parquet ayant interjeté appel, cette décision n’est pas définitive. Lors du deuxième procès, qui s’est tenu en juin 2012, dans l’affaire dite du Ponant, sur les six personnes accusées, deux ont été acquittées, et les quatre autres ont été condamnées à des peines de 4 à 10 années d’emprisonnement. Cette décision est devenue définitive, en l’absence d’appel des parties. Ainsi, à ce jour, quatre somaliens se retrouvent libres en France : trois qui ont été acquittés et souffert pendant plusieurs années de détention provisoire indue et arbitraire, et un dont  la détention provisoire abusivement longue de quatre années a couvert sa peine (la France, régulièrement condamnée par la Cour Européenne des Droits de l’Homme pour des durées de détention trop longues, a établi un funeste record mondial en matière de détention provisoire de supposés pirates somaliens…). Après avoir été interpellés en territoire somalien (territoire maritime ou terrestre selon les cas), transférés en France, quelles ont été les conditions des détentions provisoires des somaliens pendant les longs mois d’enquêtes, et qu’a-t-il été prévu à leur sortie ?


 Ces douze somaliens, coupables ou non, ont été arrachés de leurs terres pour être transférés dans des geôles d’un pays qui leur était inconnu. Déracinés brutalement, ils ont été incarcérés dans des conditions devenues presqu’inhumaines: ne parlant que le somalien, et devant être séparés les uns des autres pendant l’enquête, ils n’ont pu communiquer avec personne pendant des années, sauf pendant les interrogatoires chez le juge d’instruction. Les avocats ont systématiquement sollicité les services d’un interprète, pour les parloirs. Les magistrats ont également sollicité les interprètes pour tous les actes d’instruction. Pourtant, ces douze somaliens n’ont jamais bénéficié du truchement d’un interprète, en détention, tant pour les actes médicaux, parfois lourds, que pour les commissions disciplinaires, en violation du principe du respect de la dignité humaine du prisonnier, reconnu par la Cour européenne des Droits de l’Homme (RAFFRAY TADDEI C. France, 21 décembre 2010, §50) et les règles minima pour le traitement des détenus, telles que définies par le Haut Commissariat des Nations Unies aux droits de l’homme (article 36§2). Nombre d’entre eux ont été victimes de violences de la part de codétenus, d’autant plus qu’ils étaient particulièrement isolés, et l’Administration Pénitentiaire française semble avoir trop souvent manqué à son devoir d’enquête, en violation de la jurisprudence de la CEDH (PREMININY C. RUSSIE, 10 février 2011).

 A ces violations s’ajoutaient les difficultés et l’isolement propres à leur situation de ressortissants somaliens : ils ne recevaient pas de deniers de l’extérieur (alors qu’il est connu dans les prisons françaises qu’il faut un pécule minimal pour survivre, louer un téléviseur, et s’acheter de la nourriture), ils ne recevaient aucune visite et que très rarement des nouvelles de leurs familles, un courrier annuellement tout au plus, alors que la plupart étaient mariés et pères de familles. Ces détentions provisoires furent d’une telle violence que nombre d’entre eux ont souffert de problèmes psychologiques graves, ont été internés dans les hôpitaux psychiatriques de l’Administration Pénitentiaire, au point qu’aujourd’hui, certains, même libres, doivent encore faire l’objet d’un suivi psychiatrique.


 L’espoir du procès et de la fin de la dureté de la détention n’a été que de courte durée pour ceux qui ont été libérés : relâchés quelques heures après les délibérés, en pleine nuit, dans Paris, l’Administration pénitentiaire française leur a remis, outre leurs ballots de vêtements accumulés pendant la détention grâce au secours populaire, un kit indigent comprenant un ticket de métro, cinq tickets restaurant et une carte de téléphone… La France n’a pas estimé utile de prévoir ce qu’il adviendrait de ces hommes, appréhendés à plus de 6.000 km, reconnus innocents pour trois d’entre eux, après la détention. Ils ne peuvent, qu’ils soient innocents ou coupables, retourner dans leur pays, du fait des  mesures de rétorsion encourues. En effet, la justice  a exigé une coopération complète, en les sommant d’indiquer les noms des puissants chefs pirates qui agissent en Somalie.

 Ces véritables coupables, ces chefs de guerre exploitant la misère des somaliens, et possédant eux mêmes des biens immobiliers issus de la piraterie, aussi bien à Nairobi qu’à Londres, sont toujours actifs sur place, sans jamais avoir été inquiétés, la France se contentant de lampistes ou d’innocents, qui aujourd’hui risquent la peine de mort en cas de retour. Les somaliens acquittés, et ceux coupables mais ayant coopéré, libres ou encore détenus, sont par conséquent contraints de demander l’asile en France, puisqu’ils craignent d’être persécutés dans leur pays et de ne peuvent se réclamer de sa protection. puisque « craignant avec raison d’être persécutés du fait de (…) (leur) appartenance à un certain groupe social ou de (leurs) opinions politiques, se trouvent hors du pays dont (ils ont) la nationalité et qui ne (peuvent) ou, du fait de cette crainte, ne (veulent) se réclamer de la protection de ce pays ».

 Mais pas plus qu’un retour dans leur pays n’est possible, une vie en France ne l’est. Lâchés dans les rues de Paris aussi brutalement qu’ils avaient été appréhendés en Somalie, ils n’ont eu de toits pour dormir et se nourrir que grâce à la solidarité de la société civile, compatriotes, conseils et interprète, puis d’associations pour le logement… Pêcheurs somaliens, parlant peu ou pas le français, ils se retrouvent à nouveau dans un dénuement extrême, mais dans un environnement inconnu, et définitivement séparés des leurs.

 Leur situation ubuesque ayant interpellé certaines personnes, les trois somaliens du dossier du Ponant, sortis de détention le 15 juin 2012, à 3 heures du matin, ont finalement trouvé une association pour les héberger temporairement, dans l’attente prochaine de places en Centre d’Accueil pour Demandeurs d’Asile (leur situation particulière a permis que leur demande de logement soit considérée comme prioritaire). Ils recevront également l’aide financière conférée par l’Etat français pour tout demandeur d’asile, quel qu’il soit, de l’ordre de 400 euros mensuellement. Enfin, pour ceux définitivement acquittés, une requête en référé d’indemnisation de détention arbitraire est en cours. La justice aura à quantifier 50 mois de détention arbitraire et des vies définitivement brisées…

 Pendant ce temps, le sort de ceux encore détenus est loin d’être résolu, car condamnés à des peines de 4 à 10 années d’emprisonnement (peines qui pourraient paraître légères, mais le peuple français, au travers de ses jurés, a pris en compte la particularité des crimes et de la situation sur place), ils sortiront bientôt de détention.

 Dans un mois, le mineur du dossier du Carré d’As, âgé de 17 ans au moment des faits et donc de son incarcération, condamné à 4 années d’emprisonnement, aura accompli l’intégralité de sa peine. Il devra par conséquent être libéré. Encore une fois, rien n’est prévu pour sa sortie : il ne pourra quitter le territoire français, car il se doit d’attendre l’appel de son affaire (qui se déroulera probablement au printemps 2013). Mais pour autant, il ne sera pas régulier sur le territoire, et ne pourra espérer aucune aide au logement… Il sera hors des murs de FLEURY MEROGIS, sans  argent, sans famille et sans papiers, mais non expulsable et contraint de rester. L’Etat français, qui a tant voulu protéger ses ressortissants navigant dans le Golf d’Aden, va ainsi laisser un jeune mineur, totalement isolé, ne parlant que quelques mots de français appris au contact des autres détenus  et ne connaissant de notre territoire que nos maisons d’arrêt, errer dans nos rues, le temps de l’audiencement de l’appel interjeté par le Parquet… La France ne lui aura appris ni sa langue ni un métier, seulement à survivre dans une maison d’arrêt, puis survivre dans une ville si éloignée de sa vie passée…

 Les somaliens libérés se heurteront ensuite à la rigueur administrative française : Les services d’insertion et de probation des maisons d’arrêts appliquent leur règles : sans papiers, pas d’aide à la sortie. Les services des demandeurs d’asiles les leurs : à la suite d’une demande d’asile (à effectuer dans les limites des règles très strictes), et sans s’attarder sur leur situation pénale, le logement n’est conféré qu’à certaines conditions. Les services du Ministère de la Justice demandent que l’on applique les leurs : il ne reste qu’à demander une indemnisation pour ceux innocentés, et sinon, cela ne les regarde plus… La France se comporte comme la communauté internationale : appliquons des règles abstraites, à la Somalie, ou à ses ressortissants transférés en France, sans qu’il soit évoqué le particularisme de leurs situations…

 Le combat contre la piraterie et les déclarations d’intention aux visées électoralistes autorisent-ils la « patrie des droits de l’homme » à bafouer ces droits et à jeter dans nos geôles puis dans nos rues des hommes ? Le traitement que ces hommes, accusés de piraterie, innocents ou coupables, ont subi en France leur en fait regretter la Somalie, pays  sans Etat, en situation de guerre civile depuis 20 ans, mais qu’ils ne pourront, tout comme leur famille, plus jamais retrouver.

The Illegality of a General Pirate Amnesty

The Shiuh Fu No.1 fishing boat, pirated Christmas Day 2010; the whereabouts of the crew of 13 Chinese, 12 Vietnamese and 1 Taiwanese mariners is unknown

It is estimated that 245 hostages and 7 hijacked vessels remain in pirate hands. There exists a kind of stalemate as pirates hold prisoners and ships in Somali ports while negotiations between pirates and shipping insurance companies have slowed or broken down completely. Somalia’s presidential candidates have offered one possible solution to this stalemate. President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed has said that, “Those who leave behind what they have done will be forgiven.” For his part, Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali has said that “There is no mercy for pirates, not from me, but if someone gives up and says, ‘I repent and want forgiveness’, then we have to do it.” However, a general amnesty for pirates might be illegal and, in any event, might be ineffectual.

Pursuant to UNCLOS, Article 100 “Duty to cooperate in the repression of piracy” provides that “All States shall cooperate to the fullest possible extent in the repression of piracy on the high seas or in any other place outside the jurisdiction of any State.” UNCLOS does not specifically assert there is a duty to prosecute pirates once apprehended. On this point, the International Law Commission, in its commentary to the predecessor treaty (1958 LOS treaty), has said of this provision that “Any State having an opportunity of taking measures against piracy, and neglecting to do so, would be failing in a duty laid upon it by international law.” But it also asserted that states “must be allowed a certain latitude as to the measures it should take to this end in any individual case.” It has been convincingly argued by others (namely Geib and Petrig) that prosecution is discretionary under this provision. Geib and Petrig also note that there may be an obligation to prosecute certain acts of armed robbery at sea which are in violation of the SUA Convention and the Hostages Convention. However, Somalia is not a party to either of these conventions. Therefore, a general amnesty for Somali pirates arguably would not be in violation of the duty under Article 100 of UNCLOS or other treaty obligations.

There also exists under international law, a duty to prosecute egregious human rights violations, such as genocide, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, torture, and crimes against humanity. (for a summary see this decision of the ECCC Trial Chamber). International tribunals and treaty bodies have generally held amnesties to be incompatible with this overriding duty to prosecute. In particular, the Special Court for Sierra Leone Appeals Chamber has held that blanket amnesties are impermissible under international law for universal jurisdiction crimes. 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. It has been argued that piracy is not among the most egregious of international offences, but piracy consistently garners impressively long sentences and capital punishment remains a potential penalty for pirates in the United States. Based on this background, a general amnesty of pirates might run afoul of an international duty to prosecute.

One possible avenue for the provision of amnesties is discussed in the Provisional Constitution of Somalia. Article 111 provides for the creation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, “established […] to foster national healing, reconciliation and unity”. It further provides the TRC’s mandate shall include “bearing witness to, record and in some cases grant amnesty to the perpetrators of crimes relating to human rights violations”. It is not clear if the drafters intended this provision to encompass possible amnesties for pirates. However, the language of the Article is sufficiently broad to apply to such crimes. Any such amnesties would have to be approved by the TRC composed of traditional elders, members of the Federal Parliament, respected members of civil society, judges and security personnel. Insofar as the TRC could dispense individual amnesties based on the particular circumstances of a case, it might not run afoul of an international duty to prosecute.

This brings us to two very practical matters. Even if such amnesties were granted by the Somali government, would they be respected by other states were they to gain custody of these individuals? Any state may prosecute Somali pirates based on universal jurisdiction. States whose vessels and nationals have been victim of pirate attack would have to exercise a great deal of restraint to not prosecute such individuals due to an amnesty dispensed by the Somali government.

Finally, there is no guarantee that an amnesty for Somali pirates would be effective at definitely quashing the phenomenon in the long term. Nigeria provides a helpful example (see here for background). In 2009, the Nigerian government offered many of the militants/pirates in the Niger Delta an amnesty and stipends if they agreed to stop attacks of oil platforms and other interests. The cost of this amnesty programme is immense, estimated to be $405 million in 2012 alone. But not all ex-militants have found new jobs and there is an increasing danger that the attacks on off-shore oil interests may reignite. For Somalia, the lessons are two-fold: (1) an amnesty must be accompanied by alternative job training and job creation to be effective and (2) such a programme is potentially very expensive and perhaps outside of its means.