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.

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Broadcast of Mekong Pirate’s Execution May Have Violated Chinese Law

You likely have heard about the execution of Naw Kham, the Mekong Pirate found guilty of killing 13 Chinese in the Golden Triangle. See our prior coverage here. The moments leading up to the execution were televised live in China, although the execution itself was not. Siweiluozi’s Blog points out this violates the spirit if not the letter of Chinese law meant to curb such public executions.

This prohibition was subsequently written into China’s Criminal Procedure Law, and the relevant Supreme People’s Court interpretation on implementation of the death penalty also prohibits “other acts that degrade the personality of criminals” (其他有辱罪犯人格的行为).

Siweiluozi’s Blog also points to a commentary in the Changjiang Daily, the official “organ” of the party in Wuhan, providing the following critique:

Perhaps it is not illegal in China to broadcast live as the condemned are transferred to the execution ground, but I still oppose broadcasting live. Before, China used to have so-called public sentencing rallies and parade bound criminals in the streets for public viewing. Now, live broadcast of the transfer is no different in any real sense and is even more repulsive. Why?
It is because the live broadcast voluntarily and consciously revived these kinds of backward, barbaric scenes lacking in any modern notion of rights or rule of law. The live broadcast even delivered these scenes right in front of your eyes, so that you didn’t even need to go out of doors or be in the streets: you could see the barbarity and backwardness from your own home. You could say, in other words, that this live broadcast was itself barbaric and backwards, displaying no progress at all.

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.

New Facilitators Paper Available on SSRN

After months of blogging about a high seas requirement for facilitators of piracy, I have posted a law review article on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Around 2005, maritime piracy began to make a troubling resurgence three quarters of a century after consensus had been reached that the age of piracy had “permanently ended.” It returned, however, in a slightly different form, with pirates relying much more on land-based facilitators than did their historical counterparts. Maritime piracy’s renaissance made pressing the question of whether an inciter or intentional facilitator of maritime piracy must be physically present on the high seas while facilitating in order to be subject to universal jurisdiction. This article undertakes a thorough analysis of the text, statutory context, drafting history, and policy impetus behind UNCLOS art. 101 as it relates to universal jurisdiction over facilitators. It finds that the preponderance of the evidence suggests that a high seas requirement in fact exists for facilitators of piracy jure gentium. From there, the article considers the likely implications of such a requirement on modern facilitators of maritime piracy. Through the lens of political economy, the article concludes that universal jurisdiction piracy prosecutions pose something of a commons problem or, alternatively, a public goods problem. Because rational actors operating in a market tend to internalize externalities and under-produce public goods, theory suggests that universal jurisdiction prosecutions should be quite rare. The article goes on to find that state practice shows such prosecutions to be quite rare in fact. The article thus concludes that there is a high seas requirement for inciters and intentional facilitators of piracy jure gentium, but that this requirement will have few practical implications on impunity for facilitators.

The full article can be accessed here. Any substantive criticism is most welcome at jonbellish at gmail dot com. For those interested an another well developed take on the issue, I invite you to have a look at Roger’s piece, which is forthcoming in the Florida Journal of International Law.

In other piracy-related news, the Ashland defendants were convicted in a Norfolk federal district court.

Round Two for the Ashland Defendants

The trial of the remaining five pirates accused of mistaking the U.S. Navy amphibious dock landing ship Ashland for a commercial tanker and attacking it in 2010 has restarted. Initially, the trial court dismissed the charges against the defendants under the 1820 case of United States v. Smith — defining piracy as “robbery at sea” — because the defendants never boarded the ship or attempted to steal anything. However, after the 4th Circuit endorsed the UNCLOS definition of piracy in United States v. Dire, the Ashland defendants are back in court.

USS Ashland

USS Ashland entering port in Florida (U.S. Navy photo by Scott Lehr)

Here is what the Norfolk-based Virginian-Pilot had to say about the case:

Prosecutors argue the men were pirates who mistook the amphibious dock landing ship for a commercial vessel.

Defense attorneys, however, claim they were merely lost at sea and trying to get the ship’s attention.

A jury trial for five of the men started Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Norfolk. Over the next week, prosecutors are expected to call to the stand sailors who were on the Virginia Beach-based Ashland at the time of the incident and a Somali man who was on the skiff and is now cooperating with authorities.

Jama Idle Ibrahim, also known as Jaamac Ciidle, pleaded guilty in August 2010 to attempting to plunder a vessel and two related charges. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison but could have his sentence reduced.

Due to the similarities between the case of the USS Ashland and that involving the USS Nicholas (which culminated in the Dire opinion), the defendants’ overall prospects do not look strong.

Update – Le Ponant: Acquitted Somalis Obtain Compensation for Trial Detention

After their acquittal in June 2012, the two Somalis tried for the 2008 hijack of the luxury yacht Le Ponant have recently obtained financial compensation for their 4 year-long detention in France.

The two Somalis Acquitted of piracy on a subway in Paris - Le Monde

The two Somalis Acquitted of piracy on a subway in Paris – Le Monde

We have previously reported about Le Ponant trial here. Along with the 2 acquitted individuals, a third Somali was convicted to 4 years but released immediately after the verdict upon having served his sentence. We have also reported about their living conditions in France here (see also, similarly, here). In addition, 2 other accused were sentenced to 10 and 7 years of detention, respectively. We have made available the judgement in the case here. No appeal was launced by the prosecution or the defendants.

The compensation, among the first of its kind for individuals acquitted in piracy trials before various national courts of States engaged in anti-piracy acitivies off the coast of Somalia, includes 90.000 Euros each in moral damages and 3.000 and 5.000 euros each, respectively, for the loss of their salary as fishermen while in detention. The lawyers for the two Somalis have appealed the decision, seeking 450.000 Euros instead. Meanwhile, the Somalis continue to live in France, pending a decision on their request for asylum. 

Language, Capacity Issues Plague Indian Prosecutions of Somali Pirates

Suspects aboard the pirate ship the INS Taba on their way to Mumbai after being arrested by the Indian navy in March 2011. Photograph: Indian navy/EPA

The trial of about 120 Somalis in India is encountering significant obstacles, including difficulty finding qualified Somali-speaking interpreters, procuring deposition evidence from victims, and dealing with the sheer volume of cases on backlog. India’s navy has been very active in helping to patrol the seas off the coast of Somalia. It also recently used its turn as President of the Security Council to put the fight against worldwide piracy at center stage. Perhaps because of its pro-active approach, India has taken into custody a large number of suspected pirates. As we have seen in any number of western countries taking up piracy prosecutions, there are substantial challenges that come with prosecuting Somalis in a transnational setting. This is not to mention the legal obstacles faced by countries attempting to revive centuries old laws to address the resurgence of this type of criminality. As we surveyed in 2011, India’s legal framework for piracy required updating. Video-link testimony and interpretation, in addition to, a more active foreign office might assist the prosecutions in these cases.  Of course, all of these solutions require resources and technological capacity. This is true whether prosecutions move forward in the Netherlands, the U.S. or in India.