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.

UPDATE: Convictions in First Italy Piracy Trial

The 9 month-long piracy trial for the 2011 hijack of the Italian bulk carrier MV Montecristo, the first in Italian modern history, concluded last week in Rome with the conviction of all 9 Somali accused to prison terms of 16 and 19 years. We previously reported about this trial and Italy piracy laws here.

The accused were found guilty of attempted kidnapping for extortion and illegal possession of firearms. As the crime of kidnapping was only attempted, the maximum penalty range of 25 to 30 years of prison foreseen by the Italian criminal code was reduced by one third. During the trial, the accused unsuccessfully sought to be tried in the UK, in light of having been initially apprehended by UK forces, and challenged their transfer to Italian authorities. In accordance with Italian laws, the motivations for the verdict will be published within 3 months. All accused are likely to appeal the sentence, with some indicating to be ready to take the matter up to the European Court of Justice.

Interestingly, the prosecutors’ claim of the pirates connections with Al-Shabaab and the attack on the Montecristo being aimed at financing its terrorist activities and foster a campaign of obstruction of the free maritime transit in the Indian Ocean was rejected. Once again, this confirms the very tenuous links between the pirates’ business model and terrorism. In its latest report, the Monitoring Group on Somalia also found no evidence suggesting a structural or organizational link between Al-Shabaab and Somali pirate networks.

Another piracy trial will start on 4 December 2012, concerning the attempted hijack of the Italian oil tanker MV Valdarno on January 2012, off the Omani coast. The 11 Somalis charged with this attempted hijack opted for a plea bargain and are likely to receive a substantially reduced prison sentence.

After a Brief Hiatus, Kenya Once Again Has Universal Jurisdiction Over Pirates

Jon Bellish is a Project Officer at the Oceans Beyond Piracy project just outside Denver, Colorado, though the views expressed are solely those of the author. You can follow him on Twitter.

On October 18, the Kenyan Court of Appeal in Nairobi handed down a pivotal decision in In re Mohamud Mohammed Hashi, et al. It held that Kenya has jurisdiction to try piracy suspects whose alleged acts occurred beyond the country’s territorial waters. Due to Kenya’s central role in the emerging global network of piracy prosecutions, the Court’s ruling in Hashi will have positive implications both within and outside of Kenya.

The Honorable Mr. Justice David K. Maraga (photo: Kenya Law Reports)

The Court of Appeal decision overturns a ruling from the High Court of Mombasa that concluded, as noted by Roger on this blog, that “[Kenyan] Courts can only deal with offences or criminal incidents that take place within the territorial jurisdiction of Kenya.” Rather than summarizing the lower court’s opinion, I will simply direct readers to Roger’s excellent analysis of that case.

On appeal, Justice David Maraga stated that the High Court erred by, 1) “subordinating Section 69 of the Penal Code to Section 5”; 2) misinterpreting Sections 369 and 371 of the Merchant Shipping Act of 2009, and; 3) “fail[ing] to appreciate the applicability of the doctrine of universal jurisdiction.”

With regards to the first ground of error, the Court Appeals took issue with the High Court’s interpretation of Section 5 of the Penal Code and its relationship to Section 69. Section 5 states that “The jurisdiction of the courts of Kenya…extends to every place within Kenya, including territorial waters.” The High Court characterized Section 5 as the “defining” Kenyan jurisdictional provision and concluded that Section 69, criminalizing piracy on the high seas, was “void, ab inicio.

Justice Maraga differed with the High Court’s position and held that “there is no conflict or gradation between [Sections 5 and 69].” He noted that Section 5 is part of Chapter 3 of the penal code, entitled “Territorial Application of the Code,” while Section 69 is contained in Chapter 8, “Offences affecting Relations with Foreign States and External Tranquility.” In short, Section 5 concerns itself with the territorial jurisdiction of Kenyan Courts and Section 69 deals with extraterritorial offenses. If anything, concluded Justice Maraga:

“on the established principle of statutory interpretation that in event of inconsistency in statutory provisions the “later in time” prevails, it is Section 69 [passed in 1967] which should supersede Section 5 [passed in 1930] but there is no warrant for that as there is no conflict between the two sections.”

MV Courier, the pirated ship at issue in Hashi (photo: ShipSpotting.com)

The second basis for overturning the High Court’s ruling arises out of the 2009 repeal of Section 69 of the Penal Code and its replacement with Section 369 of the Merchant Shipping Act. Below, the High Court suggested that repealing Section 69 took the crime of piracy jure gentium off the books. However, Section 369 Merchant Shipping Act, the article replacing Section 69, closely tracks UNCLOS article 101’s definition of piracy under international law. Accordingly, although the Merchant Shipping Act does not include the Latin phrase “jure gentium,” the crime of piracy under international law, according to the Court of Appeal, survived the statutory change.

In the alternative, Justice Maraga pointed to Section 23(3) of the Interpretation and General Provisions Act, which states that in the case of a law being repealed mid-proceeding, that proceeding shall move forward “as if the repealing written law had not been made.” Because the act in question was allegedly committed on March 3, 2009 and Section 69 was not repealed until September 1, 2009, the above-mentioned interpretive provision would apply in this case.

The final issue under consideration was the broader question of whether Kenya was authorized under international law to try piracy cases where the act in question was committed outside Kenya’s territorial jurisdiction by perpetrators and against victims who are not Kenyan nationals.

Justice Maraga responded by noting that piracy was a crime of universal jurisdiction and recounting Kenya’s participation in and adoption of UNSCR 1918 in April, 2012. This resolution “Calls on all States, including States in the region, to criminalize piracy under their domestic law and favourably consider the prosecution of suspected…pirates apprehended off the coast of Somalia…” Ultimately, Justice Maraga concluded that:

the offence of piracy on the coast of Somalia, which we are dealing with in this appeal, is of great concern to the international community as it has affected the economic activities and thus the economic well being of many countries including Kenya. All States, not necessarily those affected by it, have therefore a right to exercise universal jurisdiction to punish the offence.

This decision should be welcomed by the international community, especially those involved in the prosecution and detention of suspected pirates. Most immediately, Hashi allows for five separate piracy cases brought under Section 69 of the Kenyan Penal Code to move forward, clearing up a two-year backlog. More importantly, however, the Court of Appeal’s unequivocal acceptance of the principle of universal jurisdiction, its applicability to piracy jure gentium, and its incorporation in Kenyan municipal law ensures that Kenya can continue to play a central role in the regional prosecutions of piracy suspects.

Long road to justice – The German piracy trial

 

 

 

This post comes from Tim René Salomon. He is a Rechtsreferendar (articled clerk) in Hamburg and currently assigned to the Landgericht Hamburg. The opinions expressed in this article are solely his own.

After 105 days of trial and a duration of almost 2 years, Judge Dr. Steinmetz announced the verdict and penalties on Friday, the 19th of October 2012 for the Third Grand Penal Chamber of the Landgericht Hamburg. The ten accused were found guilty of two crimes, attack on maritime traffic (§ 316c German Criminal Code – StGB) and abduction for the purpose of blackmail (§ 239a StGB). The adults were sentenced to six to seven years, while the juveniles and accused which were under 21 years of age at the time of perpetration were handed a two year penalty and will walk free after having served their time already during the extended period of pre-trial detention. It may be of even greater surprise, although the author finds this aspect to be one of the great success stories of the trial, that the three young accused behaved exemplary in pre-trial detention during which they went to school and have, after their early release, continued going to school with one of the accused even delivering his last word in the proceeding partially in German.

In the four hours of Steinmetz‘s announcement, he stressed numerous aspects of the trial, the acts committed and the political backgrounds and took the time to deliver his personal perception of what he termed an “absolutely exceptional proceeding”. This exceptionality is clear to observers everywhere. It was Germany’s first piracy trial in about 400 years, it was exceptional in the sense that so far no other trials in Germany are on the horizon on the subject matter, but it was also exceptional or better put notorious for its duration. The fact that it took two years is indeed remarkable, when looking at the rather simple case at hand:

The MV Taipan was headed from Haifa, Israel to Mombasa, Kenya and avoided the vicinity of Somalia in order to be relatively safe from pirate attacks. 500 nm from the Somali coast in the middle of the Indian Ocean on the April, 5 2010 they sighted the dhow Hud Hud, a kidnapped vessel, which was first deemed harmless and the threat it posed became apparent only when it sent two skiffs towards the container vessel Taipan. The crew of the Taipan, which now travelled full speed, was sent to the safe room and the master and two crew-members remained on the bridge. When the skiffs closed in and machine gun fire hit the Taipan, the master ordered everyone in the ship’s citadel. The pirates on the skiffs tried to climb on board, observed by a German maritime surveillance aircraft, and eventually succeeded. The individual role of each accused could not be ascertained with the necessary certainty, but it is documented that the pirates changed the vessel’s course to Somalia and destroyed the GPS antenna to complicate the tracking of the Taipan. After the Taipan’s master Eggers noticed this, he blacked out the vessel from the citadel to stop its travel, knowing that the Netherlands Navy frigate HNLMS Tromp was near, although the attack took place outside of the area under the EU ATALANTA mandate. During the following four hours the pirates unsuccessfully searched for the safe room until soldiers from the Netherlands Navy boarded the Taipan and apprehended ten suspects after a brief previous exchange of fire between the Tromp and the pirates. The suspects were then taken to Djibouti, flown to the Netherlands and were eventually extradited to Germany, where the prosecution was conducted.

What seems to be a rather clear cut case ended up to be a very challenging and long-lasting endeavor for the Hamburg court, which has led the trial with meticulous care. The applicability of German criminal law was more or less uncomplicated, since it derives from the German flag of the Taipan (§ 4 StGB), the passive personality principle as two victims, the master Eggers and merchant seaman Preuß, were German nationals (§ 7 (2) StGB) and the universality principle, which German law applies to attacks on maritime traffic (§ 6 Nr. 3 StGB). The court could have mentioned § 3 StGB, the territoriality principle, as the blackmail was directed against a German-based company, which means that the result of the crime arguably should have occurred in Germany according to the intention of the offenders (§ 9 StGB). Also the Hamburg court is locally competent because of the Taipan‘s home port, Hamburg (§ 10 German Criminal Procedure Code – StPO), with the Grand Penal Chamber of the Landgericht being the proper instance because of the expected penalty above four years imprisonment.

At the start of the proceeding every accused was granted two lawyers to prepare and conduct their defense. The issues started early in the trial. Seeing that people under the age of fourteen cannot be held criminally liable in Germany, the court first had to conduct medical exams to verify the claims of some of the accused that they were below this threshold or were at least under 18 or 21 respectively, rendering the juvenile code applicable. Two expert witnesses were heard until this issue was resolved with the necessary certainty. Moreover, during the trial, witnesses were heard e.g. on the situation in Somalia and the causes of piracy, the responsible captain of the Netherlands Navy testified and the master of the Taipan as well as his second officer also gave evidence. Some of the accused chose to make statements themselves during various stages of the trial, some admitting their participation in the act, while incriminating others, some claiming that they were forced to partake in the attack or at least deceived into participation. While the court was unable to bring to the light how exactly the pirate group conducted the attack, the declarations by the accused led to some insights into the act, although any allegations of force or deceit were held to have been unconvincing, since sufficient evidence pointed to the fact that all of the accused participated voluntarily. Consequently, the court saw an attack on maritime traffic and the abduction for purposes of blackmail as given in this case. The fact that the victims were in the safe room did not prevent the abduction from being successful in a legal sense, since the victims were in fact under the control of the pirates, who controlled the entire vessel.

This led the court to a possible penalty of 5-15 years imprisonment for the adults. In weighing the facts and background of the case to find a just penalty, the court stressed especially the danger of the act, the heavy weaponry used, the damage dealt to the vessel and the high criminal energy, but also the situation in Somalia under which the accused grew up, the fact that the accused were only small fish in a criminal network, the long pre-trial detention periods, the fact that there were no complaints against the accused during this detention and the short duration of the abduction. In doing so, it arrived at substantially shorter penalties than the state attorneys requested in this case.

In its concluding remarks, the court stressed that the trial was surely not able to prevent piracy or deter future perpetrators, but it also underlined that the trial was necessary with regard to the individual perpetrators and in order to communicate to the victims that the crime committed against them was punished. The duration of the trial was certainly longer than necessary. It was criticized by the court that the defense attorneys delayed the trial substantially, which is probably true. Although they merely used the means given to them by German criminal procedural law, some of their requests seemed far-fetched, e.g. the proposal for the court to travel to Somalia to see what life is like there, the proposition, the court should pay bribes in order to obtain witness statements from Somalia, a challenge against the court for bias, because the proceedings started one hour later than originally announced one day, or even the request to lock the captain of the Netherlands Navy, the person responsible for freeing the Taipan, in coercive detention, because he did not give evidence with regard to classified matters.

What remains for the international community? Surely, piracy trials need not last two years to be fair, but this trial shows that granting an effective defense also means trials tend to last longer. Against this backdrop, the ongoing trials in Kenya and the Seychelles, which last only much shorter and which, in case of the Seychelles, have featured one defense attorney for up to 14 accused show what happens when no effective defense is guaranteed. A similarly dramatic contrast is to be found in the way the issue of age was handled in the German trial versus how it is handled in e.g. the Seychelles. While the court in Hamburg went to great lengths to estimate as precise as possible the age of the accused, in the Seychelles, age has up to now not even been a criterion which lead the courts to distinguish between adults and juveniles with regard to the applicable penalties. Expecting the same diligence, which was used in the German proceeding everywhere in the world, would probably be a rule-of-law-overkill, but to some extent the German trial has thrown into sharp relief the conduct of trials elsewhere in the world.

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.