Child pirates: A key issue for respecting child’s rights and halting piracy

This guest post is by Sonia Messaoudi who is a trainee-lawyer at Paris Bar School with an LLM in international law and human rights. She has interned at Amnesty International and the United Nations Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials

Two Somali youth accused of piracy returned home to their parents on 13 August 2012 after a Seychelles court determined they were too young to sentence after an eight-month detention. [Hassan Muse Hussein/Sabahi]

In August 2012, two Somali youth who had been accused of piracy returned home after a Seychelles court determined that they were too young to be sentenced. The children were brought to Garowe on a private plane paid for by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. This is the modern and dark version of piracy books for children. Indeed, this is not an isolated case off the Horn of Africa as about one-third of Somali pirates are children. While eliminating piracy became a worldwide issue, it has to be approached without forgetting the protection of children who are involved in such criminal activities. As noted on the 23 November 2010 for the first time in a piracy resolution, the Security Councilexpressed concern about the involvement of children off the coast of Somalia.

According to international law, children should not be prosecuted by the same means as adults. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child states a child (i.e. anyone under 18 years old) should be handled differently than adults when charged with serious crimes, and “be treated in a manner consistent with the promotion of the child’s sense of dignity and worth.”  However, many Somali youth linked to piracy are held in foreign jails, causing great worry for their parents.

As the use of child soldiers is denounced, there is an increasing international mobilization against the use of children for criminal purposes. When dealing with child pirates, there are two possibilities: arrest them in accordance with a juvenile crime, or release them which means they must be put back into one of the worst forms of child labour.

In some countries, children are prosecuted, while in others children are protected. In the countries where children are prosecuted, the State must ensure it does so in accordance with international juvenile justice standards. Over the last twenty-five years, child-specific instruments, such as the UNCRC and general human rights treaties, have played a crucial role in setting out states’ obligations towards young offenders. The UNCRC has four general principles – (i) the right to life, survival and development, (ii) the right not to be discriminated against, (iii) the requirement that the best interests of the child be a primary consideration in all actions concerning children and finally (iv) the right of the child to be heard in all decisions that affect him/her. It requires a dedicated juvenile justice system, a minimum age of criminal responsibility and the adoption of measures to deal with children without resorting to judicial proceedings, provided that human rights and legal safeguards are fully respected. The UNCRC prohibits the imposition of the death penalty and life imprisonment on children, and requires that imprisonment be imposed only as a last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time. It also prohibits arbitrary deprivation of liberty and provides for the right to prompt legal assistance and the right to challenge the legality of the detention.

As Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict stated, if an international criminal tribunal is convened to deal with the perpetrators of acts of piracy, no child should be tried in the same court as adults but rehabilitated and integrated back into their communities. However, if a prosecuting state decides not to prosecute them, the concrete consequence is to put children back into a situation where they may be forced to perpetrate further acts of piracy. Therefore, solutions should be found in order to reintegrate them into the society as required by Article 7 of The 1999 ILO Convention on the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour, and article 40 the Convention of the Rights of the Child.

Potential solutions may be drawn from the situation of child soldiers. Roméo Dallaire has noted there is no major difference between a child soldier and a child pirate: “they are children being used by adults for criminal or political purposes, and they are extremely vulnerable, and there are a lot of them.” As for child soldiers, a program called “Prevention, Demobilization and Reintegration” created in 1990’s for helping child soldiers helped more than 100 000 since 1998. Prevention consists essentially in advocacy and supporting civil society by raising awareness of child rights through a variety of media, and using local and international human rights reporting mechanisms. Centers have been created in this purpose, assisted by local or international non-governmental organizations, UNICEF, and UN. Furthermore since piracy business is currently costing and estimated $12 billion to the world economy, prevention seems to be a good investment while finding a solution for child pirates and in order to prevent them from engaging in such criminal activities.

However, prevention and reintegration of children is not enough to eradicate piracy. We must attack the roots. Indeed, the employment of children in criminal activities such as piracy is forbidden by the Labour Organization Convention. The UNCRC states the State parties recognizing the right to child to be protected from exploitation shall provide for appropriate penalties or other sanctions to ensure an effective enforcement. In countries where  pirates originate, such as Somalia, governments often do not respect international standards of human rights. However in order to prosecute pirates who are using or recruiting children, some recommendations were made. Indeed, encouraging government to enforce national legislation to ensure there is no impunity against those accused of perpetrating these violations against children, and increasing pressure on persistent perpetrators through greater interaction between the Council and the Secretariat of UN, national courts and the ICC are one of them, as Resolution 1918 requested it off the coast of Somalia. In case of armed conflicts, some resolutions recommend sanctions, such as arms embargos. We could think about these kinds of solutions for piracy too.

However, the issue is now to know whether or not the use or recruitment of children for criminal activities such as piracy can be prosecuted. In some domestic law, as France and in some states in United States of America for instance, there are specific statutes criminalizing encouraging, using or recruiting children for criminal activities. However, where such is not criminalized especially for recruiting children, it may be possible to prosecute for causing, encouraging, soliciting, or recruiting criminal gang members. Furthermore, Article 101(c) on UNCLOS provides another way to prosecute them stating the recruitment can be as an act of incitement.

At the international level, convictions by International Courts of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo and Charles Taylor have helped raised awareness of the criminal nature of the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict. Furthermore, the International Criminal Court disallows the recruitment or conscription of child soldier (under the age of 15 years) into military which is defined as war crimes.

In order to draw a parallel between child soldiers and child pirates, the question is whether child pirates may be considered to be child soldiers. According to the international definition, a child soldier is any child under 18 years of age, who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force or armed group in any capacity including but not limited to: cooks, porters, messengers, and anyone accompanying such a group other than family members. Therefore, the question is whether or not pirates who are using or recruiting children are regular or irregular armed force or armed group. An International armed conflict exist whenever there is resort to armed force between two or more States, while Non-international armed conflicts are protracted armed confrontations occurring between governmental armed forces and the forces of one or more armed groups, or between such groups arising on the territory of a State [party to the Geneva Conventions]. The armed confrontation must reach a minimum level of intensity and the parties involved in the conflict must show a minimum of organization. There are two options then. First, it is an non-international armed conflict and we have to determine if the pirates groups can be seen as armed group or irregular armed force, and secondly, it is an international armed conflict and the question is whether or not piracy as international conflict. But pirates group are not well identified.  Both of the two options are not legally convincing. So it seems in most of the case, international humanitarian law cannot apply to child pirates in Somalia, as it applies for child soldiers.

Therefore, in order to impede children piracy and respecting children’s human rights, we should deal with child pirates but also with persons using or recruiting children for such a criminal activities. Where the first ones should not be prosecuted but reintegrated into the civil society, the second ones should be.

What is sure is that we have all, from the local communities to the States and international institutions, the responsibility to make sure the only pirate children should know is Captain HooK.


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.

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.

Putting political convenience aside, pirates are simply not terrorists

Jon Bellish is a Project Officer at the Oceans Beyond Piracy project in Boulder, Colorado (though all of his views are his own), and he has experience in United States piracy trials. He just got on Twitter. Cross-posted at The View from Above.

Pirates of Terrorists? Either way PCASPs are on board

While running through my piracy news roundup yesterday morning, I came across this piece by Robert Young Pelton of Somalia Report. In it, Pelton criticizes a report by Australia’s Lowy Institute that deals with the use of privately contracted armed security personnel (PCASP).

I took particular interest in a small tangent within Pelton’s piece that reflects an incorrect sentiment that I have seen repeated many times by non-attorneys (and even by some attorneys): that modern pirates should be considered terrorists.

As Pelton’s Somalia Report piece primarily concerns PCASP, the terrorism issue is only mentioned in a passing parenthetical:

“Pirates are criminals, (never terrorists because that would prevent the payment of ransoms) so it makes sense that a direct response by putting armed guards on ships was the most logical and so far, the most effective response to the pirate attacks.”

From this statement, I gather that Mr. Pelton is of the view that a key reason that the global anti-terrorism network has not been brought to bear against Somali pirates is that such an arrangement would force states to “negotiate with terrorists” once the pirates have seized the vessel and taken hostages. He appears to lament this fact. A similar view has been expressed by former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton and others who argue that relaxed rules concerning due process and state sovereignty as they are applied to terrorists would make the piracy fight a much easier one to win.

The oft-expressed desire to equate pirates with terrorists likely stems from several superficial similarities between the two groups. First, as Ambassador Bolton points out, “the same crippling evidentiary and procedural constraints” apply to both terrorists and pirates. Also, both groups consist of non-state actors operating in a truly international fashion to the detriment of the broader international community. Finally, both groups tend to base their operations in the Middle East/North Africa region.

Yet international law is clear as to the respective motives necessary to make one a terrorist or a pirate, and the facts on the ground suggest that, no matter how convenient it may be from a policy standpoint, pirates are not terrorists.

Judge Antonio Cassese, presiding over the Appeals Chamber at Special Tribunal for Lebanon, announced last year that a definition of terrorism has emerged under customary international law. Included in this definition is the requirement that the terrorist has “the intent to spread fear among the population (which would generally entail the creation of public danger) or directly or indirectly coerce a national or international authority to take some action, or to refrain from taking it.”

Conversely, it is well-documented that, although piratical intent is not limited to the desire to rob, for an act to be considered piratical, it must be committed for private ends. This requirement is explicitly laid out in UNCLOS art. 101, as well as its predecessor, 1958 Geneva Convention on the High Seas.

A terrorist’s intent must be to incite mass fear or coerce a government, both purely political motives; a pirate’s motive is strictly limited to making money.

In a smart piece here on couching this definitional issue in terms of a potential defense available to alleged pirates, Roger Phillips rightly notes that, although in theory it is possible to have both political and pecuniary motives, the political motive appears absent in Somali pirates, who choose not to attack well-protected ships or kill hostages simply because it would be less profitable to do so. It seems like a stretch to argue that the pirates’ modus operandi of attacking a privately-owned ship in the middle of the ocean is somehow carried out in order to coerce a government or frighten the public at large by placing them in danger.

Though Roger covered it thoroughly, this definitional point bears repeating because the terrorist theme has gained so much traction in non-legal commentary on the issue of maritime piracy. As tempting as it is to “talk tough” about pirates and the international community’s response to piracy by evoking the specter of terrorism, there is very little merit to the claim that the two terms can, at least presently, be used interchangeably to describe Somali pirates or their West African counterparts.

Respect for the rule of law – apart from being perennial advice given by developed countries to countries like Somalia – requires taking the law as it is written (or trying to change it through legitimate processes) rather than molding it to fit one’s immediate policy preferences. Unless evidence of pirates taking a less profitable course in favor of a strategy with large political payoff emerges – or the definitions of piracy and/or terrorism change – the “pirates as terrorists” slogan will continue to be just that – a slogan.

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.

Negotiator Sentenced to Multiple Life Terms – SCOTUS on the horizon

Defendant Mohamed Salid Shibin appears in court

As we previously discussed here and here, Mohammad Saaili Shibin has been convicted for his role as a pirate negotiator in two separate incidents. During the trial, there was evidence that the hostages were tortured, but Shibin’s main role was to negotiate a ransom payment. Shibin has now been sentenced to 12 life terms and his attorney has promised to appeal. Two issues could lead to overturning Shibin’s convictions and might soon reach the Supreme Court.

First, Shibin’s attorney has stated that piracy can only occur if someone commits robbery at sea. In other words, the issue is whether piracy under the 18 USC 1651 (which incorporates the law of nations) is an evolving or a static concept. If it is a static concept, then a robbery was necessary to complete the offence. Since Shibin never boarded the hijacked yacht, he did not commit a robbery and his conviction for piracy, the basis for the life terms, could not stand. If, however, piracy is an evolving concept, then the UNCLOS definition would prevail and, because it does not require a robbery, Shibin’s conviction would stand.

Shibin’s appeal will first be heard by a 3-judge panel of the 4th Circuit. Another panel of the same court has ruled, in U.S. v. Abdi Wali Dire, that piracy is an evolving concept. A petition for rehearing was subsequently denied in that case, and the defence is filing an appeal with the US Supreme Court. Shibin could appeal the same issue to the 4th Circuit and might win if a different panel hears the case. However, if his appeal is denied, which is likely, he will have to take the case to the US Supreme Court as well.

The second issue that might result in overturning his convictions is whether Shibin’s actions in Somali territory can constitute piracy under the law of nations. The Federal Court in the DC Circuit recently held, in U.S. v. Ali, that the international crime of piracy can only be committed on the high seas. Therefore, negotiating a ransom for pirated hostages on land or within a state’s territorial waters does not constitute piracy. There is a healthy debate as to the correctness of this decision. See here and here. Nonetheless, it appears that Shibin only boarded the pirated vessel in Somali territorial waters. The U.S. Attorney prosecuting Shibin said that Shibin was a hostage negotiator operating from within Somalia, and it is reported that Shibin only boarded the pirated ship after it entered Somali waters.Therefore, if the Ali-rationale were applied in Shibin’s appeal, his convictions would be overturned. Even though Shibin did not appear to make this particular argument at trial, if it is determined that piracy under the law of nations does not include actions from Somali territory, universal jurisdiction would not permit the U.S. to pursue this prosecution. Therefore, this is a jurisdictional issue that can be raised for the first time on appeal.

Members of Ogoni Community interested by Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Shell Source: Amnesty International

There you have it: two issues that could invalidate Shibin’s convictions. Either or both of these issues could reach the Supreme Court, perhaps not in Shibin’s case, but possibly in U.S. v. Dire. The justices may be inclined to grant certiorari as a rhetorical counterpoint to Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Shell which is on the court’s docket for the next term and will require the court to interpret the statutory language “the law of nations” as part of the Alien Tort Statute. The piracy cases might be helpful to those who would argue that universal jurisdiction only applies to those offenses originally contemplated and discussed by the First Congress (when the piracy law and the Alien Tort Statute were passed). According to this view, piracy would satisfy the requirement, but relatively newer crimes such as crimes against humanity would not.