Italian Marines to be tried in Special Court in Delhi for Enrica Lexie Incident

The two Italian Marines to be put on trial before a special court in Delhi

India’s Supreme Court has rejected a bid by the Italian government to transfer to Italy the case of two of its marines charged with the murder of two Indian fishermen. The judges said that the marines would be tried in a special court in the capital, Delhi. As previously discussed here and here, in the Enrica Lexie incident Indian fishermen were shot and killed by an Italian Vessel Protection Detachment on board to protect against pirates operating in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden. Jurisdiction over the incident was contested by Italy and India leading to litigation before the Supreme Court of India which has now pronounced its view. A friend of the blog has provided us the Judgement of the Supreme Court.  Here are the crucial paragraphs:

97. In my view, since India is a signatory, she is obligated to respect the provisions of UNCLOS 1982, and to apply the same if there is no conflict with the domestic law. In this context, both the countries may have to subject themselves to the provisions of Article 94 of the Convention which deals with the duties of the Flag State and, in particular, sub-Article (7) which provides that each State shall cause an inquiry to be held into every marine casualty or incident of navigation on the high seas involving a ship flying its flag and causing loss of life or serious injury to nationals of another State. It is also stipulated that the Flag State and the other State shall cooperate in the conduct of any inquiry held by that other State into any such marine casualty or incident of navigation.

98. The principles enunciated in the Lotus case (supra) have, to some extent, been watered down by Article 97 of UNCLOS 1982. Moreover, as observed in Starke’s International Law, referred to by Mr. Salve, the territorial criminal jurisdiction is founded on various principles which provide that, as a matter of convenience, crimes should be dealt with by the States whose social order is most closely affected. However, it has also been observed that some public ships and armed forces of foreign States may enjoy a degree of immunity from the territorial jurisdiction of a nation.

99. This brings me to the question of applicability of the provisions of the Indian Penal Code to the case in hand, in view of Sections 2 and 4 thereof. Of course, the applicability of Section 4 is no longer in question in this case on account of the concession made on behalf of the State of Kerala in the writ proceedings before the Kerala High Court. However, Section 2 of the Indian Penal Code as extracted hereinbefore provides otherwise. Undoubtedly, the incident took place within the Contiguous Zone over which, both under the provisions of the Maritime Zones Act, 1976, and UNCLOS 1982, India is entitled to exercise rights of sovereignty. However, as decided by this Court in the Aban Loyd Chiles Offshore Ltd. Case (supra), referred to by Mr. Salve, Sub-section (4) of Section 7 only provides for the Union of India to have sovereign rights limited to exploration, exploitation, conservation and management of the natural resources, both living and non-living, as well as for producing energy from tides, winds and currents, which cannot be equated with rights of sovereignty over the said areas, in the Exclusive Economic Zone. It also provides for the Union of India to exercise other ancillary rights which only clothes the Union of India with sovereign rights and not rights of sovereignty in the Exclusive Economic Zone. The said position is reinforced under Sections 6 and 7 of the Maritime Zones Act, 1976, which also provides that India’s sovereignty extends over its Territorial Waters while, the position is different in respect of the Exclusive Economic Zone. I am unable to accept Mr. Banerji’s submissions to the contrary to the effect that Article 59 of the Convention permits States to assert rights or jurisdiction beyond those specifically provided in the Convention.

100. What, therefore, transpires from the aforesaid discussion is that while India is entitled both under its Domestic Law and the Public International Law to exercise rights of sovereignty up to 24 nautical miles from the baseline on the basis of which the width of Territorial Waters is measured, it can exercise only sovereign rights within the Exclusive Economic Zone for certain purposes. The incident of firing from the Italian vessel on the Indian shipping vessel having occurred within the Contiguous Zone, the Union of India is entitled to prosecute the two Italian marines under the criminal justice system prevalent in the country. However, the same is subject to the provisions of Article 100 of UNCLOS 1982. I agree with Mr. Salve that the “Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Family Relations and Cooperation between States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations” has to be conducted only at the level of the Federal or Central Government and cannot be the subject matter of a proceeding initiated by a Provincial/State Government.

101. While, therefore, holding that the State of Kerala has no jurisdiction to investigate into the incident, I am also of the view that till such time as it is proved that the provisions of Article 100 of the UNCLOS 1982 apply to the facts of this case, it is the Union of India which has jurisdiction to proceed with the investigation and trial of the Petitioner Nos.2 and 3 in the Writ Petition. The Union of India is, therefore, directed, in consultation with the Chief Justice of India, to set up a Special Court to try this case and to dispose of the same in accordance with the provisions of the Maritime Zones Act, 1976, the Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure and most importantly, the provisions of UNCLOS 1982, where there is no conflict between the domestic law and UNCLOS 1982. The pending proceedings before the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Kollam, shall stand transferred to the Special Court to be constituted in terms of this judgment and it is expected that the same shall be disposed of expeditiously. This will not prevent the Petitioners herein in the two matters from invoking the provisions of Article 100 of UNCLOS 1982, upon adducing evidence in support thereof, whereupon the question of jurisdiction of the Union of India to investigate into the incident and for the Courts in India to try the accused may be reconsidered. If it is found that both the Republic of Italy and the Republic of India have concurrent jurisdiction over the matter, then these directions will continue to hold good.

The Judgement is something of a compromise as it takes jurisdiction away from the state of Kerala where local press were decidedly one-sided in their evaluations of the parties at fault. The trial will take place in Delhi where the marines might have a better chance of receiving a fair trial. However, the judgement rejects Italy’s claim to exclusive criminal jurisdiction in this case. The Supreme Court’s reading of the Lotus case in view of UNCLOS is crucial and merits further analysis. We hope to provide further analysis soon.

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Liability for the Destruction of Suspected Pirate Skiffs?

In one of their latest reported joint anti-piracy operation, EUNAVFOR and Combined Task Force 151 announced the disruption of potential piracy attacks off the Somali coast. In November 2012, the Romanian frigate ROS Regele Ferdinand, under EUNAVFOR command, and Turkish warship TCG Gemlik, of Combined Task Force 151, apprehended nine suspected pirates at sea off the coast of Somalia. Earlier, a Swedish EUNAVFOR maritime patrol aircraft located the skiff at 420 nautical miles east of Mogadishu, an area known for pirate activities. At the scene, the TGC Gemlik sent a boarding team to intercept and search the suspected vessel, which for over an hour tried to evade capture. The suspected pirates were then embarked onto the ROS Regele Ferdinand for futher questioning and evidence collection to assess the possibility of their prosecution. No fishing supplies were found on board, while it remains unclear whether the suspects were armed. Shortly after their apprehension, the suspected pirates were released onto a Somali beach for lack of sufficient evidence to proceed to their prosecution. According to EUNAVFOR, despite the strong suspicion that it was a pirate boat, it was determined that there was not sufficient evidence to build a case and prosecute the suspected pirates, as they were not caught actually committing any crime. In additon, building a case against the suspects would be too time-consuming and onerous.

German frigate Hamburg sinks an abandoned skiff off the coast of Somalia. Credit: Christian Bundeswehr - Reuters

German frigate Hamburg sinks an abandoned skiff off the coast of SomaliaCredit: Christian Bundeswehr – Reuters

However, their skiff and other effects on board, including fuel and ladders, were instead destroyed. According to EUNAVFOR, this will prevent the suspected pirates from using the skiff to attack ships in the future. By means of example, this incident, by no means uncommon, raises the question of the diffferent evidentiary grounds and standards of proof for the prosecution of suspected pirates and the destruction of boats and equipment belonging to them. While the destruction of a pirate vessel can prevent the perpetration of further piracy attacks, the sinking of a fishing boat, however small, might put a strain to the fishermen’s livelihoods. Article 106 of UNCLOS (and Article 110(3)) provides for the possible liability for any loss or damange caused by the seizure of a suspected pirate ship when effected without adequate grounds.

Liability for seizure without adequate grounds

Where the seizure of a ship or aircraft on suspicion of piracy has been effected without adequate grounds, the State making the seizure shall be liable to the State the nationality of which is possessed by the ship or aircraft for any loss or damage caused by the seizure.

What are the grounds for the seizure and destruction of suspected pirate vessels and how do these differ from those provided for the arrest and prosecution of suspected pirates? In this regard, the legal framework applicable to the contrast to piracy, particularly in Somalia, needs some additional clarification and interpretation. UNCLOS explicitly provides only for a right of visit when there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that a ship is engaged in piracy (Article 110) and for a right of hot pursuit of a ship into the high seas only when there are good reasons to believe that a violation was committed (Article 111). The SUA Convention, its additional protocol, as well as the Djibouti Code of Conduct also contain references to various evidentiary thresholds, mainly reiterating the principles above contained in UNCLOS relevant to cooperation, rights of visit and liability for loss or damage.

In its recent Resolution 2077 (2012), approved after a significant debate on piracy as a threat to international peace and security, the Security Council renewed its call to continue the fight against piracy, including through the disposition of boats and other relevant equipment for which there are reasonable grounds for suspecting their use in the commission of piracy and armed robbery at sea:

10. Renews its call upon States and regional organizations that have the capacity to do so, to take part in the fight against piracy and armed robbery at sea off the coast of Somalia, in particular, consistent with this resolution and international law, by deploying naval vessels, arms and military aircraft and through seizures and disposition of boats, vessels, arms and other related equipment used in the commission of piracy and armed robbery at sea off the coast of Somalia, or for which there are reasonable grounds for suspecting such use;

Indeed, EUNAVFOR’s seizures or disposals of suspected pirate skiff are premised upon the standard of “reasonabile grounds to suspect” (see also here). How to interpret, therefore, this standard? Resolution 2077, issued under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, also makes various references to the need to ensure compliance with international law and more particularly, “applicable human rights law” and “due process of law in accordance with international standards” in the pursuit of accountability for suspected pirates (see also paras 16-18 and 20). A review of international human rights and criminal law, while concerning crimes of a different nature, might thus provide for futher guidance. Various standards exist and, admittedly, some differ from others by mere semantics. Article 58(1) of the ICC Statute, relevant to the issuing of a warrant of arrests, provides for the evidentiary threshold of “reasonable grounds to believe”. This is significantly different from the threshold required for the confirmation of charges against an individual under Article 61(7) of the same Statute (“substantial grounds to believe”) or, obviously, for a conviction under Article 66(3) (“beyond reasonable doubt”). “Reasonable grounds to believe” are also required before the ICTY for the submission of an indictment by the Prosecutor or in relation to contempt proceedings (Articles 47 and 77(c) of the ICTY Rules of Procedure, respectively). The ICC Pre-Trial Chamber equated the “reasonable grounds to believe” standard to the “reasonable suspicion” standard under Article 5(1)(c) of the European Convention on Human Rights. Arguably, this comparaison appears questionable. Believing is a concept stronger than suspecting. However, while also relevant to arrest and detention, the ECHR determined that this standard consists of the existence of facts and information which would satisfy an objective observer that the person concerned may have committed a crime. The procedure for the submission of an indictment before the ICTY provides the following description of the meaning of “reasonable grounds”:

Reasonable grounds point to such facts and circumstances as would justify a reasonable or ordinarily prudent man to believe that a suspect has committed a crime. To constitute reasonable grounds, facts must be such which are within the possession of the Prosecutor which raise a clear suspicion of the suspect being guilty of the crime. […] It is sufficient that the Prosecutor has acted with caution, impartiality and diligence as a reasonably prudent prosecutor would under the circumstances to ascertain the truth of his suspicions. It is not necessary that he has double checked every possible piece of evidence, or investigated the crime personally, or instituted an enquiry into any special matter. […] The evidence, therefore, need not be overly convincing or conclusive; it should be adequate or satisfactory to warrant the belief that the suspect has committed the crime. The expression “sufficient evidence” is thus not synonymous with “conclusive evidence” or “evidence beyond reasonable doubt.” (Review of the Indictment against Ivica Rajic, Decision of 29 August 1995, Case no. IT-95-12)

Given the limited role played by EUNAVFOR in the investigation and prosecution of piracy, perhaps reference to recent international commissions of inquiry, whose standards are generally lower than those of purely judicial institutions, might also provide for additional guidance. For instance, the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur acted upon a standard of “reliable body of material consistent with other verified circumstances, which tends to show that a person may reasonably be suspected of being involved in the commission of a crime” (para. 15).

Pirates or Fishermen? - Courtesy AP

Pirates or Fishermen? – Courtesy AP

Put plainly, the review above shows that a discrete amount of supporting evidence and the mere possibility, rather than the certainty, of the commission of a crime are therefore required to meet the “reasonable suspicion” standard encompassed in Resolution 2077 for the seizure and disposition of suspected pirate skiffs. It is, arguably, an extremely low standard but it demarcates the basic threshold for piracy-disruption activities. Suspecting the commission of a crime, however, falls a long way from having demonstrable proof. While this standard might also be akin to that required for the arrest of a suspected pirate, those necessary to proceed to his investigation and prosecution are increasingly higher and still depend upon factors such as the quantity and the quality of the evidence, as well as the willingness of State actors to proceed. Finally, several questions remain on the suitability and susceptibility of claims of unlawful destruction of vessels to be brought before Somali authorities when adequated grounds for such destruction are missing or in doubt.

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.

Update: Mekong Pirates Sentenced to Death

Further to his earlier conviction for the murder of 13 chinese sailors on the Mekong River last year, notorious former druglord Naw Kham has been sentenced to death today by the Intermediate People’s Court of Kunming, in China’s Yunnan province. We blogged on the Mekong River murders here. The incident was one of the deadliest assaults on Chinese nationals overseas and prompted unprecedented joint boat patrols along the river.

Naw Kham Upon His Transfer from Laos to China for Trial in May this Year – Asian Correspondent

Three of Naw Kham’s gang members were also sentenced to death, another received a  suspended death sentence while one was sentenced to eight years in prison, respectively. They had all pleaded guilty on a 3-day long trial in September this year. We previously blogged about the Mekong Trial here. The defendants were also ordered  to pay compensations to the victims families. They all said they will appeal the verdict.

 

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.

The Mekong Pirates on Trial

For 3 days at the end of last week, the Intermediate People’s Court in Kunming, the capital of the Yunnan Province in southwest China, was the stage for yet another high profile, yet swift, criminal trial. The case involved the mysterious murder of 13 Chinese sailors on the Golden Triangle’s area of the Mekong River in October last year. We have blogged about the incident here, focusing in particular on China’s unprecedented role in strengthening law enforcement in the strategic Mekong River basin. Since the murders, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar and even Thailand joined China in holding several military patrols across the lawless boundary waters.

The Mekong River Trial in Session at the Intermediary People’s Court in Kunming

The murders, one the deadliest assault on Chinese nationals oversea, sparked a large public outcry in China. It therefore comes as little surprise that the trial attracted much attention from the Chinese press. Among the 6 defendants was Naw Kham (aka Nor Kham aka Jai Norkham),a member of Myanmar’s Shan ethnic minority and a notorious once-untouchable drug lord and gang leader who for years is thought to have ruthlessly run the drug and other illicit trade in the Golden Triangle area. Naw Kham was arrested in April in Laos in another joint military sting operation and traded over to China shortly thereafter. Prior to his arrest, only two blurred pictures of Naw Kham were said to exist.

Naw Kham is Extradited to Beijing amid Tight Security – Xinhua

Much of the news regarding the investigation and trial is limited to Chinese media, with only a few outlets providing reporting in the English language. The holding of the trial has been hailed as another example, further to the joint river patrols, of China’s growing concern over cross-border security issues and its novel policy of regional cooperation in combating international crimes. Indeed, it is unlikely that the arrest and trial of the alleged perpetrators could have taken place in such a swift manner without China’s involvement. As discussed in another previous post, most notably this policy included China’s unprecedented participation in the international anti-piracy patrols off the coast of Somalia and in the larger Gulf of Aden area. Chinese media praised the trial as a model of judicial cooperation, coupling armed drug trafficking gangs on the Mekong and Somali pirates as “common enemies of mankind” and calling for their prosecution as a duty of all States. This is a remarkable development in the debate over the universal nature of piracy prosecution but also, leaving piracy aside, in the more controversial debate over modern China’s sovereignty and its role in large-scale international cooperation. However, China’s sudden primary stance in the Mekong murders also seems to be a show of strength in view of other disputes concerning the economic development in the Mekong River basin as well as in other areas of economic interest in Asia.

After allegedly confessing his role in the Mekong River murders upon his arrest and recanting it in a recent interview, the media reports that Naw Kham partially admitted knowledge of the murders at the beginning of the short trial, which then concluded with his full admission of guilt and plea for leniency. All other defendants, members of Naw Kham’s gang, promptly confessed their responsibility upon the opening of the trial. They were all accused of murder, drug trafficking, kidnapping and hijacking and now face the possibility of the death penalty. During the trial, simultaneous interpretation was provided in Laotian and Thai to accommodate the testimony of foreign policemen and witnesses from Laos and Thailand. Such testimonies are apparently unprecedented in Chinese judicial proceedings. China asserted jurisdiction over the case upon its direct links with the crimes and the victims as well as within the general framework of regional cooperation within the Mekong River. Chinese media also praised the trial as a demonstration of the efficiency of Chinese judiciary to the rest of the world. From an international justice perspective, however, doubts still remain as to the procedural fairness and completeness of such fast-paced trials whose outcome increasingly relies on the defendant confession. Interestingly, the arrest and trial of Naw Kham seems to have fallen under Interpol’s radar, as at the time of writing Naw Kham still remains on its Most Wanted Fugitive List.

Naw Kham Arrives in Court Blindfolded – Not a Common Procedure Everywhere – Xinhua

According to the prosecution, the Chinese boat refused to pay protection money for safe-passage in Naw Kham controlled areas and the murders were framed as a drug related incident to set an example. Several aspects of the murders, however, remain unclear. In particular, one possibly relevant factual element of the case appears to have been given limited consideration, namely the alleged participation in the murders of 9 members of the Thai military, part of an army unit responsible for security along the Mekong. Initial investigations by Chinese authorities already revealed a role played by a group of Thai military. It is still unclear whether they acted in collusion with Naw Kham’s gang. Investigation by Thai authorities, who are currently holding the soldiers as suspects, appear to show conclusive and corroborative evidence of the Thai soldiers shooting at the Chinese boats once they crossed over into Thailand.

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 ?

 LE TRAITEMENT PAR LA FRANCE DES SOMALIENS EN DETENTION

 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.

 LE TRAITEMENT PAR LA FRANCE DES SOMALIENS HORS DE DETENTION

 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.