Two recent developments bring the problem of Somali pirates back into view. Last week, a federal court in Virginia began the first U.S. trial on piracy charges in over 100 years. And this week, pirates finally released an older British couple who have been held in Somalia for over a year.
Why hasn’t international law been more effective in dealing with the problem of piracy? Ironically, laws of universal jurisdiction—a core doctrine of international law—were largely developed to deal with piracy on the high seas centuries ago, yet in the 21st century, we still have pirates. Why?
For one thing, nations have been afraid to take on the possible legal complications of trying pirates, so they have engaged in “catch and release.” Europeans fear possible human rights charges if they capture pirates, and also that the pirates might seek asylum. Legal technicalities are a problem—must the Somali pirates successfully board the ship or take control of it to be guilty of piracy? Collecting evidence and witnesses are a challenge, as is the diversity of national registry and ownership of ships and their cargo.
Money is always an issue—when ransoms are paid, piracy is encouraged.
Good for the U.S. for bringing these 5 pirates to trial, but there are many more out there. It’s time for international law to spend less time and energy on political agendas and man up to deal with a real and practical problem such as piracy.
(photo credit: Joriel "Joz" Jimenez)