The ‘War’ against Terrorism: Time now to Change our Paradigm

By Ronald Rogo (rogo.ronald@gmail.com)

Introduction

In October 2011Operation Linda Nchi (Kiswahili for “Protect the Country”) was launched by the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF). Operation Linda Nchi was the code name for the military incursion into southern Somalia. The ostensible goal of the military adventures was to crash and hopefully eliminate the threat posed by the Al Shabaab, a terrorist organization operating in Somalia and with reported links to the Al Qaeda terror group. The immediate cause of this unusual turn of events[1] was the kidnapping of two Spanish aid workers working with the Médecins Sans Frontières, an international humanitarian organization, from the Dadaab refugee camp in Northern Kenya. It was alleged that this kidnapping was planned and executed by the Al Shabaab. Although the military incursion in response to the kidnappings did not have an exit date it was apparent from the various press statements by the KDF spokesperson that their immediate goal was to capture the port town of Kismayu. With this it was hoped that the Al Shabaab’s main source of funds and supplies would be cut off and the organization would be crippled. Incidentally, with this military incursion, Kenya joined a growing list of countries that have used the war against terrorism as justification for waging war outside their borders[2].

The initial reports from the government of Kenya were that the incursion was made at the invitation of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia (TFG)[3]. However, subsequent reports brought into doubt whether there was active, or even passive, concurrence of the TFG as initially reported and the Kenyan government was forced to engage in hurried face saving diplomatic overdrive measures. Later, the KDF operation was merged with the African Union operation. Financial and material support was also obtained from the United States of America and the European Union among others.

This article will analyze the legal basis for this “war” against terrorism initially started by the KDF. The main thrust of the article is that the war paradigm cannot be used as justification for a “war” against terrorism as it does not fit into the many legal categories of war. Instead, nations need to come up with another perspective when confronting terrorism that will both be tenable and legally justifiable. Operation Linda Nchi will be used as the case study. The incursion of Kenya into Somalia will be the case study.

The Law of Wars

International humanitarian law (IHL) is the branch of law that governs and guides the relations between states that are in a state of war. It is more commonly described as the law of war. As a result, IHL not only stipulates when nations can justifiably go to war (jus ad bellum) but it also governs the conduct of the parties to the conflict when the state of conflict continues (jus in bello). For example, IHL states what types of targets are justifiable and also the amount and type of force that can be used by the parties in order to disarm the adversary. In this regard, the Geneva Conventions[4], to which Kenya is a signatory, are almost universally accepted as the source of these regulations. The Hague Convention is also recognized as a source of IHL, albeit to a smaller extent.

What “War” Against Terrorists ?

It is difficult to acceptably define the term war. Instead, the legal equivalent term of “armed conflict” is usually used in most legal texts. An armed conflict is seen to arise whenever there is “any difference arising between two States and leading to the intervention of members of the armed forces”. This definition presupposes that there are two sides to the conflict who engage in arms in order to resolve their conflict. There is usually a state of armed conflict between two parties. In addition, the traditional view has been that war is generally an international armed conflict that takes place between two nation states, each trying to assert its will on the other. However, as we shall see later, with the increase in the number and intensity of civil wars there has been recognition that there could be a non international armed conflict that occurs between one group and the governing entity.

Based on the above it is doubtful whether one could legally engage in an armed conflict with terrorists. Whereas it is correct that the armed forces of a particular state could be deployed to hunt out, capture and kill terrorists, such as the KDF has done in Somalia, the terrorists do not, in turn, have an armed force that could then result in an armed conflict. In reality any “war” against terrorists does not have the typical ingredients of a battlefield clash; be it in the air, on the land or over the waters. Since terrorists engage in their criminal activities under the cover of ordinary daily occurrences, it is unrealistic to expect them to engage directly with a country’s armed forces. Instead, depending on the particular modus operandi of the particular terrorist organization one would expect that they would attempt to mingle with innocent civilians.

Under IHL the “members of the armed forces of a Party to a conflict (other than medical personnel and chaplains covered by Article 33 of the Third Convention) are combatants, that is to say, they have the right to participate directly in hostilities”[5]. As combatants, the members of any armed forces can therefore be legitimately targeted by the enemy and either be killed or disarmed. This right includes the right to target and kill them even when they are not aware that they are being targeted, so long as the state of warfare continues and so long as the all the other precautionary measures have been considered[6]. However, in relation to anyone who is not a member of the armed forces of a Party remains a civilian and ought therefore not to be targeted in a state of war. Consequently, since the members of the Al Shabaab are not members of the armed forces of Somalia (or do not even pretend to represent the forces of Somalia), they will always, under the prism of law, be seen as civilians. The only time they can be legitimately targeted is when they directly engage in hostilities and therefore lose the cover of protection of the law. Thus any killings, even in a supposed state of warfare, are justifiable on condition that one can prove that the terrorists were directly participating in hostilities during the state of armed conflict.

In addition it is difficult to see how the Kenyan “war” against terrorism fits into any of the currently recognized categories of armed conflicts. These categories are international armed conflicts or non international armed conflicts. Let me analyze these further.

(i) International Armed Conflicts

Common Article 2(1) of the 1949 Geneva Conventions is the one that is used to guide the conduct of international armed conflicts. The Article provides as follows:

“the present Convention shall apply to all cases of declared war or of any other armed conflict which may arise between two or more of the High Contracting Parties, even if the state of war is not recognized by one of them. The Convention shall also apply to all cases of partial or total occupation of the territory of a High Contracting Party, even if the said occupation meets with no armed resistance”.

While there is no general legal definition for an “international armed conflict” the International Criminal Court (ICC) ruled in the Lubanga case that an armed conflict is of an international character if “it takes place between two or more States”. The court further held that an international armed conflict also “this extends to the partial or total occupation of the territory of another State, whether or not the said occupation meets with armed resistance.”[7] Again, the ICC in the Bemba decision, held that “an international armed conflict exists in case of armed hostilities between States through their respective armed forces or other actors acting on behalf of the State”[8].

Concerning the concept of international armed conflict, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) commentary on Common Article 2 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions adds:

Any difference arising between two States and leading to the intervention of members of the armed forces is an armed conflict within the meaning of Article 2, even if one of the Parties denies the existence of a state of war. It makes no difference how long the conflict lasts, or how much slaughter takes place. The respect due to the human person as such is not measured by the number of victims[9].

Based on the above it is impossible to characterize the KDF’s invasion of Somalia as an international armed conflict. This is because the two protagonists are not two states, rather a state (KDF) on one hand and a terrorist group (Al Shabaab) on the other hand.

(ii) Non-international Armed Conflict

This categorization was included in recognition of the reality that increasingly more conflicts occur and more deaths occur by reason of conflicts within the nation’s borders rather than by cross border conflicts. Thus according to Common Article 3, the armed conflict not of an international character must occur within the territory of the State[10]. The Additional Protocol II[11], (hereinafter “Additional Protocol II”) in supplementing and further expanding the Common Article 3 also provides as follows:

This Protocol […] shall apply to all armed conflicts which are not covered by Article 1 of the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I) and which take place in the territory of a High Contracting Party between its armed forces and dissident armed forces or other organized armed groups which, under responsible command, exercise such control over a part of its territory as to enable them to carry out sustained and concerted military operations and to implement this Protocol.

In order for an internal conflict to be qualified as a non international armed conflict and therefore to be covered by IHL there are certain necessary ingredients that must be met. The main one is that the threshold of the conflict must exceed that of internal disturbances and tensions, such as riots, isolated and sporadic acts of violence or other acts of a similar nature.

Article 3 common to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 provides that “this Protocol shall not apply to situations of internal disturbances and tensions, such as riots, isolated and sporadic acts of violence and other acts of a similar nature, as not being armed conflicts”. In applying this provision the ICTY Appeals Chamber decision in the Tadic case held as follows:

“an armed conflict exists whenever there is a resort to armed force between States or protracted armed violence between governmental authorities and organized armed groups or between such groups within a State. International humanitarian law applies from the initiation of such armed conflicts and extends beyond the cessation of hostilities until a general conclusion of peace is reached; or, in the case of internal conflicts, a peaceful settlement is achieved. Until that moment, international humanitarian law continues to apply in the whole territory of the warring States or, in the case of internal conflicts, the whole territory under the control of a party, whether or not actual combat takes place there[12]

On the question as to whether a group qualifies as an organized armed group the Akayesu decision held that “[t]he term ‘armed conflict’ in itself suggests the existence of hostilities between armed forces organized to a greater or lesser extent. This consequently rules out situations of internal disturbances and tensions”. Further in the Lubanga decision, while setting out the characteristics of a non international armed conflict the court held that one should consider “the force or group’s internal hierarchy; the command structure and rules; the extent to which military equipment, including firearms, are available; the force or group’s ability to plan military operations and put them into effect; and the extent, seriousness, and intensity of any military involvement”[13]

However, there are still plenty of difficulties with such an assessment in relation to the KDF military adventure. Firstly, in order for a conflict to be characterized as a non international armed conflict, it must “take place in the territory of a High Contracting Party”[14]. This means that the theatre of the conflict should have been in Kenya, not Somalia. While the TFG could make the argument that when it combats Al Shabaab it is engaging in a non international armed conflict, the KDF cannot. Again, it was important to show that the Al Shabaab is “under responsible command, (and that it) exercise(s) such control over a part of its territory as to enable them to carry out sustained and concerted military operations and to implement this Protocol[15]. Significantly, the KDF operation cannot meet the requirements of a non international armed conflict on this score too. Apart from repeated isolated attacks in Kenya it cannot be said that the Al Shabaab controlled a part (or any part of Kenya) of Kenya as at the time of the invasion. Further, the KDF has not engaged militarily with any Al Shabaab terrorist groups within Kenya. Lastly, the law requires the military operations of the armed group to be “sustained and concerted”. Although the Al Shabaab has conducted raids on Kenyan soil, it would be a stretch to characterize them as either sustained or concerted.

Conclusion

From the above, it is evident that the use of a war paradigm when describing the invasion in Somalia is tenuous. There is therefore need to rethink the label used. It has been suggested before that any attack by terrorist groups ought to be considered as criminal activities that require police response-even militarized police response-rather than acts of war that require full scale utilization of a nation’s armed forces. In the American case of Holiday Inns, Inc. v. Aetna Ins. Co.[16], the court stated that “The international law definition of war refers to and includes only hostilities carried on by entities that constitute governments at least de facto in character”. Stacie Gorman also stated as follows:

“terrorists are criminals, and not soldiers of war… The practice of trying terrorists in a court of law suggests that the United States has, in the past, recognized that it is limited in its ability to declare war against terrorist groups”[17]

It is my view there was no armed conflict between the KDF and the Al Shabaab. Although it is correct that the Al Shabaab leadership leadership had declared war upon the nation of Kenya and the KDF had done the same in relation to the Al Shabaab these declarations, by themselves, did not mean that a state of armed conflict existed under IHL. Rhetoric does not give rise to a state of armed conflict. Conversely, the lack of any war declarations does not, ipso facto, mean that there is no armed conflict already in existence. It is therefore important for more police action-rather than military activity-to be involved in this “war” against terrorists in the region. The former is not only more efficient as a tool but also legally congruent.


[1]The Kenyan Defence Forces is, by common accord of military observers, the most inexperienced in the region. In a region that is largely known for its perennial conflicts and instability, the KDF is probably the only army in the region that has not engaged in active cross border warfare. Even highly provocative actions such as Uganda’s incursion into Kenyan borders in the Migingo Islands on Lake Victoria, have had mild responses from the Commander in Chief. Further, while neighboring states such as Ethiopia and Uganda have shown an appetite to engage the Al Shabaab in military warfare, the Kenyan government has been reluctant to directly follow this path. Hence, unsurprisingly, the extended disbelief and cynical views in the region when Operation Linda Nchi was launched by the KDF

[2] The United States of America is known for its “war” against terrorism when it invaded Afghanistan in order to rid the country of Al Qaeda elements soon after the September 11 bombings on the World Trade Center in New York. See President Bush’s address to a joint session of Congress on 20th September 2001 where he stated that “Our war on terror begins with Al Qaida, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated” (available at http://middleeast.about.com/od/usmideastpolicy/a/bush-war-on-terror-speech.htm-).

[3] See press statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kenya.

[4] This consists of four treaties and two protocols dealing with the treatment of victims of war. These are the First Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field, 1864, the Second Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea, 1906, the Third Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, 1929 and the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, 1949. It also includes the Additional Protocol I (1977) relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts and Additional Protocol II (1977) relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts.

[5] Article 43(2) of the Protocol additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of victims of International Armed conflicts (Protocol I), 8 June 1977 (hereafter referred in the text as AP I)

[6] These precautions include only targeting combatants and military objectives, not causing superfluous and unnecessary injury, taking into account all precautionary measures

[7] Pre-Trial Chamber I, Prosecutor vs Lubanga, ICC-01/04-01/06-803-ten, para. 209

[8] Pre-Trial Chamber II, Prosecutor vs Bemba, ICC-01/05-01/08, 15 June 2009, para.223

[9] J. Pictet, (ed.), ICRC Commentary on Convention (IV) Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, 12 August 1949, (ICRC, 1958), p.20. The convention mentioned is further referred to as the “Fourth Geneva Convention”, see UNTS, vol. 75, p.287

[10] The Article reads as follows: “In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions: (…)”.

[11] Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and Relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II), 8 June 1977

[12] ICTY, Prosecutor v Tadic, Case No. IT-94-1, “Decision on the Defence Motion for Interlocutory Appeal on Jurisdiction”, 2 October 1995, para.70.

[13] Trial Chamber II, Prosecutor vs Lubanga, ICC-01/04-01/06 Date: 15 June 20009, para. 536

[14] Article 1 of AP II

[15] Ibid

[16] 571 F. Supp. 1460, 1461 (S.D.N.Y. 1983)

[17] 20 In the Wake of Tragedy: The Citizens Cry Out for War, but Can the United States Legally Declare War on Terrorism?, 21 Penn St. Int’l L. Rev. 669 2002-2003

Ahoy Captain! Universal means UNIVERSAL!

By Ronald Rogo  rogo.ronald@gmail.com

 

                                                               “The code is the law!”

                                            Captain Teague in Pirates of the Caribbean

The fight against piracy has gained urgency in recent times, especially off the coast of the Somalia waters. Perhaps the most troubled waters in the world, the increased incidents of piracy have not only caused unnecessary deaths but increased the costs of doing business[1].  The international community has therefore been forced to seek for solutions to this vice. The United Nations Security Council, for example, has passed several resolutions on combating piracy off the coast of Somalia[2], most of which give authority to the member states to enter and use force, even within the territorial waters of Somalia, in order to combat piracy. This, in essence, was an echo of the principle of universal jurisdiction which was first enunciated in relation to acts of piracy. The principle of universal jurisdiction, essentially states that any country has the jurisdiction to try certain crimes, irrespective of the fact that there is no clear nexus between the criminal activities and the trial state[3]. The universal jurisdiction of states in relation to acts of piracy is also recognized under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 (UNCLOS). Article 105 gives any signatory state the power to “seize a pirate ship or aircraft, or a ship or aircraft taken by piracy and under the control of pirates, and arrest the persons and seize the property on board” whenever a vessel is on the high seas[4]. The rationale is that since the high seas are essentially “no man’s land” criminal activities that occur here should not go unpunished due to the lack of territorial or national jurisdiction by any state.

The issue of the universal jurisdiction of states was expounded in the Kenyan case of Republic V Chief Magistrates Court, Mombasa Ex-Parte Mohamud Mohamed Hashi & 8 Others[5]. In this case the applicants were arrested on the High Seas of the Gulf of Aden in the Indian Ocean by the German Naval Vessel, the FGS Rhineland – PFALZ, with the help a U.S. helicopter assigned to the USS – Monterey. They were then taken to Mombasa Kenya and placed in the custody of the Kenyan police. They were later charged with the offence of piracy jure gentium for attacking  the sailing vessel named MV Courier while armed with three AK 47 Rifles, one pistol Tokalev, one RPG-7 portable Rocket Launcher, one SAR 80 Rifle and one Carabire rifle and putting the lives of the crew in fear. The accused persons filed a judicial review application in the High Court of Kenya challenging their charges on the basis that the alleged offense took place in the high seas of the Gulf of Eden. The Kenyan courts, they argued, did not therefore have the jurisdiction to try them since “the offence alleged was committed outside the territorial jurisdiction of Kenya and outside the Kenyan waters…neither a Kenyan citizen or Kenya property was involved…the arrest was made by the German Navy taking part in operations in the Gulf of Aden”. The High Court accepted this argument holding inter alia, that “The High Seas are not and cannot be a place in Kenya or within the territorial waters of Kenya. In fact by definition they are strictly deemed to be outside the jurisdiction of all states in the world or on earth unless some law in the state brings it into their local jurisdiction whether Municipal Law or an International Convention etc”. The High court further held that the trial court “had no jurisdiction over the matter when the charges were preferred, and when the proceedings took place. The said court acted without jurisdiction when they took the pleas of the Applicants and heard the case up to the close of the prosecution case. The whole process was therefore null and void, ab initio. A nullity from the word go”[6]. However, the High Court of Kenya ignored the provisions of UNCLOS providing for universal jurisdiction[7]. This decision was later overturned by the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal held that the High Court failed “to appreciate the applicability of the doctrine of universal jurisdiction in reference to the case at hand”[8].

That said, it is important to note that Article 105 of UNCLOS provides that “the courts of the State which carried out the seizure may decide upon the penalties to be imposed, and may also determine the action to be taken with regard to the ships, aircraft or property, subject to the rights of third parties acting in good faith” (emphasis mine). In other words the State that seizes any vessel on the high seas ought to be the one that actually tries the suspected pirates[9]. This rule has largely been ignored in current practice where states in the developed world only arrest the pirates and “dump” them in countries in the developing world[10]. A few examples should suffice to illustrate the point. On February 19, 2012, four suspected Somali pirates, captured by the Danish naval troops, were taken to Kenya after being rejected by the government in Seychelles.  In March 2009, seven suspected pirates were arrested in the Gulf of Aden by the US Navy after a tanker, Polaris, sent a distress call that they were being attacked[11]. Eugene Kotnorovich estimates that “universal jurisdiction was used in prosecuting only 0.53% of clearly universally punishable piracy cases between 1998 and 2007, with the figure increasing to 2.5% between 2008 and June 2009, and reporting that Kenya accounts for all but three cases of invoking universal jurisdiction over piracy in the past 12 years, with responsibility for 79% of cases[12] (emphasis mine).

The reasons for this misnomer are varied. However, the most common issue is the question of what to do with the pirates if they are acquitted or once they have served their sentence. Since the principle of non refoulement applies universally as a peremptory norm of international law, the states where the trials are held will be “stuck” with the pirates either on acquittal or upon serving sentence as they often cannot return them to Somalia and the trial state will be obliged to offer them asylum[13].William Langeweshice, quotes an Indian official, for example of stating: “What would happen if India convicted and imprisoned them, but after their release Indonesia refused to recognize or accept them? . . . They would become stateless people . . . Then the problem for India would be where to send them”[14]. But this problem creates greater burdens to poorer countries like Kenya and Seychelles which have an additional cost to the trial process. An already overwhelmed police and prison system is further stretched without significant financial assistance from the international community[15]. I therefore hold the view that the current practice is not sustainable. The country that arrests the suspected pirates ought to be the one that prosecutes. After all, universal jurisdiction means just that…universal!


[1] For more analysis of effects of piracy off the coastal shelf refer to previous posts on this blog on the subject.

[2] United nations Security Council Resolutions No. 1816, 1838, 1846 and 1851 of 2008, 1897 of 2009, 1918 and 1950 of 2010, 1976, 2015 and 2020 of 2011.

[3] The common nexus in relation to criminal jurisdiction relates to criminal activities that occur within the territory of a given state. However, some states also have jurisdiction over some criminal activities committed by their nationals overseas and criminal activities overseas where their nationals are victims.

[4] In Article 86 of UNCLOS, the high seas is taken to mean “all parts of the sea that are not included in the exclusive economic zone, in the territorial sea or in the internal waters of a State, or in the archipelagic waters of an archipelagic State”

[6] Ibid

[8] The full decision of the Court of Appeal can be accessed online at http://piracylaw.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/kenya-hashi-appeal-opinion.pdf. The same position was held in the case of Hassan M. Ahmed V Republic [2009] eKLR. It can be accessed online at http://kenyalaw.org/CaseSearch/view_preview1.php?link=66028601162227766885163

[9] Admittedly, the provision is a drafted in permissive rather than in a rigid way. However, it is my view that it represents the rule-of-the-thumb arrangement, only to be departed from in exceptional cases.

[10] For analysis of the number of piracy related trials held by various countries go to http://www.cbrne-terrorism-newsletter.com/resources/2011%20-%20Prosecuting%20Pirates_Challenges%20for%20the%20Prisons.pdf

[12] Eugene Kontorovich & Steven Art, An Empirical Examination of Universal Jurisdiction for Piracy (Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 09-26, 2010); 104 AM. J. INT‘L. L. 8-9 (forthcoming 2010), available at http://ssrn.com/abstract=1519518

[13] The principle of non refoulment is also expounded in CAT Article 3(1), ICCPR Article 7, and ECHR Article 3, which all protect individuals from being returned to a country where they are at risk of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, or punishment.

[14] William Langewiesche, The Outlaw Sea: Chaos And Crime On The World‘S Oceans 75 (2004)

A Sea Free From Piracy – When Mare Will be Really Liberum?

Written by Lina Laurinaviciute

pirates

A spot of a small boat approaching a merchant vessel crossing the Red sea or a cruise ship riding to the sunny Seychelles can be a sign of a great danger and a terrible misfortune if not noticed in time. Hugo Grotius, the Dutch philosopher, more than 400 years ago in his book “Mare Liberum” (The Free Sea) declared that it was not possible to own sea.[1] However, soon it was realized that its treasures were not without a master. In the same 17th century Sir Edward Coke, an English jurist and Member of Parliament, expressed concern about the criminals – the pirates, who were characterized as the hostis humani generis (enemy of all mankind). The recent situation, especially in Somalia, reveals, that this problem still has an alarming tendency even in the 21st century.

Indeed, nowadays, the character of a pirate is far from the one romanticized by Capt. Jack Sparrow. Usually, they are local seamen looking for a quick score, highly-trained guerrillas, rouge military units, or former seafarers recruited by crime organizations. Armed with knives, machetes, assault rifles and grenade launchers, they steal out in speedboats and fishing boats in search of supertankers, cargo ships, passenger ferries, cruise ships, and yachts, attacking them at port, on the open seas, in international waters.[2] Also, the “Jolly Roger” – a famous flag of pirates, is not used by pirates themselves, but indicates a great danger in the various maps of maritime risk intelligence.

The first international efforts to define piracy were made by signing the United Nations (hereinafter – UN) Geneva Convention on the High Seas in 1958 and the following UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, signed in 1982, which stated that piracy consists of any of these acts:

(a) any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed:

(i) on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft;

(ii) against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State;

(b) any act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or of an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship or aircraft;

(c) any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described in subparagraph (a) or (b).[3]

The estimated figures of the International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB) Piracy Reporting Centre show, that worldwide in 2012, pirates have committed 278 attacks, hijacked 27 vessels, took more than 400 hostages, from which 147 are still held by Somali pirates.[4] In addition, 58 attempted attacks were reported.[5] Indeed, the drop in Somali piracy has brought global figures for piracy and armed robbery at sea down compared with 2011, when 439 worldwide piracy attacks were reported. Nonetheless, there can be no room for complacency till entire ships are hijacked and cargo crews simply vanish.[6] Mariners are warned to be cautious and to take necessary precautionary measures, especially when transiting through the coasts of Somalia, Nigeria, Benin, South East Asia and Indonesia.[7]

As mentioned before, in Somalia attacks have dropped significantly, mostly due to the increased military action on suspected skiffs, military anti-piracy operations and increase in armed guards onboard ships. However, Somali pirates still remain the greatest global threat, as the majority of the worldwide piracy attacks are attributed to them. Usually, the tactics of the Somali pirates is to attack ships in the northern, eastern and southern coast of Somalia. According to the IMB’s report of 2011, these pirates have also attacked vessels much farther off the Somali coast. They have moved deeper into the Indian Ocean, off Seychelles and the Maldives, and further south along the East African coast, off Kenya, Madagascar, and Mozambique.[8] To proceed with attacks very far out to sea, pirates normally use “mother vessels”, which are able to launch smaller boats to attack and hijack unsuspecting passing vessels.[9]

In the case of Nigeria all waters are considered to be risky. Pirates attack, hijack and rob vessels, kidnap crews along the coast, rivers, anchorages, ports and surrounding waters.[10] Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea has been over shadowed by Somali piracy in recent years and is becoming increasingly dangerous (34 incidents from January to September 2012, up from 30 last year) and has pushed westward from Benin to Togo, Ivory Coast and Ghana.[11] The recent attacks indicate a worrying development of a dangerous business in the region. Attacks in Indonesia remain a concern as well. These attacks, which are normally launched during the night, have largely taken place in the Malacca Strait, through which 30 percent of the world’s trade and half of the world’s oil shipments pass.[12]

As reported by the IMB, pirates’ attacks are often violent, planned and aimed at stealing oil, gas or other products which can be easily sold on the open market. To cover their tracks once the vessel is hijacked, they damage the communication equipment and at times even the navigation equipment. A ransom demanded for the release of the vessel and crew is also a prospective criminal deal of piracy.[13] An estimated global cost of piracy for 2010 was in the range of $7 to $12 billion, while for 2011 $7 billion were estimated only as Somali piracy’s impact on the global economy.[14] Piracy and armed robbery have great economic consequences, as they are disrupting the delivery of humanitarian aid, especially to Somalia, threatening vital sea lines of communication, economic interests and security of countries at risk, as well as international maritime security and commerce.

As a result of these challenges, many ships have begun to hire armed guards. While this tactic can be quite effective, however, there is not yet a process for regulating these guards, creating potential legal complications. The killings of pirates by security companies, as the one of 2010 when the private security contractors shot dead a Somali pirate, raises questions over who has jurisdiction over a growing army of armed guards on merchant ships flying flags from many nations.[15] A piracy expert Roger Middleton, from the British think tank Chatham House, cautions, that : ”there’s currently no regulation of private security on board ships, no guidelines about who is responsible in case of an attack, and no industrywide standards”. Therefore, the shipping industry and national governments should better coordinate their response to the threat of piracy.

The international community has taken a number of steps to tackle piracy when it emerged as a threat to international maritime security several years ago. In 2008, the UN Security Council passed a series of measures targeting Somali piracy, including Resolution 1816, which authorized states to undertake enforcement actions against piracy and armed robbery in Somalia. Following this and other UN resolutions, NATO, European Union, and United States started naval patrols operations in the Gulf of Aden.[16] This has improved security in that narrow body of water and pushed pirate activity into the broader Indian Ocean, making attacks more costly and risky for pirates, but also making it more difficult to counter attacks across such a vast area.[17]

Similarly, in 2011, Indonesia and Malaysia deployed two warships to the strait as part of a joint patrol targeting pirate attacks. The countries have also developed an “Eye in the Sky” operation with Singapore and Thailand, by which they jointly carry out air patrols.[18] However, not all navies, especially in the Gulf of Guinea have the resources to fight piracy far out at sea, so criminal gangs shift to other areas.[19]

Nonetheless, despite these efforts, it is realized that piracy cannot be solved by military means alone. The amount of ocean to patrol is too vast to protect every ship and, as risk analysis shows, pirates have responded to the increased naval presence by moving attacks farther out to sea. Piracy is most often just one symptom of the general collapse of law and order in the failed state. As a result, the attacks on shipping will continue as long as there is no central government capable of taking on the well-armed and well-paid pirate gangs.[20] Thus, tackling the root causes of piracy, supporting local communities and improving prosecution have a key importance for the rescue of the seas from pirates.

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea makes piracy a universal crime, and subjects pirates to arrest and prosecution by any nation.[21] Taking the example of Somali’s piracy, the root of problem here has been the lack of an effective central government tied with limited economic opportunities throughout the country, where piracy became a mean of survival. In addition, Somalia is composed of a large number of clan groups, and the law is largely implemented at the local level. For many of these groups, piracy provides an economic lifeline, and so they are not willing to prosecute pirates.[22]

Indeed, pirates usually operate as a part of an organized crime network, such as JakartaGlobe in Indonesia. The warlords have intervened sending a good deal: traffickers living in Dubai or Yemen and fisherman are hired by gangs of pirates to execute criminal business. Foreign warships patrolling the area are creating some difficulties but the business is too lucrative to stop the traffickers.[23] Thus, it is clear that, if convictions of pirates in courts will not be successful, with many pirates walking away free, the threat of going to prison will not be a credible deterrent from piracy.

Furthermore, to combat piracy effectively means not only focusing on the pirates operating at sea but also changing the risk-reward equation for the ringleaders, clans providing support to pirates and agents providing intelligence from African ports. Further, it means reducing the freedom of movement pirates currently enjoy despite the private, national and international efforts. Piracy cannot also be defeated without the active cooperation of all the actors involved, including the regional governments.[24]

Pirates are well organised and resourced criminals. They rapidly adjust their tactics and manage to avoid naval patrols by operating farther offshore. Therefore, the holistic approach and the measures including military sea and land based anti-piracy action, preventive techniques used by the merchant vessels, strengthening law enforcement for the affective arrest and prosecution of pirates in the coastal countries, increasing cooperation between all counter-piracy actors and optimizing their efforts should be the priority to tackle evolving pirate trends and tactics. Equally, more significant impact should be made to eradicate the roots of piracy by building-up the capacity of the states and accelerating social and economic development. These measures in long term perspective can mitigate new developments in piracy, reduce its recent effect and contribute to the final defeat, enabling to declare that mare is liberum once more.


[1] United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute, Freedom from Fear 3, Pirates of the XXI Century on the Treasure Hunt, April 2009, p. 31.

[2] Ibid., p 48.

[3] United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, 10 December 1982, Article 101.

[4] International Chamber of Commerce, Piracy & Armed Robbery News & Figures,3 December 2012,available at: http://www.icc-ccs.org/piracy-reporting-centre/piracynewsafigures, [accessed 19 December 2012].

[5] International Chamber of Commerce, IMB Reports Drop in Somali Piracy, but Warns Against Complacency, available at: http://www.icc-ccs.org/news/811-imb-reports-drop-in-somali-piracy-but-warns-against-complacency,[accessed 19 December 2012].

[6] Ibid.

[7] International Chamber of Commerce, Piracy & Armed Robbery Prone Areas and Warnings, available at: http://www.icc-ccs.org/piracy-reporting-centre/prone-areas-and-warnings, [accessed 18 December 2012].

[8] International Maritime Bureau, Global Piracy Report 2011, available at: http://www.ibm.com/investor/pdf/2011_ibm_annual.pdf, [accessed 19 December 2012].

[9] Supra note 8.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Supra note 5.

[12] Council on Foreign Relations, Combating Maritime Piracy, available at: http://www.cfr.org/france/combating-maritime-piracy/p18376,[accessed 18 December 2012].

[13] Supra note 5.

[14] One Earth Future, The Economic Cost of Maritime Piracy, Working Paper, December 2010, available at: http://www.cfr.org/france/combating-maritime-piracy/p18376, [accessed 18 December 2012].

[15] World, Private Guards Kill Somali Pirate For First Time, 24 March 2010, available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/03/24/private-guards-kill-somal_n_511143.html, [accessed 19 December 2012].

[16] Supra note 14.

[17] Council on Foreign Relations, Smarter Measures in Fight Against Piracy, 10 December 2010, available at: http://www.cfr.org/somalia/smarter-measures-fight-against-piracy/p23611, [accessed 19 December 2012].

[18] Supra note 14.

[19] Supra note 5.

[20] Supra note 15.

[21] Supra note 14.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Supra note 1, p. 13.

[24] Supra note 17.

* Photo of Mohamed Dahir / AFP – Getty Images

Clear Waters Ahead: National Piracy Prosecutions in Italy and the US

Written by: Regina Paulose

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), considered to be customary international law, defines an act of “piracy”[1] as any one of the following acts:

(a) Any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed: (i) on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft; (ii) against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State;

(b) Any act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or of an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship or aircraft;

(c) Any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described in subparagraph (a) or (b).[2]

The punishment for piracy is left up to the state that captures the pirates.[3]  Under the US Code, piracy is defined as, “whoever on the high seas, commits the crime of piracy as defined by the law of nations, and is afterwards brought into or found in the United States, shall be imprisoned for life.”[4]  Prior to the recent cases that have been filed in Federal Court, the governing case was US v. Smith (from 1820) which interpreted piracy as “robbery at sea.”[5]

While things remained quiet with regards to the interpretation of sea piracy laws in the US, the decision in US v. Said disturbed the status quo waters. A federal judge dismissed the charge of piracy at the pre-trial stage, interpreting piracy to narrowly mean a “robbery at sea.”[6] The prosecutor filed an interlocutory appeal, and the Appeals Court remanded the case for proceedings to be consistent with US v. Dire.[7]

In US v. Dire, the defendants, a group of Somali pirates, approached a vessel assuming it was an unarmed merchant vessel.[8] Dire and two other defendants on the skiff were armed and began shooting at the vessel, which was actually the USS Nicholas on an anti-piracy mission. The defendants attempted to flee after the crew of the Nicholas returned fire, but were caught before reconnecting with its mothership. There were two more defendants aboard the mothership who were also apprehended. During questioning the defendants each separately confessed the scheme to hijack the vessel.

The defendants on appeal asserted that their attack did not amount to piracy under USC 1651 because it was not a “robbery at sea.”[9] In summary, the Appeals Court disagreed and found that USC 1651 “incorporates a definition of piracy that changes with advancements of the laws of nations.” Further, piracy under the law of nations encompasses the violent conduct of the defendants.[10]

The Dire decision should  allow the Said court to reconcile its decision in light of the analysis made in Dire. This should make the laws in the US consistent with regards to the interpretation of what piracy constitutes.

In the EU, Italy has also begun national prosecutions of pirates. The newest piracy cases to emerge in Italy are the Montecristo Hijack trials and the Valdarno.[11] In October 2011, the Montecristo, an Italian cargo ship carrying scrap metal, was attacked by Somali pirates.[12] The crew “sealed” themselves off in the citadel room. The crew continued to watch the pirates attack the ship with RPG’s from the citadel. The pirates boarded the Montecristo. When a helicopter was heard outside, the crew fired flares and flashed SOS signs to indicate they needed help. They were rescued by British and US warships who then arrested the pirates onboard the Montecristo.[13] The pirates were brought to Italy for trial and were charged with “attempted hijacking” among other charges.[14] The Somali pirates were convicted and sentenced between 16 to 19 years.

In Valdarno, the pirates were not able to board the vessel, but attempted to stop the vessel by firing at it. They were apprehended by the Italian military on board a Yemeni ship, thus making one of the critical issues whether Italy had proper jurisdiction. This issue was not flushed out in litigation because the defendants accepted plea deals.[15]

All of these cases point to a possible increase in national prosecutions of piracy cases. These cases indicate that the emerging jurisprudence seems to be consistent with international norms and that countries are willing to prosecute these criminals. This should come as good news to the Kenya Piracy Court which claimed in 2010 that it would “stop prosecuting piracy cases” unless other countries were willing to “share the burden.”[16]  The importance of the Kenya Court should be emphasized. The cases prosecuted by Kenya have been used in decisions such as Dire to further illustrate what the legal norms and the exact contours of piracy are.

In light of these cases, perhaps one important discussion the international community should take the time to have is what kind of sentences and plea offers should be acceptable in piracy cases. While each case will have a different set of facts, the trends in litigation indicate that challenges to jurisdiction are extremely common. If sentences are similar it would prevent defendants from “forum shopping.” All the defendants in the cases discussed so far are from Somalia. Many of them are motivated to engage in this behavior because of the lack of opportunities and the quick availability of funds. It is important that during sentencing national judges also consider incorporating educational and opportunities for rehabilitation (if needed) if they exist within the prison system. Otherwise, once the pirates have served their sentences, they will return to venture out to the high seas for work again.


[1] This definition is similar to the 1958 UN Convention on the High Seas

[2] UNCLOS Article 101

[3] UNCLOS Article 105, “On the high seas, or in any other place outside the jurisdiction of any State, every State may seize a pirate ship or aircraft, or a ship or aircraft taken by piracy and under the control of pirates, and arrest the persons and seize the property on board. The courts of the State which carried out the seizure may decide upon the penalties to be imposed, and may also determine the action to be taken with regard to the ships, aircraft or property, subject to the rights of third parties acting in good faith.”

[4] 18 USC §1651

[5] US v Smith 18 US 153 (1820)

[6] US v. Said, 757 F. Supp. 2d at 556- 57, See Douglas Guilfoyle, “Prosecuting Pirates in national courts: US v. Said and piracy under US law” EJIL: Talk! August 23, 2010) available at: http://www.ejiltalk.org/prosecuting-pirates-in-national-courts-us-v-said-and-piracy-under-us-law/. See also Professor Eugene Kontorovich, who argues that the lack of a definition was because Congress foresaw changes to the definition in “Piracy Charges dismissed by Federal Judge” The Volokh Conspiracy blog, (August 17, 2010), available at: http://www.volokh.com/2010/08/17/piracy-charges-dismissed-by-federal-judge/

[7] US v. Said, US Court of Appeals Fourth Circuit, No. 10 -4970, May 23, 2012, available at: http://www.ca4.uscourts.gov/opinions/Published/104970.p.pdf

[8] These were the facts presented at the trial of the defendants. US v. Dire, No. 11-4310, 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, May 23, 2012, 5.

[9] Dire at 9

[10] Dire at 41

[11] Enzo Mangini, Somali Pirates Sentences, November 28, 2012, Maritime Security Review, http://www.marsecreview.com/2012/11/somali-pirates-sentenced/

[12] Maritime Security Review, Vessel Re-Taken, October 11, 2011, available at: http://www.marsecreview.com/2011/10/vessel-taken/

[13] This is the reported testimony presented during trial by the crew members aboard the Montecristo.  Enzo Mangini, Montecristo Hijack Trial, October 26, 2012, available at: http://www.marsecreview.com/2012/10/montecristo-hijack-trial/

[14] Italian Prosecutor Scavo charged the pirates under Italian Navigation Code Article 1135.  See also Matteo Crippa, Historic Piracy Trial Opens in Italy, March 27, 2012, available at: http://piracy-law.com/2012/03/27/historic-piracy-trial-opens-in-italy/

[15] Mark Lowe, “Italy Jails More Somali Pirates” Maritime Security Review, December 4, 2012, available at: http://www.marsecreview.com/2012/12/italy-jails-more-somali-pirates/

[16] BBC, “Kenya Opens Fast Track Piracy Court in Mombasa” June 24, 2010 available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10401413