MOSCOW (Sh.M.Network)—In calling upon members of the international community to bring domestic piracy legislation up to speed with the applicable international law Monday, the UN Security Council urged states to consider prosecuting and imprisoning pirates and their enablers.
Acknowledging the improved numbers, the Security Council lauded cooperation between states. Still, it urged the imperative of more teamwork in combatting the issue: “The Security Council stresses the need for a comprehensive response by the international community to repress piracy and tackle its underlying causes for a durable eradication of piracy and armed robbery at sea and illegal activities connected therewith.”
The presidential statement issued as the outcome of a Security Council meeting on piracy is replete with mentions of prosecution. The international community has grappled in recent years with how best to extinguish the threat of modern piracy. Confusion has prevailed over who can – and perhaps more importantly, who should – exercise jurisdiction over acts of piracy.
The Security Council thus called on states, “to criminalize piracy under their domestic law and to favourably consider the prosecution of suspected, and imprisonment of convicted pirates and their facilitators and financiers ashore, consistent with applicable international law including international human rights law.
” The statement further urges states, international organizations, and the private to expand cooperation efforts by sharing evidence, information, and intelligence in connection with piracy law enforcement.
One possible reason for the lack in sufficient domestic legislation is the fact that piracy evokes what’s known as universal jurisdiction. In other words, because pirates are considered enemies of mankind, under customary international law any nation may exercise jurisdiction over piracy cases.
In 1927, the Permanent Court of International Justice – predecessor of the International Court of Justice – declared that “Piracy by law of nations, in its jurisdictional aspects, is sui generis.
Though statutes may provide for its punishment, it is an offence against the law of nations; and as the scene of the pirate’s operations is the high seas, which it is not the right or duty of any nation to police, he is denied the protection of the flag which he may carry, and is treated as an outlaw, as the enemy of all mankind – hostis humani generis – whom any nation may in the interest of all capture and punish.”
Still, the potential resource-drain associated with pirate trials has proven a strong deterrent. Russia initiated the Security Council’s adoption in 2010 of Resolution 1918, which, “[s]tressing the need to address the problems caused by the limited capacity of the judicial system of Somalia and other States in the region to effectively prosecute suspected pirates,” called on all states to adopt adequate domestic legislation and in order to foster the possibility of domestic legal proceedings in piracy cases.
Russia initiated this resolution after then-president Dmitry Medvedev urged the adoption of tougher measures to combat piracy. RIA Novosti quoted Medvedev shortly thereafter as complaining to then-defense minister Anatoly Serdyukov, “What is the problem? We are all aware of this evil and cannot agree on how to fight it.”
Medvedev reiterated his piracy concerns as recently as early this month, noting the continued lack in mechanisms for effectively bringing pirates to justice.
Russia has made clear its concern with the impunity afforded pirates due to prosecutorial difficulties. In conjunction with Monday’s presidential statement, Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin noted, “[t]he necessary approach included establishing the rule of law, which would result in the effective prosecution of pirates and their accomplices. Without attacking the problem of impunity, it would be impossible to tackle piracy.”
According to a report submitted for the Security Council’s consideration by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, the situation has improved this year in terms of numbers. In the first nine months of 2012, 99 ships were attacked off the coast of Somalia, 13 of which were hijacked. For comparison, the first nine months of 2011 saw 269 attacks and 30 hijackings.
Still, piracy perseveres as a major threat. According to the International Chamber of Commerce’s Commercial Crime Services (ICC CCS), which maintains real time piracy attack reports, there have been a total of 261 attacks and 26 hijackings worldwide this year.
By the ICC CCS count, nine vessels are currently being held off the coast of Somalia with a total of 154 hostages. Pirates have not made life easy for Russian sailors, who, by RIA Novosti’s count, have been subject to at least 22 such attacks in the past four years.