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Is there a case for an International Piracy Court?

While a number of European governments are preparing the EU’s mission against rampant pirate activities around the shore of Somalia, officials increasingly pose the question of what should be done with the pirates once they have been caught.

This question has recently caused practical problems for a number of countries. It is reported that the commander of a Danish frigate, who had seized a pirate vessel, released the crew shortly afterwards, as he did not know what to do with them. Similarly, after having rescued a private yacht, which had been kidnapped by pirates, the French navy decided to simply leave the kidnappers on the Somali beach.

In the light of these problems, some politicians and ship-owners’ associations have stated that the pirates should be tried before the international judiciary. In the view of the Dutch ship-owners’ association for instance the International Court of Justice should deal with cases of international piracy (see the following press article). By contrast, Christian Schmidt, a German undersecretary of the ministry for defense, has called for the creation of a specialized international court for this purpose (for further information see here). This seems, at least, slightly more reasonable than submitting the cases to the International Court of Justice or the International Tribunal of the Law of the See, which are obviously not competent for this matter. Another solution might be to establish an additional competence of the International Criminal Court (ICC). However, the latter would probably not be particularly delighted about additional cases adding to its workload, which, moreover, involve problems that seem after all to be of slightly less importance than the cases the ICC has dealt with up to now.

How and whether this endeavor will in the end be realized still remains to be seen. It seems that, given the recent economic developments, states are currently trying to keep their money together where they can, so governments would have to be particularly persuasive to convince their parliaments of the need for adding or enhancing an international court. It is true, however, that a solution for pirates captured in the course of military operations has to be found if embarrassing experiences as those of the French and Danish governments are to be prevented.



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