Wednesday, January 14, 2009

On Piracy and Taking Responsibility.

That piracy is an international crime with universal jurisdiction is well established in law.(1) This means that any nation has the right to criminalise piracy and prosecute offenders, no matter where the crime is committed.

There is therefore nothing in international law that prevents the nations patrolling the coast of East Africa and Somalia to capture and prosecute pirates. This includes Denmark, which has sent the pride of its navy, the HDMS Absolon, to the area.

Twice the Absolon has taken pirates captive. First, in September 2008, when it let them go,(2) and now in January 2009, where the government is trying to pass them on the Netherlands. The reason for letting the pirates go is that there isn't jurisdiction in Danish law to prosecute the pirates.(3) This problem could easily be remedied, but the majority of the Danish parliament is at present unwilling to change the law.(4)

Although international law may not be perfect in dealing with piracy,(5) the real problem is political rather than legal. If Somali pirates are taken to Denmark for trial, Denmark will probably have to house these people for life. Whether the individuals are convicted or not, Denmark will, most likely, be unable to return them to Somalia or any other country. Either the local authorities, or lack thereof, will not accept suspected pirates, or there will be a substantial risk that they will be subject to torture, or inhuman treatment, if returned to their country of origin. Denmark is commited to not extraditing individuals where there is such a risk.

Capture and prosecution of pirates is, therefore, problematic, but what kind of government runs away from its commitment to combat piracy, and is unwilling take the consequences of standing up to principle? While other countries may also be shirking their responsibility to deal with the problem,(6) the failure of the Danish government to act does not reflect well on Denmark.


1) See, for example, the Princeton Principles of Universal Jurisdiction,
2) Danmark løslader ti pirater,
3) Minister opgiver at retsforfølge pirater,
4) Absalon må løslade pirater,
5) See, for example, this comment by Eugene Kontorovich, associate professor, Northwestern University School of Law, at
6) The British Foreign Office has, for example, advised the British Navy not to detain pirates. See: Pirates can claim UK asylum,


Post a Comment

<< Home