Sunday, July 5, 2009

Are captured pirates being treated inhumanely?

The manner in which the international community opts to prosecute those suspected of carrying out pirate attacks is a contentious issue. Some nations have been reticent about bringing home individuals to face legal prosecution within their judicial systems, preferring to let the other countries, say Kenya, deal with matters. A few, such as the United States, France and the Netherlands, have been willing to take on the issue in their own court systems. But everyone is aware that anyone charged with a maritime criminal act in places like the seas off the Horn of Africa must be dealt with as fairly as sovereign judicial systems can allow.

There's a very simple reason for trying to do this: We are seeking to replace disorder and anarchy on the seas with the rule of law, to restore security by making the pirates understand that their are ramifications to their acts that will not be tolerated.

However, there are those who believe that the international community's actions are perhaps somewhat 'inhumane' against suspected pirates. The German-based group Ecoterra International put out a communiqué yesterday in which they protest against the, "[O]ngoing rendition program concerning so called 'pirates', against their inhumane treatment in appalling prisons and against the ongoing violations of human rights in these piracy-cases."

The timing of Ecoterra's communiqué may have something to do with the recent cases of 22 Somalis brought before a Yemeni court to face charges of suspected piracy and burglary. According to the press release, the prisoners were apparantly not allowed to telephone relatives when first incarcerated and had no one to translate the court proceedings into Somali.

The use of the term 'rendition program' is a calculated effort by Ecoterra to equate the treatment of suspected pirates with that of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. It's a curious - and naive - comparison to make for three reasons: The conditions in Guantanamo are much better than in Yemeni, Kenyan or Somali prisons; There is little likelihood that suspected pirates will be exposed to waterboarding or other similar treatments; And the conditions pirate suspects are being held within Western jails, such as in Holland, France or America, are the same as any nationals there would endure.

The worries that Ecoterra has about the treatment of, in the Yemeni cases, 22 Somalis plainly pales in comparison to the treatment of all those currently being held hostage by pirates (a number which may be around 200; see the most recent Reuters FACTBOX here). But there is a need to assure that the prosecutions and handling of suspects are done in accordance with international standards.

This is one of the reasons I've worried in the past about dumping captured individuals into the Kenyan judicial system, and is another reason why I suggest that the international community come together to create an Admiralty Court that could function along the lines of the various international tribunals that have been overseen by the United Nations. This in no way replaces the abilities of nations to continue to prosecute maritime criminals within their own systems if they so desire, but allows for a greater sense of transparency that could offset criticisms like Ecoterra's.

The Ecoterra communiqué wraps up with their perspective on the future if suspected pirates continue to be treated 'inhumanely': "If such grave violations continue, the international community will not only loose any moral right to capture and prosecute sea-bandits but cause a further decline in the observation of human rights in Somalia also toward their own nationals - with escalating violence and mistreatment."

Being tortured is inhumane on any level. Being a mariner held captive against your will by pirates is inhumane on any level. Not being able to call your relatives for a few weeks when you're apprehended attacking a merchant ship is not inhumane. Being stuck in a dank African or Arabian prison is one of the costs of going on the account.

And as for the international community's actions against piracy causing a decline in the way Somalis treat one another? Well, Ecoterra must be joking. The human rights situation in Somalia has little to do with the counter-piracy measures used by foreign navies. It has everything to do with the mistreatment of ordinary Somalis by criminal gangs and militia groups.


The Yemen News Agency SABA reports that another oil tanker was attacked in the Red Sea, but the pirates were repulsed by Yemeni forces. This follows an attempt by pirates to seize two tankers last Saturday.

And The Sunday Telegraph yesterday reported that the first deputy prime minister of the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG), Abdulrahman Adan Ibrahim, told the news outlet that pirates allied to al-Shabaab are helping to smuggle foreign al-Qaeda fighters into the region.

1 comment:

Georg Felis said...

At the risk of repeating myself, I believe the pirates do have the following rights, which should be extended to all of them:

Rights of Pirates
You have the right to experience Naval Gunfire.
You have the right to expect a short drop with an abrupt stop.
You have the right to take an attorney with you. Take two, they’re cheap.
You have the right to feed an endangered shark in person.
You have the right to discover God. Personally and quickly.
You have the right to become an example to your friends as “What Not To Do”