Bahamas Blog International
Piracy in the 21st century: oddity or regularity?
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MOSCOW. (Mikhail Voitenko for RIA Novosti) - Sea piracy has been hot news almost as much as soccer or Eurovision recently, and many are surprised that it still exists. But why isn't anyone surprised that the 21st century still has common criminals and muggers? In fact, piracy is nothing but a high-seas equivalent of street crime.
What is so surprising?
Piracy has had its ups and downs (thanks to maritime powers), but has never disappeared altogether. The 21st century has produced both revolutionary technologies and global problems, and one of them is piracy, or rather its rapid growth on a large scale. Piracy is now as much of a threat to the world community as it was in the days of frigates and galleons.
The Caribbean Sea has always been pirate-infested. It is mainly dangerous for yachts and recreational craft, but also for larger shipping. For centuries piracy has been rife off Indonesia, in the Malacca Strait and in the South China Sea. But now none of them can compare to Somalia. Even Nigeria, which once was the most piratical of African countries, has faded against the background of Somali's records.
Technically, the methods used are the same as described in novels. A fast craft - a launch or a small vessel - comes along a merchant or a fishing ship and boards it. If the ship is small or shallow-drafted, like a tanker, one can simply jump aboard it. If the ship is large, the pirates use ropes with hooks or anchors. To prevent the crew from hosing the pirates down with water and to intimidate them, the pirates fire at the vessel using assault rifles and grenade launchers.
An attack takes an average of 10 to 20 minutes. During this time the pirates either seize the vessel, or abandon the attempt. As soon as the pirates climb aboard the deck, the ship is practically in their hands: a civilian seaman will not be able to resist an armed attacker.
Somalia is unique
Somalia has been without government for 20 years now, and is ideally situated geographically, along one of the busiest traffic routes in the world, the Gulf of Aden. In addition, Somalia is the only place in the world where hijacked ships (including supertankers) can be kept until a ransom is paid for their crews.
Up to 20,000 vessels sail through the Gulf every year, or 250 per day. Since the beginning of this year, pirates have hijacked over 30 merchant ships.
Currently, Somalia has four to five gangs totaling a thousand members, but their strength is growing swiftly. The average ransom in the past four months has been $1.5 million to $1.7 million, but just several months ago it did not surpass a million. This year the pirate business has brought the country $40 million in cash. For the impoverished Somalia, where $10 is a fortune, these millions seem fantastic.
The main pirate base is the town of Eyl on the Horn of Africa. Life there is booming, streets crowded with luxury cars and widespread construction of high-end cottages. A Somali youth who has chosen the "right" profession of a pirate stalks the streets of Eyl confidently, his pockets stuffed with dollars and his mouth full of Khat leaves, a local narcotic plant. In the daytime children go to school, and in the evening they either play soccer or at pirates, something unseen in the rest of Somalia plunged in chaos and anarchy.
Piratical jackpot - what is it?
Many have hastened to christen the hijacked supertanker Sirius Star a jackpot, but that is wrong. The pirates have not yet hit a jackpot but are trying to.
A piratical jackpot is container ships. Imagine an ocean-going ship with 5,000 to 6,000 or even 12,000 containers aboard, filled with consumer goods produced in Asia. From New Year fireworks and laundry detergents to high-ticket luxury items intended for the best boutiques in European capitals.
Cargo on board such a vessel is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and if it is a mega-ship with 10,000 or more containers aboard, well over a billion. It is not oil which cannot be offloaded or sold in Somalia. These are goods that can be pilfered and shipped to countries that have some infrastructure and sold there on the black market.
Fortunately, container ships, especially ocean-going, are most difficult to hijack because of their enormous size and high speed, the highest among commercial shipping: 40 kilometers per hour. But the seizure of the Sirius Star has shown that anything is possible.
Three ways of dealing with piracy
The first method is the most prevalent today. Ships patrol a section of the Gulf but do not open fire on pirates until they attack passing commercial vessels. As practice shows, they usually fire warning shots and very seldom open hit-and-kill fire. Such patrols have saved more than one ship, but they are unlikely to uproot piracy, because attacks will continue all the same.
The second method is more determined. Ships and helicopters open fire to kill, regardless of whether pirates attack a vessel or are cruising in expectation of prey. But this may spell problems for captured seamen and crews of other ships still to be hijacked.
The third way is to land on shore and kill or take prisoner as many pirates as possible. But this method is also the most dangerous for the side which launches such struggle. Civilians will be killed, while the military will be charged with brutality and crimes against humankind.
There is a fourth option - to use local Islamists as a cat's-paw. But the country is on the brink of being taken over by extremists, or the Islamic radical party Al Shabab. This party is notorious for a sentence passed by its judges, according to which a 13-year-old girl raped by three men was stoned to death. The judges decided that she had provoked the faithful by carelessly displaying herself in broad daylight.
The Al Shabab spokesman, a certain Sheikh Al Mansoor, said on November 15 that the pirates were no pirates, but fighters against unlawful fishing off Somalia. According to him, the warships that arrived at the Gulf of Aden came there because the countries that sent them wanted to colonize their land.
Currently, Al Shabab militants are shaking down the town of Haradere in search of the infidels who hijacked the supertanker Sirius Star from their brethren in faith (the tanker has owners from Saudi Arabia).
Yet it is obvious that military operations in the Gulf cannot be stopped; they must make the Gulf safe for shipping, whatever happens to Somalia. The fight against pirates has become an anti-guerilla operation on high seas, like the fight against militants in Afghanistan or Iraq. Here it is, the 21st century threat at sea. Not epic battles between navies but a maddening and almost unproductive attempt to swat a gnat with a sledgehammer.
Piracy and its future
Somali pirates are uneducated farmers or fishermen. Their arms are simple and primitive: assault rifles, grenade launchers, unsophisticated communications and navigation devices.
But what if they are joined by hardened criminals, commandos with combat experience, or whiz kids clever with computers and ways of monitoring target ships? It is almost a certainty that criminal communities all over the world are now closely following the experience of Somali pirates and figuring out how to get in on the act.
The example of Somali piracy is terrifying in that it has broadened the scope of the possible - previously this occurred to no one. The threat stemming from pirates is no less great than the threat from terrorists. Terrorists are, after all, fanatics, while piracy is a business involving nothing personal. Far more enthusiasts could join a profitable criminal outfit than give up their lives for an idea.
21st century is not 18th century
Global shipping carries 90% of all freight and cargo in the world. There is no other activity as international and globalized. Look at a container ship speeding to Europe - its owner is from Taiwan, its flag is that of Singapore and it is run by a mixed British-Filipino-Indonesian-Taiwanese crew. In its holds and on deck are thousands of containers. Several hundred of them are bound for Russia.
That is modern shipping. When your life and work are concerned with it, you begin to see the world as a unified whole, and its borders become blurred. In a 21st century world, with its progress and advanced technology, no state can exist by itself and be guided by its own personal interests.
It is necessary to agree and to develop new ways of responding to risks and dangers of the present and the future. Today's and tomorrow's piracy can be overwhelmed only through the combined efforts of all serious and sensible countries.
11:57 | 27/ 11/ 2008
Mikhail Voitenko is the editor-in-chief of the online Sovfrakht Maritime Bulletin.
|November 30, 2008 | 11:02 AM
How many countries will emerge from the US?
Related to country: United States
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By BERİL DEDEOĞLU:
Izvestia Today has reported that Professor Igor Panarin, the head of the Diplomatic Academy of Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, an expert about American-Russian relations and propaganda wars, said some 10 years ago that the US would face a huge economic crisis, and as his prophesy has been realized, he has become famous.
Of course, he wasn't the only one who evoked a possible crisis. For those who know something about capitalist teaching, it's not hard to predict future crises without giving a specific date.
Panarin has also focused on the future of the US. According to him, the global financial crisis will have terrible impacts and Obama will not be able to deal with it. Many companies will shut down; millions of Americans will lose their jobs, provoking social explosions. Panarin also believes that the secessionist tendencies of the American states will increase, as the federal government won't be able to provide the money to revitalize their economies and save their companies. Then, the US will be divided into six countries.
One of these will in the Pacific coast, which is home to a populous Chinese community, supported by China. Panarin probably believes China will benefit from the division of the US and that the Americans of Chinese origin will have more prosperous lives once they leave the union.
He also predicts that Hispanics of the southern states will join Mexico. Supposedly, the crisis will not have negative impacts on the Mexican economy and Hispanics will want to be attached to a country that they left without looking back. Texas, counting on its oil revenues, would declare its independence simply because Texans are anti-Obama. It's not known if there has ever been a state that declared its independence just because they were angry with their president.
The fourth secession will happen on the East Coast, where the inhabitants consider themselves not as rural Americans but as intellectual Europeans. Perhaps they will join the EU. Panarin also claimed that Native Americans will establish their own state, enjoying the "world's" support. Are there enough Native Americans to create a state, and who on earth would support them?
The sixth division will happen in the northern regions, supported by the cynical Canada. In brief, the current crisis will ruin the US, and China, Canada and some Europeans states will contribute to it. Who will abide if all of the world powers decide to divide the US?
But this scenario has a problem: Contrary to Russia, the US does not have too many provinces or citizens made "Americans" by force. Economic crises may reinforce centrifugal tendencies, but these will be much stronger in "aggregated" countries. There is, of course, a hypothetical division risk for the US: Throughout history, several powers, once believed eternal, such as the Roman or Ottoman Empires or the USSR, have fallen. But the division scenario, which is, who knows why, limited to six parts, can only happen if the entire world enters a period of radical changes.
Maybe this scenario demonstrates that Russia wishes to set off such an astonishing modification. Some Russians may be happy with the idea of the downfall of the US. They probably also believe that China, India, Pakistan and Russia will remain intact if that happens. But Russia owes its energy superiority and its partial coercive power to the US. As long as the US stays powerful, Putin can justify his "national chief" status, and conducting military maneuvers in Latin America or the deployment of missiles to Kaliningrad will be acceptable. Panarin is certainly aware of these realities. As a propaganda expert, maybe he simply wants to insinuate that it is Russia that faces a real and close danger of division.
29 November 2008
|November 29, 2008 | 2:57 PM
If Obama Doesn't Prosecute Bush's Torture Team, We'll Pay a Big Price Down the Road
Related to country: United States
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By Liliana Segura
Obama isn't likely to pursue torture atrocities during the Bush era, but this is one problem you simply can't wish away.
"How did it come about that American military personnel stripped detainees naked, put them in stress positions, used dogs to scare them, put leashes around their necks to humiliate them, hooded them, deprived them of sleep and blasted music at them? Were these actions the result of 'a few bad apples' acting on their own? It would be a lot easier to accept if it were. But that's not the case."
-- Sen. Carl Levin
, D-Mich., Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, June 17, 2008
It was a short but significant report in Newsweek
last week, and it began like this:
Despite the hopes of many human rights advocates, the new Obama Justice Department is not likely to launch major new criminal probes of harsh interrogations and other alleged abuses by the Bush administration. But one idea that has currency among some top Obama advisers is setting up a 9/11-style commission that would investigate counterterrorism policies and make public as many details as possible. "At a minimum, the American people have to be able to see and judge what happened," said one senior adviser, who asked not to be identified for talking about policy matters. The commission would be empowered to order the U.S. intelligence agencies to open their files for review and question senior officials who approved "waterboarding" and other controversial practices.
The article, written by Michael Isikoff, came at the heels of another report
by the Associated Press, which quoted a pair of anonymous Obama advisors as saying that there was little-to-no chance that an Obama Justice Department would try to prosecute Bush-era officials for torture. The same report quoted Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., as saying that members of the Bush administration would not face war crimes charges in the United States. "These things are not going to happen."
Common consensus is that the Bush administration has been the most lawless in U.S. history. From its illegal invasion of Iraq to the corporate-assisted, warrantless wiretapping of its own constituents, the Bush White House seems never to have held a view of the law from below. And, since long before the election of Barack Obama, a number of groups and individuals have called for accountability, from a vocal network of people calling for impeachment for Bush's illegal and fraudulent invasion of Iraq, to, this summer, the bluntly labeled campaign, Send Karl Rove to Jail
But if ever there was a stain on the fabric of American democracy that must be deserving of prosecution, it is the dark legacy of torture left by the Bush administration. From Abu Ghraib to Guantanamo to the CIA's "secret sites," proof abounds that the U.S. government engaged in systematic torture that was approved by top government officials. Ironically, a central laboratory for this corrosion of the country's moral and legal code was the very office charged with defending the rule of law: the Department of Justice.
"It is these attorneys -- Alberto Gonzales, John Yoo, James Bybee, David Addington and William Haynes -- who provided the legal basis for much of the torture and abuse that occurred at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and other U.S. detention facilities around the globe," Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights
, writes in the recently published The Trial of Donald Rumsfeld: A Prosecution by Book. In Ratner's view, the prosecution of these attorneys, as well as Bush, Cheney and the rest, is a critical part of not just imposing accountability on those who approved and carried out torture in the name of the American people, but in dismantling a legal framework that could lead to more torture in the future.
'This Was an Assault on the Law Itself'
Members of the legal and human rights community are currently grappling with the question of how to hold the Bush administration accountable for its crimes. In a recent cover story
of Harper's Magazine, human rights legal scholar Scott Horton lays out the rationale for pursuing the crimes of the Bush administration. The good news is there is plenty of historical precedent for going after government torturers in the United States. The bad news is that they have been uneven, at best. From an Army captain who was court-martialed for imposing the "water cure" on Filipinos during the Spanish-American War ("He was forced to pay a $50 fine") to Japanese military officials tried for war crimes (including waterboarding) after World War II -- some of whom were sentenced to death, the severity of the sanction has depended on who is meting it out.
Prosecuting the torturers of accused "terrorists" in far-away places may not inspire a call to action by Americans now -- especially when a few token prosecutions of soldiers have taken place (most famously, Abu Ghraib Army Reservists Cpl. Charles Graner and Pfc. Lynndie England). But a policy systematically designed to subvert the law should be intolerable to those who place any kind of faith in American democracy. Horton's article -- parts of which should be required reading -- discusses how, during the Nuremberg trials, "the Americans and Soviets … wanted to prosecute the people who had created the legal framework for the Nazi regime, but British and French leaders objected."
"Consequently, the United States, acting on its own, convened a separate Nuremberg tribunal to try lawyers, judges and legal policymakers," thereby establishing "the principal that policymakers who occurred the mandatory prohibitions of international law against harming prisoners in wartime could be prosecuted as war criminals, no matter how many internal memos they had written to the contrary."
This leads to a critical point: "The key issue that Scott pointed out in his article," Ratner says, "is that this was an assault on the law itself." If legal opinions that sanctioned torture are left untouched, it sets a dangerous precedent. As Ratner recently wrote on his blog, "If laws can be broken with impunity today, they can and will be broken with impunity tomorrow. Not just laws against torture and war crimes, but any and all laws; any and all limits on government."
"The only way to prevent this from happening again," he tells me, "is to have prosecutions that will send a deterrence message" to future administrations.
'We Owe the American People a Reckoning'
How to do this is the most pressing -- and difficult -- question. Horton considers the various forms such prosecutions might take, from the International Criminal Court (too dependent on the support of the United States) to foreign courts (viable, but "true justice cannot be compelled from without"), to domestic courts (unlikely, because prosecuting war crimes are rarely done against those at the top of the chain of command). Ultimately, he settles on a model of the truth-and-reconciliation commissions carried out in South America and South Africa. Although they have had imperfect results in the past -- "In some cases, a bargain was struck under which the truth about past misconduct was divulged in exchange for a pardon" -- the value of the commissions largely lies in the educational benefits a commission might bestow on the public. But beyond that, a "commission plus special prosecutor," as Horton calls it, could be carried out in public, in order to "find the facts, weigh them, and if the facts warrant, make a formal recommendation for the appointment of a prosecutor."
For Ratner, the models that have been suggested thus far don't go far enough. In his view, the only way to restore the rule of law is to pursue criminal investigation and prosecution. "People have been pulling their punches when it comes to seeking full prosecutions," he says, "because of the feeling that is not politically feasible." It may be true in the end, "but unless you demand it, you're not going to get it." Failing to try, he says is "the worst defeatism you can have."
Indeed, given the destruction of the past eight years to the fabric of American democracy, to shy away from torture prosecutions would seem profoundly -- and dangerously -- shortsighted. Obama has stated that as a country, the United States does not torture -- most recently in an interview with 60 Minutes -- and much of the support he gained as a candidate from the legal and human rights community was based on his vocal opposition to the Military Commissions Act. Although his opposition to torture has been unequivocal in tone, Obama has been hesitant to state in solid terms what exactly he would do about the torture that already took place. Responding to the question this summer, from a reporter from the Philadelphia Daily News, Obama responded:
What I would want to do is to have my Justice Department and my attorney general immediately review the information that's already there and to find out are there inquiries that need to be pursued. I can't prejudge that because we don't have access to all the material right now. I think that you are right, if crimes have been committed, they should be investigated. You're also right that I would not want my first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of Republicans as a partisan witch hunt because I think we've got too many problems we've got to solve.
So this is an area where I would want to exercise judgment -- I would want to find out directly from my attorney general -- having pursued, having looked at what's out there right now -- are there possibilities of genuine crimes as opposed to really bad policies. And I think it's important -- one of the things we've got to figure out in our political culture generally is distinguishing between really dumb policies and policies that rise to the level of criminal activity. You know, I often get questions about impeachment at town hall meetings, and I've said that is not something I think would be fruitful to pursue because I think that impeachment is something that should be reserved for exceptional circumstances. Now, if I found out that there were high officials who knowingly, consciously broke existing laws, engaged in cover-ups of those crimes with knowledge forefront, then I think a basic principle of our Constitution is nobody above the law -- and I think that's roughly how I would look at it.
It's hard to imagine the lawlessness of the Bush administration falling short of "exceptional." But regardless, whether Eric Holder, Obama's pick for attorney general, would take this on is questionable. "Everybody has advice for Holder," Slate legal correspondent Dahlia Lithwick recently wrote
, "starting with shuttering Guantanamo and repairing detention and interrogation policies; recalibrating the legal limits on information-gathering by intelligence agencies; doing away with provisions of the Patriot Act that encroach on civil liberties; and restoring the integrity and independence of the Office of Legal Counsel, which advises the president on the lawfulness of a proposed action." But Holder has been known to criticize the violations committed by the Bush administration. "We owe the American people a reckoning," he said in a speech in June.
Still, in Horton's opinion, although torture is a federal crime and a federal prosecutor has the power to prosecute it, it is unlikely any U.S. attorney would possess the independence to do so. "Indeed," says Horton, "so many high-level figures at Justice were involved in creating the legal mechanism for torture that the Justice Department has effectively disqualified itself as an investigative vehicle, even under a new administration." Ratner agrees.
So what is a "reckoning"? And where are the consequences?
For Ratner, now is the time to push Obama, hard, on seeking independent prosecutions, "partisan witch hunt" concerns be damned. After all, Obama brings with him enormous moral credibility. Lifting the stain of torture is a project that could -- and should -- transcend partisan politics. "Obama could change this (discussion) as he changed the dialogue on race in this country," suggests Ratner, "with a speech on torture."
"People say that prosecuting torture is 'looking backward,' " says Ratner, "but in my view, prosecutions are looking forward -- looking forward so that this doesn't happen again."
November 28, 2008
|November 28, 2008 | 10:02 AM
The crisis of capitalism: toward the end of a materialist age
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By İBRAHİM ÖZTÜRK:
Today we are paying the cost of the last, but not the least, crisis caused by the "capitalist ideology." To remind you, a serious crisis came at the beginning of the 20th century that resulted in World War I.
The second big crisis came with the Great Depression and lasted throughout the 1930s, with a major collapse of the international payment system, resulting in World War II. Now the world is passing through yet another one at the beginning of the 21st century and will presumably end with an even bigger global catastrophe.
In my understanding, the fundamental weaknesses of the American political/economic system, such as an ever-rising debt, current account and budget deficit, savings-investment gap, excessive consumption-oriented citizens and many other mutually reinforcing negative elements, have reached a poisonous stage. This process seriously threatens the hegemonic, or superpower, status of the US. As the US becomes a risky market, the world has begun to escape from the dollar-dominated economy.
Having considered all these developments, it seems the US has entered into quite a dangerous gamble throughout the world, but particularly in the Middle East and the Caucasus. The name of this gamble is called "The Great Middle East Project." It seems to me that the Yankees are incapable of returning to their mainland, irrespective of who is elected. The result of this process might result in a situation symbolized by the term "sink or swim."
After establishing final control over Gulf energy resources, as a next step, the US wants to diffuse into the heart of the Central Asian and Caucasian energy resources by eliminating the "Iran factor." Therefore, the Sept. 11 attacks were abused by the US in order to invade Afghanistan and then Iraq so that Iran would be more easily contained. By establishing control over Eurasian energy resources, the US will be able to isolate China and Russia by separating two superpowers -- Russia as one of the major energy and raw material suppliers; China as the major importer of energy and almost any kind of primary products.
However, by coordinating their efforts, members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) have come together in order to prevent US infiltration in the region. As the situation is quite unclear, the process dynamic and the result uncertain, it is not possible to predict the outcome of the current big chess game in the world.
What I would like to suggest is that we need to change the basic ideology behind the current global materialist order in order to establish a peaceful world. Capitalism and communism are twin sisters in the sense that they are the product of a materialist-positivist philosophy, as interpreted and explained by Auguste Comte around the 1820s. This philosophy is secularist, short-term oriented and utilitarian.
Unlike capitalism, as communist ideology denied basic human propensities and therefore isolated itself from market dynamics, it was short lived. On the other hand, even if capitalism accepts basic human nature, it relies heavily on some "poisonous" propensities or devilish aspects of the human being such as short-term maximization of satisfaction by conspicuous consumption and through excessive use of limited natural resources.
Destructive characteristics of this capitalist ideology can be observed even in the definition of economics. Capitalism tries to interpret economics by using methodology similar to that used in the natural sciences such as physics and chemistry. Put simply, in capitalist terminology, economics has already become an applied sub-discipline of mathematical optimization. According to this calculus of a simple maximization of efforts, economics is explained as "a science of scarcity." Resources are limited but our desires are unlimited. We therefore face a fatal economic problem of ordering and choice.
In our view, this is one of the fatal errors caused by the materialist illusion in approaching the human being and the universe; the link created between them by God is missing. From a spiritual perspective, resources are quite satisfactory, rather than being limited, provided that they are fairly distributed. On the other hand, we should not take our desires as "a given," as something that cannot be domesticated, controlled and guided. Yes, our desires might be unlimited, but it is unlikely that such limitless desires will be satisfied solely through the means of materialistic means in such a limited and temporary life span. Moreover, human beings are not a simple function of their desires. Human beings are also equipped by other ethical propensities. What we need is to balance both dimensions of human beings.
Therefore, rather than taking our wants and desires as guiding principles, we should take our limited needs into consideration. Provided that we take resources as "sufficient," relying on their equitable distribution and take our needs as limited, the fatal or poisonous error in the definition of economics would disappear.
Having done so, we would start preserving limited resources, the environment and climate by limiting our consumption by establishing control on private property and by limiting our dedication to a one-dimensional emphasis on an accumulation regiment. The fight in controlling limited resources will then be replaced by a more peaceful and cooperation-oriented world system.
In my view, Islam, as a world religion, has the potential as well as the historical experience to provide the basis of such a global peace. Rather than blaming Islam as a "religion of war," by using mass media as a means of propagating such a view, it should be seen as the philosophy of last resort in this age of global dissatisfaction and devastating wars. This fact needs further elaboration, which requires more words than this column allows for.
|November 27, 2008 | 12:13 PM
Why it is so difficult to deal with piracy
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By CENAP ÇAKMAK*
The ongoing situation in the African country of Somalia, which has been suffering from instability and a lack of a central government and authority, affects the stability and security of the international system; as a consequence, piracy activities, influenced by the lack of authority in the country, threaten cargo shipments on the high seas.
In response, the international community has failed to adequately address the worsening situation and take proper measures against the pirates of the modern world, who get large sums of ransom monies in return for the freight and crew they hold hostage.
There is a transitional government in the country and a number of "committees," "forces" or "missions" equipped with different tasks and authorities to maintain stability there. All this is done under the auspices of the UN Security Council and the African Union. Therefore, despite their serious nature, piracy activities off the coast of Somalia are still of secondary importance. The Security Council gives priority to such issues as poverty, instability, civil war and inability to transport humanitarian aid; for this reason, up until recently, measures against piracy activities have been considered less urgent.
Piracy as an international crime
"Piracy" was one of the initial examples of "international crimes" whose perpetrators may be prosecuted by any state. The list of such crimes has expanded over time to include "slavery," "genocide" and "war crimes" among others. The fundamental reason for the extensive authority of states over these crimes rests with their heinous nature and the extreme characteristics of the crimes that pose an enormous threat to international order.
Crimes prosecutable by any state regardless of where they were committed or who perpetrated the offenses are within the scope of universal jurisdiction. Piracy is considered one of these crimes. Even though it is theoretical and doctrinaire, it has been observed that states have resorted to prosecutions relying on "universal jurisdiction." The most famous example of this is the prosecution of Nazi commander Adolf Eichmann by Israel in 1961 on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Eichmann was not a citizen of Israel; besides, he was smuggled from Argentina to the Israeli authorities by Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations (MOSSAD) agents. In this case, the Israeli court relied on universal jurisdiction with respect to the alleged crimes and ruled for the defendant's execution.
Today, piracy is still an offense universally prosecutable under international law. No serious objection to this international custom has emerged over the last seven centuries. But the actual problem here is the ambiguity as to which offenses constitute a crime of piracy. This definition does matter because the relevant state will have to rely on this definition to justify its measures against pirates.
To be considered an act of piracy, an act needs to meet a few major criteria and conditions. First, this act should be characterized as robbery in the event it has been committed on land. This criterion is also precisely spelled out in the authoritative definition of piracy in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Second, the robbery should be committed without the permission of any sovereign state. Third, the act should be committed on the high seas. Any act not fulfilling these three conditions will not be considered piracy prosecutable under the principle of universal jurisdiction.
However, it should be noted that states have rarely exercised their authority under the principle of universal jurisdiction to prosecute the perpetrators of acts of piracy. Even though the principle itself is rather theoretical, it has been followed in cases involving war crimes and crimes against humanity.
International law and combat against piracy
The 1982 UNCLOS states, "All States shall cooperate to the fullest possible extent in the repression of piracy on the high seas or in any other place outside the jurisdiction of any State." (Article 100) The convention defines piracy as "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." To regard a certain act as piracy, it should be committed on the high seas or "in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State." (Article 101)
Under the same convention, to consider a vessel a pirate ship, it should be controlled by persons who intend to commit the acts spelled out in Article 101. This is also the case "if the ship or aircraft has been used to commit any such act, so long as it remains under the control of the persons guilty of that act." (Article 103)
Every state may seize such a ship on the high seas or in a place outside of the jurisdiction of any state "and arrest the persons and seize the property on board." The courts of this state "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." (Article 105)
An overall review of the relevant provisions of the convention reveals that a broad authority of universal jurisdiction is bestowed on the state with respect to the crime of piracy; however, some elements in the definition lead to ambiguities. Above all, there will be a serious dispute if the pirates assert that they committed the acts for political reasons rather than private ends. Likewise, even though a pirate ship is clearly defined in the convention, it will not be easy to determine whether a ship meets the conditions for being considered a pirate ship on the high seas. More importantly, the convention says, "Where the seizure of a ship or aircraft on suspicion of piracy has been affected without adequate grounds, the State making the seizure shall be liable to the State the nationality of which is possessed by the ship or aircraft for any loss or damage caused by the seizure." (Article 106)
Another important restriction is that states are authorized to carry out seizures and arrests only on the high seas. Therefore, reliance on the principle of universal jurisdiction with respect to ships returning to Somali territorial waters is out of the question. However, recently, the UN Security Council, in its resolutions addressing the situation in Somalia, called on relevant states to take the necessary measures against piracy off the coast of Somalia and urged states whose naval and aerial forces are already in the region to exercise the available means to repress acts of piracy. (UNSC Resolution No. 1838, October 2008, paragraphs 2 and 3)
It should also be noted that the council dealt with the loophole in universal jurisdiction with respect to piracy under which states are allowed to take action only on the high seas in Resolution No. 1816. In this resolution, the council declares that states cooperating with the transitional federal government in Somalia may enter Somali territorial waters for the purpose of repressing piracy and take the necessary measures in compliance with international law for a period of six months. (paragraph 7) After the expiration of this six-month period, the council further extended the period during which states may enter Somali territorial waters. (UNSC Resolution No. 1838, paragraph 4)
Therefore, it is apparent that most of what could be done under international law to deal with acts of piracy off the coast of Somalia has already been done. But particularly restrictions in connection with the unclear elements in the definition of piracy and technical difficulties hamper further measures. Most importantly, the international community and watchdogs of international security are focused on the civil war and instability in Somalia rather than the acts of piracy.
* Cenap Çakmak is an instructor at Muğla University and a senior researcher at the Wise Men Center for Strategic Research (BİLGESAM).
27 November 2008
|November 26, 2008 | 11:04 PM
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