Belmont Club

A Pirate's Life For Me

The Sydney Morning describes Eyl, the new Port Royal of the pirate world. Newly built hotels, lavish weddings, $3 cups of coffee are marvels unseen elsewhere in Somalia. The source of the money is piracy.

At least 12 foreign ships are being held hostage in the waters off Eyl, 480 kilometres south of Africa’s Horn. They are being closely watched by hundreds of pirates aboard boats equipped with satellite phones and GPS devices. Hundreds more gunmen provide backup on shore, where they incessantly chew the narcotic leaf qat and dream of sharing in the huge ransoms.

It’s a situation made possible by lawyers. As Caroline Glick of the Jerusalem Post notes it is legally more dangerous to apprehend a pirate than to let him go. If you actual succeeded, it might be necessary to grant them asylum.

As David Rivkin and Lee Casey explained in The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, the problem with contending with piracy is not so much military, as legal and political. Whereas customary international law defined piracy as a threat against all nations and therefore a crime for which universal jurisdiction must be applied to perpetrators, in today’s world, states are unwilling to apprehend pirates or to contend with them because they are likely to find themselves in a sticky legal mess.

In centuries past, in accordance with established international law, it was standard practice for naval captains to hang pirates after capturing them. Today, when Europe has outlawed capital punishment, when criminal defendants throughout the West are given more civil rights than their victims, and when irregular combatants picked off of battlefields or intercepted before they attack are given – at a minimum – the same rights as those accorded to legal prisoners of war, states lack the political will and the moral clarity to prosecute offenders. As Casey and Rivkin note, last April the British Foreign Office instructed the British Navy not to apprehend pirates lest they claim that their human rights were harmed, and request and receive asylum in Britain.

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