Occasional Papers & Research

Through its Occasional Paper Series, The Nanda Center supports the research, development, and publishing of essays or reports that contribute to the debate on a certain topic in international law. The introductory series launched in 2014, titled Law, Governance & the Global Commons.

Past Occasional Papers Archive

  • The Systematic Prosecution of Somali Pirate Leadership & the Primacy of Multi-Level Cooperation
    Systematic Proscution cover
    Jonathan Bellish
    June, 2014

    Since 2010, well over $100 million has been spent on investigating, prosecuting, and imprisoning pirates operating off the Horn of Africa. These efforts have been subject to two related criticisms. First, compared to enhanced naval coordination, industry best management practices, and the use of private armed guards, threat of prosecution has been a relatively weak deterrent. Second, because of the marked decline in maritime piracy since 2012, improving the effectiveness of piracy prosecutions is no longer an urgent matter. This paper argues that shifting from a prosecutorial strategy that focuses on low level pirates to one that targets organization leadership ameliorates both of these concerns. Not only would the proposed strategic shift be more effective on its own terms, but it would also entail benefits not limited to combating Somalia-based piracy. The paper then looks to the jurisprudence of several international criminal tribunals to identify characteristics that could be used to differentiate low level pirates from pirate leadership, a necessary first step to any shift in strategy. From there, the paper describes the myriad options available to those actors interested in pursuing such a strategic shift, noting that piracy’s status as the paradigmatic crime of universal jurisdiction under international law provides policymakers with exceptional breadth in available options. Based on international law’s permissiveness in this regard, the paper concludes that whatever the structure decided upon by the relevant stakeholders, it should be developed in the service of sustained multi-level cooperation, the lack of which is the true stumbling block to the targeted investigation and prosecution of pirate leadership.

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