"Captain Kidd, Human-Rights Victim":

John Burnett, author of Dangerous Waters: Modern Piracy and Terror on the High Seas, has more on Britain's new approach to piracy.

On April 11, French commandos went in with guns blazing and captured a gang of pirates who days earlier had hijacked a luxury cruise ship, the Ponant, and held the crew for ransom. This was the French solution to a crime wave that has threatened international shipping off Somalia; those of us who have been on the business end of a pirate's gun can only applaud their action.

The British government on the other hand, to the incredulity of many in the maritime industry, has taken a curiously pathetic approach to piracy. While the French were flying six of the captured pirates to Paris to face trial, the British Foreign Office issued a directive to the once vaunted Royal Navy not to detain any pirates, because doing so could violate their human rights. British warships patrolling the pirate-infested waters off Somalia were advised that captured pirates could claim asylum in Britain and that those who were returned to Somalia faced beheading for murder or a hand chopped off for theft under Islamic law.

According to Burnett, Britain's approach is not so popular (at least not with those threatened by pirates.

The British fear of breaching the human rights of pirates has not gone down well in the maritime community. Andrew Linington, the spokesman for Nautilus, a British-Dutch seafarers trade union, has called the Foreign Office's policy "a get out of jail card" for pirates.

"We despair," Mr. Linington told me. "We are meant to be a major maritime country. The U.K. is heavily dependent on maritime trade — 95 percent of trade comes and goes by sea. Yet the Foreign Office has its head in the sand. It is just wishing the problem would go away."

The British attitude has come a long way since the days when pirates were chained to pilings at Wapping and left there until the tidal water of the Thames ebbed and flowed over the bodies three times. So much for Britannia ruling the waves.

Phants (mail):
All together now...

Rule Britannia!
Britannia rule the waves.
Britons never, never, never shall be slaves.

The nations, not so blest as thee,
Must in their turn, to tyrants fall,
Must in ,must in, must in their turn, to tyrants fall,
While thou shalt flourish, shalt flourish great and free,
The dread and envy of them all.
Rule Britannia!
Britannia rule the waves.
Britons never, never, never shall be slaves
4.20.2008 8:24am
common sense (www):
If Europeans, under their human rights accords, have to respect other religions to the point that their right to free speech is suppressed, how can they possibly talk ill of punishments given by an Islamic government, much less create such a policy? /sarcasm
4.20.2008 9:12am
advisory opinion:
Under international maritime law, piracy is a violation of jus cogens norms and has the same compelling legal status as torture. Universal jurisdiction may be invoked to try those engaged in piracy. So, why the aversion?

And isn't the United Kingdom a signatory to the Rome Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation, under which state parties are obligated to take perpetrators of pirate-like acts into custody for the purposes of criminal proceedings? Granted, the coast of Somalia is not part of British territorial waters, but the reason given by the Foreign Office would also apply to foreign pirates in British waters, or in cases where the territorial party rescinds jurisdiction, in which case the UK may assert jurisdiction in ways provided for by the Convention or via jus cogens. (Something the FO prefers not to do.) What an abdication of responsibility.

And what a climb down from Pinochet. Shame.
4.20.2008 9:44am
H Bowman, MD:
Then what does Britain have a navy for?

Whoever wrote this decision must have taken Gilbert and Sullivan as an instruction manual. After he polished the handles so carefully....
4.20.2008 9:56am
Barbara Skolaut (mail):
Of course, under the British government's way of thinking (and I use the terms "government" and "thinking" very loosely), ship owners, ship crews, and ship passengers preyed upon by pirates have no human rights.

That whirring sound you her is Winston Churchill spinning in his grave.
4.20.2008 10:00am
Barbara Skolaut (mail):
"you hear"

Wratts. :-(
4.20.2008 10:01am
Really, this is taking "respect for other cultures" too far. This is a reaction to The White Man's Burden, but if the Brits will wink at piracy, then anything goes.
4.20.2008 10:26am
ithaqua (mail):
"And what a climb down from Pinochet. Shame."

The extradition of Pinochet into the murderous hands of his Communist political enemies was a definite black mark on the UK's human rights record. But this ruling at least equals it in depravity. I mean, I can sort of see their point, as I yield to no one in my contempt for Islamic 'justice'. But, heck, if the *French* can just try their arrestees in Paris, there's nothing stopping the British from doing the same - if the Brits are too cowardly to try Somali Muslims for piracy, they can just turn them over to their braver Gallic neighbors. (And I can't believe I just wrote that.)
4.20.2008 11:56am

Britons never, never, never shall be slaves

Well, they don't need to be, they're already 'subjects'.
4.20.2008 11:59am
Dave N (mail):
It is a sad commentary when the French do something better than the British (outside of cooking and oral hygiene, that is).
4.20.2008 12:57pm
I forget which conspirator it was who wondered, a few weeks back, whether any conservative legal commentators would defend the Yoo memos in print. Now here is a golden opportunity for someone of the Balkinization crowd to defend the British Foreign Office, but it probably won't happen.
4.20.2008 1:08pm
ithaqua: The extradition of Pinochet into the murderous hands of his Communist political enemies was a definite black mark on the UK's human rights record. (italics added)
No black mark on the UK's human rights record. The Brits sent Pinochet back home to Chile, a country with a democratically elected government, to face charges there for extra-judicially "disappearing" its citizens, among other crimes. Meanwhile, here in Washington, Riggs Bank, a venerable institution depicted on our currency, was effectively forced out of business when it was revealed that for years it had been violating US law by helping Pinochet and other larcenous dictators squirrel away millions of their "investment" gains.
4.20.2008 3:44pm
ras (mail):
So ... if, say, a Somali wants UK residency, all he/she needs to do is to visit London as a tourist, then commit a crime?

Presuming the Brits would prosecute, of course.
4.20.2008 3:45pm
martinned (mail) (www):

@wm13: Can I try?

The rule is simple: we don't extradite (or deport) people to countries if that leads to them being killed, tortured or otherwise physically harmed. So once these pirates are in the UK, they're staying. Even if they get sentenced to a prison sentence, upon their release the UK government would have to allow them to stay. Since that is understandably too much hassle, this seems to be the simpler solution: Shoot at them if need be for your assignment, but in no circumstances bring them back to the UK. (Or even on board a UK vessel.) Makes sense, doesn't it?
4.20.2008 3:51pm
Gaius Marius:
Britannia has degenerated into a nation full of pansies. A lesson for America as it considers who will be its next President.
4.20.2008 3:54pm
martinned (mail) (www):

@ras: Anyone who arrives in Britain can ask for asylum, which is one of the reasons why citizens of many countries need visas. Same in the US. No need to commit a crime.
4.20.2008 3:55pm
Dave D. (mail):
...Perhaps that sceptered isle could reflag their warships with the tricolour when in Somali, Iranian or disputed waters. It would save a lot of grovelling.
4.20.2008 3:56pm
TGGP (mail) (www):
Captain Kidd was a victim of the powers-that-be. He was duly authorized by authorities to engage in privateering, but they sold him out and those records were never brought to light in courts. He was convicted based on the perjured testimony of his crew, which had mutinied in order to engage in piracy.
4.20.2008 4:12pm
Houston Lawyer:
I just want to hear Britain's legal system defended in this case by all those who think our policies are so much worse with regard to accused terrorists. I would support the shoot on sight policy for pirates, and I know that the Royal Navy is more than capable of carrying this out with precision.
4.20.2008 4:46pm
Vermando (mail):
This is why I never took John Adams seriously - how can you be an anglophile with an attitude like this, how? And look at those tough French - always knew Jefferson was on to something.

As part of what could be described as the "balkanization crowd"*, I understand that the British government cannot hand people over to countries where they will fact torture, but is there really no other remedy? This is hard for me to believe considering that the Dutch under Verdonk were sending homosexual asylum seekers back to Iran with a straight face - the standard for the ECHR for this sort of thing is quite high, and in particular, a death penalty is allowed, so there should be no problem with an extradition to somalia even if they would face such consequences, so long as other guarantees concerning torture can be obtained. I understand the Foreign Office's concern because I can spin a legal theory whereby they get in trouble, but I can also make a very plausible case the other way. The real problem may be that the Foreign Office just does not want to deal with it - they may believe they would win in the end, but fighting the litigation would itself be so costly and time consuming that they wish to avoid the trouble. And to that I say hogwash!

A larger issue, of course, is what should be done about piracy. Indeed, bringing them back to jail cells in the UK only seems somewhat effective given that the rest of their life may not be so great - worthwhile, in other words, on incapacitation theory, but less so on the basis of deterrence or retribution. Reminiscent of the issues that the U.S. faces in dealing with illegal immigrants involved in criminal drug rings - there is no easy solution when you are dealing with receiving states with crummy criminal justice systems.

* on the balkanization crowd point, I consider it a sad day for the conservative movement when those who oppose the governments' seizure of a power to torture are lumped together and dismissed so easily. I've passionately defended the 2nd Amendment and advocated abolishing of large swaths of the Federal Bureaucracy on the basis of constraining the government's ability to invade our liberty. Now I'm told that those principles don't matter if it's something that the government finds really important? Phooey. A threat to liberty is a threat to liberty is a threat to liberty - all people who have lived under tyrannies have begun their sad voyage believing that the first steps were justified because of external threats. If we lose our liberty, it will be no different.
4.20.2008 5:25pm
martinned (mail) (www):

@Vermando: About the Iranian homosexuals: the foreign office, and in particular (one hopes) the embassy in Teheran, concluded that, as a matter of fact, they would be in no or little danger. So they got sent back. But if memory serves there was a hefty debate about it in parliament. Parliament just didn't have the ability to verify the government's claim on this point.

In other words, the government did not disclaim the principle that they could not be sent back if that would put them in danger, the government instead argued that they were not, in fact, going to be in danger.
4.20.2008 5:32pm
Kevin T. Keith (www):
I strongly suspect martinned has it correctly, and the report in the news was garbled. There is no declaration that hunting pirates would violate their rights; it's perfectly allowed to use deadly force if necessary to intervene in an act of piracy, and to arrest and convict those who are captured alive. The problem is that even criminals have a right not to be deported to inhumane regimes, and so the UK would be stuck with them if it arrested pirates from certain countries. Rather than wind up housing convicted pirates who plead for asylum after serving their sentences, the Foreign Office apparently decided it would be easier not to try them at all, and therefore ordered that they not be arrested.

That seems a rather cowardly decision, but it's better than, say, denying asylum to women subject to genital mutilation or forced marriage, or imposing interminable secret detention without trial for suspected offenders, both of which are longstanding US practice.
4.20.2008 5:43pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
The solution is simple: deport them and let them face the music back home. How will the UK actually suffer for such an action? Will countries stop trading with Britain because they deported pirates? I think not. Will tourists stop visiting? Will investors abandon the opportunity to make money in Britain?
4.20.2008 6:19pm
Gaius Marius:
The simple solution is to take no prisoners.
4.20.2008 6:29pm
Kevin T. Keith: The problem is that even criminals have a right not to be deported to inhumane regimes, and so the UK would be stuck with them if it arrested pirates from certain countries.
So, these Somali pirates sail from Somali ports to commit their acts of piracy off the Somali coast. They may compound their piracy with further crimes like murder, but should the Royal Navy happen upon them while they are about it, Her Majesty's forces are to do no more than deny the pirates success, if that is possible. The RN, upon orders from the Foreign Ministry, is not to take them into custody, rather they are to catch and release like sport fishermen do with their catch, because Britain doesn't want to be stuck with the pirates and it doesn't want to leave the pirates to the tender mercies of their fellow countrymen. So the RN is to allow them to sail off, free to try the same thing again soon. (If the pirates' own vessel is damaged in the course of frustrating their attack, does the RN give them some craft with which to get themselves home or does it slip them back into Somalia under cover of dark?)

We wouldn't want to violate their human rights, but if the pirates sailed from a Somali under an inhumane regime and are returned to a Somalia under an inhumae regime after no intermediate stops in Britain or any other country, how does that constitute "deportation"?

I do see the trajectory of "enlightenment" in recent decades is truly a wondrous thing.
4.20.2008 6:33pm
Bob Goodman (mail) (www):
Come on, did you really think the British would do anything to hurt the interest of pirates who were preying on the French?
4.20.2008 6:41pm
Vermando (mail):
Martinned - righto, didn't mean to imply anything different. I brought it up to imply that Britain need not assume that the pirates will be tortured in Somalia, and that the bar proving such likelihood is quite high. Indeed, the decision in the Netherlands was ultimately reversed because the claims that homosexuals would be safe in Iran were so implausible and the amount of persecution there so thoroughly documented.

My argument is that the risk of torture to a pirate released to Somalia is not demonstrably higher than that of a homosexual released to Iran. This is particularly so, I think, since a large part of the claim that the homosexuals' Iranian persecution claim is based on the fact that the Iranian authorities often execute homosexuals based on trumped up charges such as rape or kidnapping, employ entrapment to ensnare them, and employ methods of torture and execution deliberately designed to cause prolonged and increased pain. I do not see how the first two of these concerns would apply to a pirate captured fairly and convicted under due process of law - by the applicable articles and judgments of the ECHR, so long as there is not a high risk that they would be subject to actual torture, but only to imprisonment and perhaps execution, then the UK should be in the clear. I could be wrong on this, though, so I welcome clarification.

Final note of detail: the execution is of course problematic since the UK has voluntarily adopted some ECHR articles banning the death penalty, but apart from Soering, which would not allow extradition to the US because of the high probability that he would be subject to the "death penalty phenomenon", I do not know of a case which says that the UK cannot hand over someone for execution by their national authorities if that person receives a speedy execution and is not otherwise subject to torture while in prison (great stock was put in Soering on the likelihood of the man's homosexual rape in American prisons, for example). This was, I believe, the rationale whereby Saddam Hussein could not gain relief from the ECHR, though this may have also been because we were the ones who actually handed him over to the Iraqis. I could be wrong or behind in the latest developments in this area, though, so I welcome clarification.
4.20.2008 7:28pm
martinned (mail) (www):

@Vermando: I'm away from my textbooks at the moment, but my recollection is that the categorical ban on the death penalty in the 6th and 13th protocol mean that no one can be extradited, handed over, deported or whatever else one chooses to call it if they run the risk of being executed. (@A.Zarkov: to the extent that it is possible for anything to be "unconstitutional" in the UK, what you're proposing would be very unconstitutional.)

One would imagine that Saddam could not obtain relief because a) it was the Americans detaining him, and b) under art. 1 of the Convention it did not apply to him, since he was not in the jurisdiction of a High Contracting Party. (In an earlier comment I was deliberately vague about what it would take to bring someone within the perview of the Convention. As I understand it, in the US, someone has to get their feet on dry land, so being on board a US Navy is ship doesn't count, but I wouldn't be so sure whether the same rule would apply under art. 1 ECHR.)
4.20.2008 7:41pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
"... to the extent that it is possible for anything to be "unconstitutional" in the UK, what you're proposing would be very unconstitutional."

I think it's well within the power of the UK parliament to change the law. Such an act might run afoul of some treaty, but that's fixable too.
4.20.2008 8:42pm
Orson Buggeigh:
Time to revert to more practical matters. Take piracy for what it is - beyond the pale, and pass laws stipulating the only penalty for those convicted of piracy will be execution. If any nation is unwilling to extradite pirates to us, so be it. But we should promptly execute anyone convicted of piracy who falls into our hands. This would discourage pirates from leaving the European countries which seem to believe their miserable lives are so valuable. Which is fine with me.
4.20.2008 9:11pm
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):
Somali pirates:

4.20.2008 9:19pm
liberty (mail) (www):
I wonder how much we know about beheading in Somalia-- how much power do the courts have? Is it this transitional government? Would beheadings occur without government? Is it less brutal (and better off) stateless?

In other words: is it government that produces such brutal responses- or does one require sissy British rule to avoid the death penalty?
4.20.2008 10:46pm
Given how a respectable part of the drive behind international law was finding a way to deal with rogues like pirates, this is a sad irony.
4.20.2008 11:30pm
Mike G in Corvallis (mail):
It's beginning to seem as if the entire British government is an example of Robert Conquest's Third Law of Politics:

The simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies.
4.21.2008 12:09am
martinned (mail) (www):

@A.Zarkov: Exactly, which is why I wrote what I wrote. For the time being, though, they have the Human Rights Act, which is usually included in the body of statutes that, together with the various customs, make up the Constitution of the UK.

@liberty: I'm actually not sure what the rule is for the situation where they would be in danger without law or real government if they were sent back. I suspect that, too, would be a problem.
4.21.2008 6:55am
martinned (mail) (www):
4.21.2008 6:58am
Kevin P. (mail):
The United Kingdom. Where Great Britain used to be.
4.21.2008 9:10am
What would Jack Aubrey do?
4.21.2008 10:24am
Capt Long John-Peg Leg-Patch Eye Hook:

Do they celebrate "Talk Like a Pirate Day" in the UK?

If the Brits had a good Major General, he could take care of the pirates forthwith - so long as he was the very model of a modern major general
4.21.2008 1:11pm
martinned (mail) (www):

Statement by the Slovenian Presidency (of the Council):

EU Presidency statement on recent acts of piracy off Somali coast

The Presidency of the EU condemns the recent acts of piracy perpetrated by Somali pirates off the coast of Somalia. A few days ago a French yacht was attacked, and yesterday the pirates boarded a Spanish trawler. The Presidency of the EU expresses its deep concern for the violent nature of those acts which have been taking place repeatedly in the last months.

The Presidency of the EU considers that those piracy activities are a major hindrance to the European efforts towards the political stability of Somalia, as well as the normal relations between Somalia and the rest of the world, including the deliverance of humanitarian assistance provided to this country.

The Presidency of the EU believes that a strong international effort is needed in order to find an adequate solution to this problem. This effort should be made in close cooperation with other international actors, particularly in the framework of the UN.
4.21.2008 4:36pm
coggieguy (mail):
I thought Admiral Hornblower would hang pirates from the yardarm. Modern vessels lacking such an apparatus, the punishment must have changed.
4.21.2008 7:38pm
Latest news: The Spanish have joined the fun.
I imagined that this was a risk that could be avoided by giving the Somali coast a wide berth. Reportedly, though, that Spanish fishing vessel was attacked 250 miles out to sea, which strikes me as quite a distance from the pirates' home port.
4.21.2008 11:45pm
John Skookum (mail):
I thought that piracy on the high seas was still punishable by summary execution. The Royal Navy should sink pirate boats on sight, and machine-gun any survivors without even taking them out of the water.
4.22.2008 1:30am
markm (mail):

Kevin T. Keith: The problem is that even criminals have a right not to be deported to inhumane regimes, and so the UK would be stuck with them if it arrested pirates from certain countries.

To me, the real problem is that the UK no longer imposes a death penalty or a "life sentence" that actually is for life. If the only way a convicted pirate could leave the British prison system was as a corpse, there wouldn't be an issue with asylum.
4.22.2008 11:55pm