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Kenya: Alleged Somali Pirates Acquitted for Lack of Evidence

(Nov. 12, 2010) It was reported on November 5, 2010, that a Kenyan magistrate found not guilty 17 Somalis who had been accused of piracy in connection with an attack against the MV Amira, an Egyptian-flagged ship, in May 2009. The Mombasa court ruled that the prosecution had not proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt and that the U.S. Navy, which had detained the men at sea, had failed to provide sufficient evidence of the defendants' guilt. (Matt Glenn, Kenya Court Acquits 17 on Piracy Charges, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (Nov. 5, 2010), ht
; Tom Oduia, Kenyan Court Frees 17 Suspected Pirates Arrested by US Navy for Lack of Evidence, ASSOCIATED PRESS (Nov. 5, 2010),; Kenya Acquits 17 Suspected Somali Pirates, AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE (AFP) (Nov. 5, 2010),
.) The immediate fate of the men is unclear, according to their lawyer, Jared Magolo, because “repatriating them to Somalia, which is currently in a state of war, would violate international law.” (Glenn, supra.)

The 17 Somalis were the first defendants to be acquitted since Kenya signed an agreement with Western countries to try suspected pirates. (AFP, supra.) The Kenyan government had announced in April 2010 that its legal system was too overburdened to accept more Somali piracy cases; Kenya resumed the prosecutions in May after being assured of additional support. (Glenn, supra.) To assist the Kenyan courts, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime piracy division announced in June that it would spend more than US$9.3 million to fund courts in Kenya and Seychelles for the prosecution of suspected Somali pirates. (Hillary Stemple, UN Announces $9.3 million in Donations to Fund Piracy Courts, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (June 15, 2010),

In September, a Mombasa court had convicted 11 Somalis of piracy charges for a 2009 attack against a Liberian-flagged merchant ship and sentenced all of them to five years of imprisonment. (AFP, supra.) However, that same month, fearing that it would “become a dumping-ground for pirates,” Kenya allowed the agreement on conducting piracy trials to lapse, and it commenced negotiations with the United Nations on the matter. (Sarah Paulsworth, UN Urges Nations to Assist Kenya in Conducting Piracy Trials, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (Oct. 12, 2010),
.) On October 12, 2010, Jack Lang, the U.N. Secretary-General's special adviser on maritime policy, called on other nations to provide aid to Kenya in conducting the trials. Lang stated that to date Kenya had received US$4 million “to upgrade its criminal justice system in return for agreements to prosecute suspected pirates there.” At that time, 43 pirates had already been prosecuted in Kenya. (Id.)

In other piracy developments, in April 2010 the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution that called for criminalization of piracy under U.N. member states' domestic laws. The U.N. also announced the establishment of a trust fund to combat piracy that would support five projects “to help Somalia and its neighbors reduce acts of piracy committed in nearby bodies of water.” (Glenn, supra; see also Constance A. Johnson, Seychelles/United Nations: Piracy Prosecution Center to Be Established, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (May 7, 2010), http://www.l