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Group of Eight: System to Try Pirates Being Considered

(June 2, 2009) On May 30, 2009, the Group of Eight countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) agreed to work on creating a common solution for bringing pirates from African waters to justice. Concerns have been raised about where the pirates, now operating in the waters off Somalia, would face trial after capture. European nations might be presented with asylum claims were the captured tried in European courts, but in some African venues there are problems with poor governance and corruption in the justice system. (G8 Leaders to Develop Legal System for Trying Suspected Pirates, PAPERCHASE NEWSBURST, May 31, 2009, available at

The Group noted the value of aiding countries in the region so that those countries' judicial systems would be improved and drug traffickers and pirates could be tried effectively. A concrete plan will be developed by July 2009 for consideration at the G8 meeting to be held then in L'Aquila, Italy. (G8 Summit 2009 website, G8 (last visited June 1, 2009).)

There are some existing agreements covering trials of Somali pirates. Kenya concluded such an agreement with the European Union; a group of pirates from Somalia captured this year by French and German forces will face charges in Kenya under this agreement. Kenya also has an agreement with the United States that has provided the basis for trying other Somalis in Kenya for piracy. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) will be working to combat piracy in the region, with support from Kenya. (PAPERCHASE NEWSBURST, supra.) The UNODC has also proposed having police from countries in the Horn of Africa serve on international warships to carry out arrests of pirates at sea.

Discussing the problem of bringing the alleged criminals to trial at a U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing on May 14, 2009, UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa pointed out that Somalia lacks an effective legal system at present. He then made the case for trying the pirates in places such as Kenya, stating:

We are left with basically two options: bringing pirates to the court system of the country that seized them. … [s]ince the waters are being patrolled by European vessels, Chinese vessels, obviously United States vessels and so forth, we are talking about distances of tens of thousands of kilometers. The only option left is to bring pirates immediately to courts in countries on the shores of the Indian ocean.

(Michael Lipin, UN: Kenya Agrees to Plan for Maritime Pirate Police, VOA NEWS.COM, May 15, 2009, available at

An additional approach to responding specifically to the problem of piracy in one region has been taken by a group of countries and organizations who have formed the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia. The Contact Group met for the third time on May 29, 2009, at the United Nations in New York. At that time it endorsed the establishment of an international trust fund, to be used to help countries with the costs of prosecuting suspected pirates. Contributions will be voluntary and will be accepted from governmental and non-governmental donors. The United Nations will help administer the fund. Mohamed Omaar, Foreign Minister of the Somali Transitional Federal Government, thanked the Contact Group for its work. (Press Release, U.S. Department of State, Third Plenary Meeting of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (May 29, 2009), available at