Global Insider: The International Legal Regime for Somali Pirates

A Kenyan appeals court recently ordered the release of nine suspected pirates, ruling that Kenya lacks jurisdiction over events that did not occur within the country's territorial waters. In an e-mail interview, Eugene Kontorovich, associate professor of law at Northwestern University, discussed the international legal regime for Somali pirates.

WPR: What legal regime, if any, applies to captured Somali pirates?

Eugene Kontorovich: Captured Somali pirates are tried under the laws of whichever country prosecutes them, which, as in the case of Kenya, may not be the country that captures them. International law allows a nation to try pirates that it has no connection with. Any nation can prosecute pirates, even if they have not attacked that nation's vessels or nationals -- a doctrine called universal jurisdiction. International law also provides a definition of piracy, in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which some nations, including the U.S. and Kenya, implicitly or explicitly incorporate into their piracy laws. However, not all nations even have laws that cover international piracy.

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