Thursday, February 09, 2006

Prosecuting Pirates: What Ever Happened to Universal Jurisdiction?

According to this CNN account, the Somali pirates captured last month by the U.S. Navy are challenging the jurisdiction of the Kenyan court that is planning to try them. The U.S. apparently turned over the suspects to Kenya. The pirates were captured in international waters, but as I pointed out here, any nation should still have jurisdiction to try such pirates under the UN Convention for the Law of the Sea. Indeed, nations used to claim universal jurisdiction over pirates, a concept that has been expanded to include violators of fundamental human rights. That idea has not yet been raised in Kenya, apparently, which is odd because if there is no universal jurisdiction for piracy, there is no universal jurisdiction for anything.

UPDATE: Reader Laurence Rothenberg emails me to point out that some scholars, like Prof. Rubin of Tufts, have questioned whether universal jurisdiction for piracy ever existed. Prof. Rubin has in fact published an entire book on this subject, The Law of Piracy. This is a good point, and calls into question the origins of the doctrine of universal jurisdiction.

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