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April 20, 2008

Britain: We Must Protect Pirates' Human Rights

I declare a New Narrative, in which the French are the heroes and the British are the cowards:

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.

This is a far cry from the time when pirates were uncontroversially considered hostis humani generis--the enemy of all mankind--and subject to the jurisdiction of any court. In all of admiralty law, pirates (and later slavers) were the only people who could not appeal to the protection of the state under whose flag they sailed.

Since the British rescinded capital punishment for piracy in 1998, they would essentially be stuck with the pirates after they served their time.


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posted by Gabriel Malor at 01:14 PM

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