Hybrid Tribunals to Combat Regional Maritime Piracy: Guiding the Rule of Law Through the Rocks and Shoals

Maritime piracy continues to afflict the modern world. Basing their operations in places like Somalia, modern pirates have been able to launch attacks on ships traveling some of the world’s most trafficked waterways.

Key Findings

The international community has created an interim prosecution regime that allows domestic courts in the region, notably those in Kenya, to try suspected pirates who are captured in international waters by cooperating navies. Although domestic prosecutions in nations like Kenya are preferable to “catch and release” strategies that allow pirates to walk away from naval custody after being disarmed, such prosecutions come with their own problems. These prosecuting states tend to be developing nations, with relatively weak judicial institutions and penal infrastructures, and, in some cases, a history of corrupt government. They may suffer from a lack of resources not easily solved through foreign investment or intervention. On the other end of the spectrum, a supranational tribunal would face practical problems in trying pirates, and would potentially deprive nations within piracy-afflicted regions of the chance to contribute to and gain from international efforts to solve the problem. Hybrid tribunals offer a solution that would preserve the benefits of domestic and global tribunals, while minimizing their respective flaws. A lasting solution to the problem continues to elude the world, but legal measures should be taken now to ensure that captured pirates are punished, and that would-be pirates are deterred. As a mixture of domestic and global judicial mechanisms, hybrid tribunals may offer an effective means of prosecuting suspected pirates, one that provides the benefits of both approaches, while minimizing their flaws.