In an op-ed in the Washington Post Donald Burgess pronounces that “piracy is terrorism”. He also takes a look at the legal morass facing countries that pursue pirates:
Prosecuting pirates puts enormous strain on a country’s legal system. A state whose ship was not attacked, and whose only involvement with the incident was as rescuer, might balk at being asked to foot the bill for lengthy and costly proceedings. Yet it might find itself forced to do so, if neither the victim’s nor the pirates’ state is willing. As Somalia has not had a recognized government since the early 1990s, the situation is all the more precarious for would-be capturers. The result is that ship owners, knowing that no rescue is imminent, pay the ransom. This emboldens the pirates further, and the problem worsens.
and he proposes a solution. Piracy is an international crime and should be prosecuted in the international criminal court:
Recognizing piracy as an international crime will do something else: It will give individual states that don’t want to prosecute pirates an alternative — the international court. If pirates are recognized under their traditional international legal status — as neither ordinary criminals nor combatants, but enemies of the human race — states will have a much freer hand in capturing them. If piracy falls within the jurisdiction of the international court, states will not need to shoulder the burden of prosecution alone.
The relationship between terrorism and piracy is a topic I’ve touched on before but, unfortunately, I think that Mr. Burgess has grasped the wrong end of the stick. The International Criminal Court has not yet proven itself an effective tool in dealing with the most serious international crimes. Its record is at best mixed although it has shown itself to be an effective sort of rest home in which genocidal thugs can spend their final days railing at the system, running out the clock.
Additionally, for something to become everybody’s responsibility is for it to become nobody’s responsibility. It reminds me of my dad’s frequent comment when I was a kid that if he had it to do over again he’d have named one of the kids “Somebody”. That way, if he asked for somebody to close the door, turn off the lights, or pick a toy up off of the floor, he’d get a response.
Piracy wasn’t reduced in the Caribbean and Atlantic because the crime was internationalized but because the United States and United Kingdom ordered their navies to prosecute pirates vigorously. The laws in those countries were adjusted to streamline the prosecution of pirates.
I don’t believe that pirates are terrorists nor that terrorists are pirates but that both are instances of a single category, in Cicero’s phrase hostis humani generis, enemy of humankind. Until we achieve a consensus that allows individual nations to prosecute these crimes wherever they are found vigorously both scourges are likely to become more problematic rather than less so.