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EU Court Rules Somali Pirates Have the Same Rights as Everybody Else

Europe's top court ordered France to pay thousands in compensation to pirates for denying them human and judicial rights following arrest.
Photo via Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken/Flickr

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled Thursday that France must pay thousands of dollars in compensation to nine Somali Pirates for not providing them with basic human and judicial rights during arrest. The pirates, who were detained in 2008 following the hijacking of two ships off the coast of Somalia, will receive between 2000 and 5000 euros ($2,500 and $6,150) each.

On April 4, 2008, a dozen pirates armed with rocket launchers seized French cruise ship Le Ponant off the coast of Yemen, taking 30 people, including 22 French nationals, hostage. The prisoners were released one week later, after the yacht's owner paid the $2 million ransom demand. In September of the same year, another Somali pirate gang captured the Carré d'As,a 50-foot yacht that had been sailing from Australia to the Suez Canal.


The French military subsequently arrested ten pirates in the two separate raids. In the first operation, French commando units tracked down the Somali hostage takers from the attack on Le Ponant, and arrested six pirates. In the second sting, French special units were parachuted out to sea close to the captured yacht, taking the pirates by surprise and making six arrests.

France's operations were carried out in compliance with a June 2008 UN Security Council resolution, which temporarily authorized other states to enter Somali waters and launch anti-piracy actions.

But this week, the ECHR found France guilty of two separate violations of the pirates' rights. According to the court, French officials failed to protect the pirates' right "to liberty and security" during their transfer to France by sea. The ECHR also challenged France over the delay in bringing the pirates before a court. Following their transfer, the pirates were held in military custody for a further 48 hours, without access to an attorney, before facing a judge.

A court statement said that France had violated two articles of the European Convention on Human Rights concerning personal freedom. According to article 5.1 of the convention, "No one shall be deprived of his liberty" unless it is "in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law," while article 5.3 stipulates that any person arrested "shall be brought promptly before a judge."


Attorney Antonin Lévy represented Yacoub Mohamed Hassan and Cheik Nour Jama Mohamoud, two Somali pirates who attacked theCarré d'As, in the case Hassan and others vs. France.

Lévy told VICE News the treatment of the pirates was abysmal.

"When I saw [Hassan], after nine days in custody, all he wanted to do was sleep," Lévy said. "He spent six days and twenty hours in the hold of a ship, in isolation, not knowing where he was being taken. To be brought before a judge 10 days after an arrest is unacceptable."

According to Lévy, the ECHR ruling is important because it recognizes that pirates have the same rights as any European citizen. "Everyone is allowed the same protection, even if they are a Somali pirate, arrested halfway around the globe, even if the circumstances of their arrest are exceptional."

The ECHR ruling is unusual because of the amount that France was ordered to pay the plaintiffs.

"It is a large sum of money," says Lévy. "Often, with the ECHR, all you get is the satisfaction of knowing you won, and a [symbolic] 1 euro fine."

Lévy added that his clients have served their sentence and since been released.

Piracy off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden in the Arabian Sea has been widespread since 2005, and exacerbated by the country's internal political crisis. Following a wave of attacks against international vessels and an uptick in looting and abductions at sea, international naval forces intervened in the region in 2011 and reduced acts of piracy by 40 percent.

Follow Mélodie Bouchaud on Twitter: @meloboucho

Image via Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken/Flickr