Politics and policy
Court ruling boosts war on piracy
Posted Thursday, October 18 2012 at 21:33
Kenya’s campaign to rid the East African coastline of piracy received another boost yesterday after the Court of Appeal gave national courts the green light to prosecute suspected pirates.
Just weeks after the Al-Shabaab militia lost Kismayu port to Amisom forces, appellate judges set aside a previous High Court ruling that had prevented local courts from trying captured piracy suspects. Pirates had used Kismayu as a base from where they attacked ships in the Indian Ocean.
Justices David Maraga, Otieno Onyango, Alnasir Vishram, Hannah Okwengu and Martha Okwenga ruled that Kenyan courts have authority and jurisdiction to try piracy cases irrespective of the place of the offence and the nationality of the offenders.
“Justice Mohammed Ibrahim made a mistake in holding that our courts lack the power to try piracy cases. Piracy has negative effects on the country’s economy and any state, even if not directly affected by piracy must try and punish the offenders,” Justice Maraga.
Mr Justice Ibrahim had in November 2010 terminated the prosecution of nine suspected Somali pirates on grounds that Kenyan courts had no powers to deal with matters outside its geographical areas.
He also ordered the government to repatriate the suspects to Somalia.
Yesterday, the Appellate judges directed that the suspects be transferred immediately to Mombasa to face prosecution before a magistrate adding that Mr Justice Ibrahim erred in ordering for their repatriation. The judges said international law gave any state the authority to try a suspect on crimes of any nature. Being a signatory to International Treaties, the Appeal judges said, Kenya was justified to try the cases.
“Every State has interest in bringing to justice perpetrators of international crimes including piracy, genocide, apartheid and human trafficking,” said Mr Justice Maraga. “It was therefore wrong for the judge to hold otherwise since the Penal Code gives Kenyan court’s jurisdiction to try any case.”
They also faulted Mr Justice Ibrahim for creating an impression that Parliament had repealed the law which allowed prosecution of piracy suspects, saying that any offence committed on the high Seas was governed by international law.
Cases of piracy on the Indian Ocean have dropped significantly since Kenya Defence Forces crossed the border in October last year to join forces with UN-backed African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom), leading to the capture of Kismayu last month.
Industry players said piracy had seen the economy lose billions of shillings every year. The cruise ships, which used to connect East African countries to emerging export markets in Asia, have since dropped the route, citing frequent insecurity.
Cargo ships, which have borne the brunt of piracy attacks passed on an extra Sh35.2 billion ($414 million) annually to importers of inputs to cover money lost through ransoms and higher insurance premiums. The cost of goods also rose by same margins, importers said.
“They (pirates) already appear totally distabilised after the capture of Kismayu because we haven’t seen major attacks since July,” Kenya Shipping Council CEO Gilbert Langat told the Business Daily in an earlier interview.
Intelligence gathered by NATO shipping centre shows that only 10 ships had been seized by pirates this year, down from a 2009-2010 annual average of 45 ships.
Apart from its extra burden on import of inputs, piracy had interrupted Kenya’s booming trade with Somalia sustained mainly by export of khat (miraa).