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Maritime Piracy and the Impunity Gap: Insufficient National Laws or a Lack of Political Will?

Yvonne Dutton

Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law

September 21, 2011

Nations are not prosecuting piracy suspects with any regularity. One reason cited for this culture of impunity is the lack of domestic legislation to facilitate the prosecution of suspected pirates. But, what exactly is lacking: legislation or the political will to prosecute pirates? After all, universal jurisdiction over piracy has existed for more than 100 years. In addition, most nations are parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation (SUA Convention), both of which authorize and encourage nations to cooperate in prosecuting acts of maritime piracy. Given this legal framework, should we not expect that nations would have domestic laws criminalizing piracy and would use those laws to try the pirates they have gone to such lengths to capture?

This article explores these questions by examining the domestic anti-piracy laws in about fifty states for which information is available in English. The analysis supports a conclusion that on the whole states lack the political will to share in the burden of prosecuting pirates since relatively few states have enacted comprehensive anti-piracy laws that include a framework for exercising universal jurisdiction over pirate attacks. The analysis also shows that the laws states have enacted may not be sufficient to allow for a successful prosecution for today’s pirates. Although states may have many reasons to sit back and wait for others to prosecute maritime piracy offenses, this Article concludes that all states must embrace their duty to share in the burden of prosecuting pirates, which means that all states must first pass the necessary domestic laws criminalizing maritime piracy.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 52

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Date posted: September 23, 2011 ; Last revised: June 5, 2012

Suggested Citation

Dutton, Yvonne, Maritime Piracy and the Impunity Gap: Insufficient National Laws or a Lack of Political Will? (September 21, 2011). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1931870 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1931870

Contact Information

Yvonne Dutton (Contact Author)
Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law ( email )
530 West New York Street
Indianapolis, IN 46202
United States

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