Pirates and Impunity: Is the Threat of Asylum Claims a Reason to Allow Pirates to Escape Justice?

60 Pages Posted: 19 Sep 2010 Last revised: 5 Jun 2012

See all articles by Yvonne Dutton

Yvonne Dutton

Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Date Written: September 18, 2010


Piracy poses a threat to the safety and security of ships and crews from around the globe. However, even though the international community seems uniquely focused on repressing piracy, nations are doing little to ensure that those responsible for increasingly brazen and violent attacks are brought to justice. Instead, a culture of impunity reigns, with captured pirates often being released and permitted to continue their illegal activities. One prominent excuse for the particular failure of Western nations to embrace prosecuting pirates on their own soil is the fear that convicted pirates will thereafter seek asylum for themselves and their families. Yet, although that excuse is frequently cited by academics and government representatives, it is not accompanied by any legal analysis of the international or domestic laws on which convicted pirates would base their claims to asylum. The attached article aims to contribute to the discussion about how to end the culture of impunity that surrounds piracy offenses. I introduce and analyze the applicable international treaties that would govern potential asylum claims by pirates convicted in Western nations. I conclude that although pirates generally should not be eligible for asylum or residence permits, the risk that some pirates might be able to mount successful claims for protection is one that developed nations should, and must, accept. The goal of bringing pirates to justice is a worthy one, and captured pirates should not be able to get away escape justice simply because developed nations do not wish to deal with a relatively few additional asylum claims.

Suggested Citation

Dutton, Yvonne, Pirates and Impunity: Is the Threat of Asylum Claims a Reason to Allow Pirates to Escape Justice? (September 18, 2010). Fordham International Law Journal, Vol. 34, No. 2, p. 236, January 2011. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1679202

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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