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May 20, 2009 / jeni

Another Incentive for Piracy: Nice Jails

Dutch lawyers are speculating that pirates may be encouraged to attack Western vessels in the hopes of attaining residence in the EU or US — even if that means lengthy jail time.

The five Somali pirates were arrested off the coast of Africa in January by Danish marines after attacking the Samanyulo, a Dutch-flagged cargo ship. But since Somalia has a record of international human rights violations it will be almost impossible to deport the men after their conviction in the Netherlands.

“Life is good here,” said one of the defendants, named Sayid, about his experience in a Dutch jail. “I appeal to the government not to send me back to Somalia. The people who live here respect human rights. I wish to settle here.”

Willem-Jan Ausma, a Dutch defence attorney who is representing another pirate, described his client’s relief to be in a Western prison. “My client feels safe here. His own village is dominated by poverty and sharia [Islamic law] but here he has good food and can play football and watch television. He thinks the lavatory in his cell is fantastic,” he said.

Mr Ausma has told the Somali that he will be considered for a residence permit after serving his sentence, expected to be a maximum of four years in prison. “He intends to send for his wife and children as soon as he is released from prison. He knows he cannot easily be sent back to Somalia. He loves it here in the Netherlands,” Mr Ausma told the NRC Handelsblad newspaper.

The deportation of foreign-born criminals is an issue fraught with controversy in the EU. At a time when many Europeans seek new limits on immigration, it is difficult to rouse support for letting convicted criminals stay on. At the same time, human rights policies and regulations can restrict the ability of states to deport people to countries as miserable as Somalia. I’m not sure, given current popular pressure on immigration agencies, whether Sayid and his family will indeed be able to obtain Dutch residence after his sentence expires; but a final decision in the matter could take years, and every year away from Somalia may be seen as a blessing.

But regardless of whether the Somali pirates will actually be able to stay in the Netherlands, will Somalis increasingly perceive that this is a possibility? Would this increase the number of attacks on Western vessels — or make such attacks less violent, as pirates decide to surrender rather than fight? Or will they decide that the monetary rewards of piracy are worth staying in Somalia, especially if there is a possibility of ‘moving up’ in the pirate hierarchy? It must be remembered that not all captured pirates are brought back to Europe for trial, so surrender would not guarantee a cushy life of telly-watching and football.

A number of international lawyers are calling for the creation of an international tribunal to deal with the Somali pirates. While this might solve some of the problems associated with national jurisdictions, the question would remain: where would the pirates be jailed?

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