Macomb, IL – States have traditionally exercised jurisdiction over crimes. International criminal law is new, except for piracy.
Piracy is an old international crime. There have been seagoing pirates throughout history. Most children know of the fictional Long John Silver. We have all heard tales of Blackbeard the Pirate and Captain Kidd from the early 1700's. Both came to an untimely and violent end, one hanged the other killed in battle.
In ancient Greece, piracy was an honorable profession. By the time of the Romans, pirates were considered, according to Cicero, the "common enemy of all the world." The most well known pirates in medieval Europe were the raiding and plundering Vikings.
Recent attacks off the Horn of Africa show that piracy is still profitable and dangerous. Commercial shipping is now the target of Somali pirates.
International trade requires free, unimpeded sea lanes for ocean shipping. According to the New York Times, pirates operating in the Gulf of Aden near Somalia attacked 214 vessels in 2009. Thirty percent of the world's energy supply transits the Gulf of Aden.
There are two somewhat related international crimes, piracy and terrorism. The objectives of the two crimes are different: Pirates work for financial gain. Terrorists have political objectives. Although both are increasing, piracy is growing much faster and is more common than seaborne terrorism.
Politically motivated high jacking is not piracy. The Geneva Convention of the High Seas and UN Convention on the Law of the Sea define piracy as "a violent seizure on the high seas of a private ship or the illegal detainment of persons or property aboard said ship for the purpose of private gain."
Under international law, piracy can also occur aboard aircraft. A number of regional treaties also have recently been signed to stamp out piracy.
The world recognizes that all states have jurisdiction over crimes committed within their territories. But certain international crimes give rise to universal jurisdiction.
Piracy on the high seas is a crime punishable by any state so long as the pirate is caught in international waters or caught in the prosecuting state's territory. The prosecuting state would then apply its domestic criminal law.
For example, Title 18 United States Code says that "Whoever, on the high seas, commits the crime of piracy as defined by the law of nations, and is afterwards brought into or found in the United States, shall be imprisoned for life."
Some nations hang pirates. Kenya, close to the area where Somali pirates operate has recently entered into 6 treaties with interested states (including the US) under which the navies of those states deposit captured pirates in Kenya and they are tried in the Kenyan courts. Many Kenyans are protesting the burden this is now placing on their system.
If a crime occurs within a state's twelve-mile limit, then it is NOT piracy, and would be prosecuted as another crime such as theft, assault, murder.
In 2008 the UN Security Council issued Resolution 1815-12, binding on all states; calling on all states to cooperate to counter piracy off the coast of Somalia; authorizing states to take action within Somalia's territorial waters, denying pirates a safe haven. Piracy is a violation of international law.