Tag Archive | "rule of law"

Pirates are not to be trusted.
(IBN Live)

Putting political convenience aside, pirates are rarely also terrorists

A few months ago, I wrote a post entitled Putting political convenience aside, pirates are simply not terrorists.  The piece argues that calls to treat all pirates as terrorists are totally unfounded, at least from a legal perspective. This is because, under international law, terrorism and piracy are accompanied by explicitly-defined, mutually exclusive motives.

Although I am standing by my substantive argument, the story of the MV Asphalt Venture is enough – as more astute readers may have noticed – to make me recalibrate my title a bit.

The Good Ship Asphalt Venture

The Asphalt Venture is a Panamanian-flagged, Korean-owned vessel that was captured by pirates on September 28, 2010. On April 15, 2011, the pirates released eight of the Asphalt Venture’s fifteen crew members in exchange for a ransom payment, but the kept the remaining seven crew on board. Subsequently, the pirates issued a demand to the Indian government, particularly to the coastal state of Kerala, that the remaining hostages would not be released until India freed around 100 Somalis convicted of piracy and serving their sentences in India. Recently, the Asphalt Venture pirates have added a $5 million ransom to their list of demands of the Indian government. Old title notwithstanding, these pirates indeed became terrorists.

As I explained in my earlier post, terrorism is characterized by a desire to either incite fear among the general public or to otherwise coerce a government. Conversely, piracy must be committed with the hopes of making money. Thus, where an individual takes hostages on the high seas in hopes of a ransom from a private entity, he is a pirate. Where he takes hostages on the high seas in hopes of shaping the behavior of a government, he is a terrorist.

Pirates are not to be trusted.
(IBN Live)

Those who took the Asphalt Venture managed to be both. From September 28, 2010, to April 15, 2011, they were merely pirates, only interested in money moving from one private party to another. But the moment that the pirates engaged the Indian government, actively seeking to affect its behavior, those pirates also became terrorists.

Still, the case of the Asphalt Venture is best seen as an exception that proves the rule. Governments are famous for their refusal to pay ransoms, and pirates generally look to shipping companies and their insurers as the primary source of ransoms. Even with the Asphalt Venture itself, the pirates turned to the insurance company first, received their ransom, and only then did they make non-pecuniary demands of the Indian government.

I ended my last terrorism-related piece by noting that if “pirates tak[e] a less profitable course in favor of a strategy with large political payoff,” the terrorist-pirate distinction would come into play. This is exactly what has happened in the case of the MV Asphalt Venture. In abandoning their private ends in favor of increased political pressure, those who took the Asphalt Venture did not shed the moniker “pirate,” but they certainly gained the additional, arguably even less appealing label, of “terrorist.”

In the end, however, we should continue to be mindful that nothing short of actively pressuring a government to either take or refrain from a certain action can result in an accurate branding with the scarlet “T.” Looking at a single discrete incident to determine an individual’s motives and classify him as a pirate, terrorist, or both is one thing; seeking to apply the blanket term, “terrorist” to all pirates for political convenience is quite another.

Jon Bellish is a Project Officer at the Oceans Beyond Piracy project just outside Denver, Colorado, though the views expressed are solely those of the author. You can follow him on Twitter.

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The system reforms!

Critical Analysis: History in Progress: Four Years in, the International Community Eagerly Observes Mexico’s New Justice System Take Form

The system reforms!

Mexico is wrapping another year in the eight-year process that has been set aside to transform the country’s criminal justice system entirely. In 2008, the Mexican government passed a series of constitutional and legislative reforms that would effectively change the country’s entire penal system. The 2008 judicial reform gives Mexico until 2016 to switch from a secretive paper-based system to oral trials, bolstering the defendant’s due process rights by ensuring the presumption of innocence and better access to adequate defense counsel. The new reforms give police a larger role in criminal investigations placing a larger emphasis on evidence used during trials.

Mexico’s criminal justice system has been criticized for being exceptionally antiquated and ineffective. Advocates have been fighting for years to overhaul inadequate investigation, trial, and detention systems known to encourage torture and allow hardened criminals to walk free. Proponents of the change claim that the reform is vital to the success of the country’s ongoing drug war.

But the process has been painstakingly slow, and some critics say the federal government is not moving as quickly as it can to pass the necessary revised criminal procedure code. Last year, President Calderón sent a proposal of the federal code to Congress, but the Senate failed to pass it. The new, revised criminal code would unify and advance the implementation of the 2008 reforms. The country is technically halfway through the transition phase, but less than half of Mexico’s states have taken steps to change their justice systems, and the policies put in place vary. For example, the state of Chihuahua has been a pioneer by implementing its own state level shift in 2007, a year before Mexico enacted the federal reforms.

One of the biggest obstacles lies in the fact that states using the new oral trials-based system cannot yet pass cases on to the Federal Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República) for review. The Attorney General’s Office does not yet have the new criminal justice system fully implemented because Mexico has not passed the revised federal criminal code. So far, only 18 of Mexico’s 32 states and entities have passed their own criminal procedure code, 11 of which have advanced to actually implementing and conducting oral trials.

The remaining three years of transformation require not only federal and state legislative reforms. A successful transition will also entail investing billions of dollars to remodel courtrooms, training Mexico’s roughly forty thousand active lawyers and thousands of judges, and reworking the law school curriculum. This undertaking will require the political resolve and concentrated focus of Mexico’s next administration, especially to overcome the older generation of jurists who are resisting the change.

Gaby Corica is a 3L at DU law, a Staff Editor for the Denver Journal for International Law and Policy, and a General Editor for The View From Above. 

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University of Denver Sturm College of Law