The European Court of Human Rights recently issued a decision (Ali Samatar and Others v. France and Hassan and Others v. France) ruling that French authorities had violated the rights of Somali pirates, when they held them in custody for an additional 48 hours on French soil, before officially charging them with specific crimes. One group of piracy suspects was held for four days before being transferred on to French soil, and another group was held for slightly over six days before being transferred to France and charged before a judicial authority; the Court held that these delays were justified, because of the existence of “completely exceptional circumstances” noting that the original arrests took place thousands of miles from French territory. However, the Court held that the additional 48-hour delay on French soil violated the suspects’ rights to liberty and security under the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 5(3). In fact, the European Court judges held that French authorities had ample time to draw up the official charges against these piracy suspects, while the suspects were held overseas (for four and six days respectively), and that the additional delay on French soil could not be justified because, according to a formal statement by the Court, “[t]he convention’s Article 5.3 was not designed to give the authorities the opportunity to intensify their investigations for the purpose of bringing formal charges against the suspects.” The Court did not fault French authorities for arresting the suspects abroad, or question the legality of such overseas arrests and detention practices. The Court ordered France to pay damages in the amount of 9,000 Euros to one group of pirates, and 7,000 Euros to the other.
These particular pirates had attacked two different French vessels in 2008 and had kidnapped multiple hostages. The hostages were released in exchange for multi-million dollar ransoms, and the pirates were subsequently apprehended by the French military on the Somali coast. The European Court of Human Rights decision awarding damages to this group of pirates has been heavily criticized by maritime organizations, such as the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), as well as seafarers’ support groups, such as the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme (MPHRP). An IMB spokesman stated that “There are practical difficulties with respect to the gathering of evidence and transporting of the alleged perpetrators when a crime is committed at sea, thousands of miles from where the court proceedings take place, compared to a crime committed ashore,” and expressed concern that the Court decision would discourage other European nations from taking appropriate enforcement action against suspected pirates. Roy Paul, program director for MPHRP, voiced even stronger criticism of this decision: “The claim this constituted a ‘violation of their rights to freedom and security’ is an insult to the seafarers and yachtsmen they attacked as surely this is the true violation of the seafarers’ rights to freedom and security. These pirates, in my opinion, gave up any of their rights when they set sail to attack innocent seafarers who were simply doing their essential work.”
Article 5(3) of the European Convention, which French authorities violated according to the above decision, states as follows:
“Everyone arrested or detained in accordance with the provisions of paragraph 1(c) of this Article shall be brought promptly before a judge or other officer authorised by law to exercise judicial power and shall be entitled to trail within a reasonable time or to release pending trial…”
In addition to a violation of Article 5(3), the Court also found that French authorities had breached Article 5(1) (right to liberty and security) in the Hassan and Others case, because the French system applicable at the time “had not sufficiently guaranteed the applicants’ right to their liberty.”
The Court press release is attached below.
Cross-posted on Communis Hostis Omnium.