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Pirates and terrorists

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Pirates and terrorists have commanded our attention recently with their outrageous acts. One characteristic they have in common is that they respect no laws. A handful of youth pirates from Somalia seized a huge Saudi oil tanker, the Sirius Star. It was carrying US$100 million worth of oil and a crew of 25 men. The pirates were armed with machine guns and grenades.{{more}} Their aim was not to ravage the ship as their counterparts did during earlier centuries but to direct the ship to their lair and keep watch while they extract a handsome ransom from the ship’s owners thousand of miles away.

It is amazing that in this modern age with all the fire power of the nations of the world that a ragged band of pirates would cause international fear and terror. They have attacked more than 100 and hijacked over 40 vessels in 2008, according to the International Maritime Bureau’s piracy Reporting Centre. Merchant ships have fallen victim because maritime laws discourage against large cache of weapons on board.

The matter becomes more complicated because the transitional government in Somalia is unable to account for the acts of their nationals. International Law appears to be incapable of dealing with the crime of piracy. Owners of ships have no choice but to negotiate with the pirates because they not only fear for the lives of the crew but the destruction of ship and cargo. Attempts to tackle piracy through international law is problematic, because of the inconsistency of the definition of piracy. The UN convention on the law of the sea defines piracy as “all illegal acts of violence or detention committed for private ends by crew or passengers of a pirate ship”. Somalia’s pirates might very well say that they are doing it for political gains and not private ends. One writer claims that the whole body of international law and human rights legislation that has emerged in recent times has made the traditional remedies hard to apply. The “Times and Transcript” of November 25, 2008, claims that UN rules keep modern pirates in business as the forces of law are almost completely paralyzed.

Terrorism

On Wednesday, 26th November, 2008, all hell broke loose in the capital city of Mumbai (formerly Bombay), in India, when terrorists went on a rampage on different sites, and including two luxury hotels, hospital, and train station, among others. They were armed with grenades and machine guns, and after 60 hours many persons including foreigners and locals were slaughtered or injured..

A November 2004 United Nations Security Council report described terrorism as any act “intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants with the purpose of intimidating a population or compelling a government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act.” U.S. Department of Defense defined terrorism as: “The calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.” There are some problems for civil society because what might be a terrorist act for one nation could be freedom fighting for another. What is certain is that terrorist acts are cruel and ruthless acts against innocent persons and must be condemned.

Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law.
E-mail address is: exploringthelaw@yahoo.com

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