European court fines France for abusing Somali pirates’ rights

Published: December 4, 2014

European court fines France for abusing Somali pirates' rights

France on Thursday was fined tens of thousands of dollars and ordered to pay substantial legal costs to a number of Somalis who were arrested by the French navy and Special Forces for involvement in piracy off the coast of Somalia six years ago.

The European Court of Human Rights said in a judgment that French authorities had deprived the pirates of the basic right to be “promptly” brought before a judge when they were apprehended.

The Strasbourg-based court heard two cases involving nine Somali nationals who had hijacked vessels off the Somali coast before being arrested by French forces and transferred to France for prosecution and trial.

But the delay in getting the pirates to a judicial authority was found to be too long and provided concerns about the ability of the pirates to exercise their rights of defence without pressure.

“The European Court of Human rights held, unanimously, that there had been: a violation of Article 5:1 of the European Convention on Human Rights,” notably “the right to liberty and security.” The relevant safeguards for the detained pirates were “not sufficiently guaranteed” because they were taken into custody for 48 hours on arrival here instead of being “promptly” presented to a legal authority, especially as they had already been in detention for between four and six days before arriving here.

The court reiterated, in particular, that the purpose of the law was “to facilitate the detection of any ill-treatment and to minimise any unjustified interference with individual liberty.” The two groups of Somalis were detained on land and in Somali waters after they were said to have taken over vessels off the Somali coast in separate attacks in April and September 2008.

The court ordered France to pay each of the Somalis between USD 2,500 to USD 6,250 in damages and also awarded legal costs varying from USD 2,500 to USD 9,090 to the nine men.

France is allowed to appeal against the ruling and may do so after winning in several appeals by the Somalis in other courts. (end)

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