Symposium on International Legal Aspects of Countering Piracy

Published 20 October 2015

In celebration of the 50 year anniversary of the T.M.C. Asser Instituut and this year’s establishment of the Antonio Cassese Initiative Foundation in the Netherlands, the T.M.C. Asser Instituut and the Antonio Cassese Initiative co-organised a conference on the ‘International Legal Aspects of Countering Piracy’. The symposium was held at the T.M.C. Asser Instituut in The Hague on 15 October 2015, and addressed the most important international legal questions regarding the countering of maritime piracy by repressive means. Prof. Janne Nijman, Academic Director of the T.M.C. Asser Instituut, provided a word of welcome before Dr. Christophe Paulussen (T.M.C. Asser Instituut) and Ms. Iris van der Heijden (Antonio Cassese Initiative) opened the conference by introducing the central themes to be discussed.


In the keynote lecture, Commodore Neil Brown (Royal Navy, UK) scrutinised the efforts of states in countering piracy and touched upon some of the lessons learned from past experiences. Thereafter, the first session on ‘Piracy and the rise of non-state actors’, moderated by Mr. Onur Güven (T.M.C. Asser Instituut), commenced with a presentation by Mr. Peter Cook (Chief Executive Officer, Security Association for the Maritime Industry) on the growth of private security service providers in the maritime industry. Mr. Peter Post (Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs) then reviewed some of the guiding principles and building blocks for a new Dutch policy on the use of private armed guards against pirates. Thus far, the political debate on this matter has remained unresolved. Mr. Gert-Jan van Hegelsom (Head of the Legal Affairs Division European External Action Service) discussed Operation Atalanta, with a specific focus on the role of non-state actors in relation to this operation.

The second session, moderated by Dr. Kenneth Manusama (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam), addressed the legal frameworks and soft law instruments in countering piracy. The first speaker, Dr. Efthymios Papastavridis (Academy of Athens), dealt strictly with hard law instruments, and touched upon seven legal regimes that are being applied to piracy issues. Thereafter, Ms. Nelleke van Amstel (Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces) gave a lecture on the impact of multi-stakeholder standard-setting on the legal framework, focussing on the (potential) contribution of the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers to the development of a more human rights-oriented private security service industry. The last speaker of the session, Dr. Stuart Casey-Maslen (independent consultant and co-author of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights’ Academy Briefing ‘Counterpiracy under International Law’), addressed the (perceived) gaps in the legal framework in countering piracy regarding the use of force by private maritime security companies (PMSCs) and members of the police and armed forces.

The third session of the day, moderated by Dr. Olivier Ribbelink (T.M.C. Asser Instituut), focused on human rights considerations in countering piracy and prosecuting pirates. Dr. Anna Petrig (University of Basel) introduced a human-rights approach to law-enforcement at sea. She looked more specifically at the issue of human rights linked with the arrest, detention and transfer of piracy suspects. The second and third speakers of the panel gave complementary lectures focusing respectively on the prosecution and the defence of suspected pirates in the Netherlands. Ms. Annet Kramer (Netherlands Public Prosecution Service, National Prosecution Office) provided an outline of the general framework for prosecuting piracy and then discussed the challenges faced today by the Dutch National Prosecution Office. Finally, Mr. Floris Holthuis (Nolet Advocaten) addressed the obstacles a defence lawyer faces while defending an alleged pirate in the Netherlands. He based his presentation on his experience with Ali Mahamed Jama, the last piracy suspect he defended – and who was fully acquitted in 2015.

The symposium was concluded by Mr. Leendert Erkelens (T.M.C. Asser Instituut), who highlighted the main findings of each presentation.

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