Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Piracy Convictions - And Not

Gregarious Son has begun the three day journey home from his summer internship as a judicial clerk in Seychelles.  Tonight's (it's late afternoon there at the moment) flight takes him from Victoria, the capital of Seychelles, to Abu Dhabi, the capital of United Arab Emirates.  Tomorrow it's on to London, and then Friday back to the U.S.  I have no idea how he found a motel room in London this week, but he managed.

He's had an extraordinary summer assisting in two piracy cases.  Each of them raised controversial issues of jurisdiction - the court's authority over the defendants - since the laws governing these cases are largely new, vague, and untried.  Here's what he had to say about the resolution of the trial just concluded:

"It has been an historic day for piracy cases. We had the judgment and sentencing for the second case that I have been working on. Due to a technicality about the age a person must be before he can commit a crime in the eyes of the law, an eleven year old suspect was acquitted. This is the first time that any of the piracy suspects brought for international prosecution have been acquitted. Since he could not remain in custody, there was total chaos as the authorities tried to figure out what to do with him. His lawyer, who doesn't trust the police not to take him back to jail, actually took the kid with him during the lunch break. One more, who is only twelve, cannot be sentenced to jail and was convicted and released on condition. He is to be deported and can never return to Seychelles. Three other juvenile suspects between 14-18 were sentenced to two and half years. The eight adults each got 12 years. The case is guaranteed to cause a lot of controversy here and abroad." 

It strikes me that these cases represent the utter brokenness of the human condition. Five children, two of them not yet teenagers, were captured somewhere in the Indian Ocean where they were allegedly engaged in international crimes of piracy.  Kid who should be racing up and down a soccer field were drawn into an activity borne of desperation, poverty, and chaos.  They ended up in a little boat in a big ocean with a lot of guns on hand and a criminal trial awaiting them.

We don't have to give them much thought.  Their activities took place half a world away, and we are properly outraged when law-abiding naval, commercial, tourist, and private vessels are attacked by armed desperadoes.  But these kids . . . .

I asked what will happen now  to the two who have been released, and Matt responded that it's unclear.  "The UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime - yes, I had to look it up) agreed to pay for their repatriation but the IMO (International Maritime Organization - that one, too) or Red Cross has to find their families first."

So on an island halfway between Africa and India, two boys tried for piracy await someone finding their parents --  in Somalia, a nation that could be generously described as serving as the definition for the term "disarray."

I wonder how London will seem to the young man who has spent his summer in another world.

Image: Reuters photo of Somali pirate suspects.


  1. A long time ago in another time during our "colonial" dirty little civil war 3 twelve year old boys were sentenced to hang for the terrible (and they were brutal assaults) crimes they had committed. It was only then that I wondered that I too had been armed ( for self defense) at 13. I was 17 by then. It took a long time for my anger at all the adults involved to work itself out safely.

    My heart goes out to these kids in whose lives have been so bent out of shape by the adults in their lives that they think that being on a small boat raiding shipping is normal.

  2. We tend to focus on the global nature of Twitter and Facebook and American Idol. But I think it behooves us to reflect on the global results of institutional poverty and how it manifests in the exploitation of children, the fracturing of families, and even if we can change the channels on our TV this really does affect us.

    It is not something we can ignore without grave consequence.

    In my travels this summer I pondered a lot about Detroit. About the devastation of that city. Of how we could "easily" maneuver around it and spend time in Ann Arbor and Bay Village and Wooster. But truly, we only fooled ourselves. Detroit is us.

    Somalia is too.

    And these children are our children.

    A friend of mine posted on her FB the other day: "You don't get caught in traffic. You are the traffic."

    Think about that for a while. To me it is very similar to what you're saying here.

  3. Anytime we treat young people, teenagers and those in their early 20's as adults, it makes me sad. They really aren't yet adults - the frontal lobe is not fully developed which influences how one thinks. But that is just a side bar in the otherwise tragic reality that children are kidnapped from their familes and forced into battle and piracy. The UN may be able to find the parents - in some refugee camp perhaps, where living conditions are horrible, and the risk of death high, certainly despair will prevail. It is a tragedy and we participate in it by contributing to the global economic situation - it's far too complicated for me to completely understand, but I know just enough to understand that what we in the USA eat, sell, buy, wear, drink, inmpacts others in the world and contributes to the demise of other economies. Oh, and NAFTA is a contributing factor too - sadly.

    But that said, wow! What an amazing, formative experience your son has had! He is already so wise and compassionate!

  4. Wow! The insight and experiences gained here will make Matt an even better human being than he already was. Perhaps he will be at least a small piece of the solution to the serious conditions of poverty, child trafficking, hate, and injustice.

  5. Agreed. So few options for people living in that part of the world. Sometimes it's the blind leading the blind. Bringing some wisdom, justice, opportunity, education, and hope can make such a difference to a child and a nation. Matt is another link in that good chain of help. Powerful, lifechanging internship!