Maritime Piracy and the Impunity Gap: Insufficient National Laws or a Lack of Political Will?

Nations are not prosecuting piracy suspects with any regularity. One reason cited for this culture of impunity is the lack of domestic legislation to facilitate the prosecution of suspected pirates. However, universal jurisdiction over piracy has existed for more than one hundred years, and most nations are parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation (SUA Convention), both of which encourage nations to cooperate in prosecuting acts of maritime piracy. Given this legal framework, should we not expect that nations would have domestic laws criminalizing piracy and would use those laws to try the pirates they have gone to such lengths to capture? This Article explores these questions by examining the domestic antipiracy laws in about fifty states for which information is available in English. The analysis supports a conclusion that on the whole states lack the political will to share in the burden of prosecuting pirates because relatively few states have enacted comprehensive antipiracy laws that include a framework for exercising universal jurisdiction over pirate attacks. The analysis also shows that the laws states have enacted may not be sufficient to allow for a successful prosecution for today's pirates. Although states may have many reasons to sit back and wait for others to prosecute maritime piracy offenses, this Article concludes that all states must embrace their duty to share in the burden of prosecuting pirates, which means that all states must first pass the necessary domestic laws criminalizing maritime piracy.