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CSU Law Professor Helps Prepare for Somali Piracy Trials

Cleveland State University Marshall College of Law Professor Milena Sterio and Case Western Reserve University School of Law Professor Michael Scharf spent a week in Mauritius, an Indian Ocean island nation known as a resort destination for celebrities like David Beckham, helping to prepare the government for upcoming piracy trials.

While their expertise has long been in the area of war crimes prosecutions, over the past three years, Scharf and Sterio have assisted piracy prosecutions in Kenya and the Seychelles Islands, and were invited to Copenhagen in September to address the UN Contact Group on Somali Piracy about the growing problem of dealing with juvenile pirates. While in Copenhagen, the head of the Mauritius Piracy Prosecution Unit, Sulakshna Beekarry, asked the professors to come to Mauritius to help prepare officials for upcoming piracy trials.

During five days in Mauritius (December 3-7), the two professors met with the Attorney-General, the Solicitor General, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Commissioner of Police and Security forces, the Mauritius Ambassador to the UN, the EU.

Ambassador to Mauritius, and a High Court Judge. During these meetings, the professors presented the officials with flash drives, containing 45 research memos prepared by their students, and members of the Public International Law and Policy Group's High Level Piracy Working Group, which Scharf Chairs.

On their first day on the Island, the professors presented a two-hour lecture about dealing with the problem of child piracy at the Mauritius Ministry of Justice, attended by over 40 officials. Professor Sterio says that "child piracy has emerged as one of the most difficult legal issues." According to Sterio, this is because "child pirates are usually just released upon capture or immediately after trial. As a consequence, Somali pirate kingpins are recruiting more and more children, telling them they have nothing to fear if captured." Scharf and Sterio have developed a four-pronged proposal to reverse this trend.

"First," says Sterio, "pirates need to be subject to dental and hand x-ray exams upon capture, to determine their age." She adds, "presently captured pirates in their late teens and twenties frequently claim to be under 16, hoping to be released as juveniles."

"Second," Scharf says, "judges need to treat going to sea with juvenile pirates as an aggravating factor at sentencing." While this can be done under the present discretion of the court, the two professors urged the Attorney-General to pursue an amendment to the Mauritius Piracy Act, specifying that going to sea with juvenile pirdates will result in enhanced penalties. "The amendment would send a powerful signal condemning the use of child pirates," explains Sterio.

"Third, we suggested that captured pirates be charged with the offense of recruitment and use of child pirates as a crime against humanity, in addition to piracy," Scharf said. "Precedent for doing so can be drawn from the analogous charge of recruiting and using child soldiers, of which defendants have been convicted before international tribunals."

"The final proposal," says Sterio, "is to prosecute the child pirates themselves, but give them the special procedures and treatment required for prosecuting juvenile offenders of serious crime under international law."

Scharf and Sterio are available for media interviews and appearances about this story: or