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Russia: Pirates Will Be Prosecuted Under Russian Laws

(May 18, 2009) On May 12, 2009, the Deputy Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation, Alexander Zviagintsev, stated in an interview in the Russian official government daily newspaper, Rossiiskaia Gazeta, that the Office of the Prosecutor General has come to a conclusion about the possibility of prosecuting those who commit acts of piracy under Russian law. Because responsible authority is absent in Somalia – according to Zviagintsev – a transfer of the apprehended pirates to the Somali institutions has no meaning. That is why all responsibility for investigative activities, prosecution, and conduct of court trials should be given to the state whose vessel captures the pirates, he argues.

Article 227 of the Russian Criminal Code provides for the punishment for acts of piracy committed against a watercraft with the use of force or a threat to use force with up to a 15-year term of imprisonment. There is, however, no practice of law enforcement in this field. Under Russian law, it is immaterial whether an act of piracy was committed against a Russian, foreign, or stateless individual. Foreign and stateless persons who reside outside of Russia can be prosecuted in Russia and under Russian Law (art. 12.3 of the RF Criminal Code) if a crime was committed against the interests of the Russian Federation, Russian citizens, or permanent residents and if such individuals were not tried and sentenced abroad for that crime. This decision is also based on article 105 of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which allows any state to seize a pirate ship or aircraft and arrest the persons responsible. According to the 1982 Convention, the courts of the state that carried out the seizure may decide upon the penalties to be imposed.

Officially, Russia does not reject the idea of having an international tribunal for pirates and prefers to have an institution established by a resolution of the U.N. Security Council, similar to the International Tribunal on Former Yugoslavia or the Tribunal on Rwanda. Russian officials believe that other options, such as inclusion of piracy in the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court or the creation of a criminal chamber under the International Maritime Tribunal, would be a lengthier process and would require the conclusion of an international treaty. (Boris Yashmanov, Deti Kapitana Flinta [Children of Captain Flint], Rossiiskaia Gazeta No. 4908(84), May 13, 2009, available at