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Just when I was beginning to think the European Court of Human Rights might not be so bad

Via Jim Miller on Politics, I found this:

EU court orders France to pay thousands to Somali pirates

The EU’s top human rights court on Thursday ordered France to pay thousands of euros to Somali pirates who attacked French ships for “violating their rights” by holding them an additional 48 hours before taking them before a judge.

The Somali pirates were apprehended on the high seas by the French army on two separate occasions in 2008 and taken back to France for trial.

(The report is incorrect to call the ECHR an “EU court”. Judgements and precedents may mesh with EU law in ways I do not fully understand; but the ECHR is the creation of the Council of Europe, not the European Union.)

I sometimes think that this sort of judgement can only be the result of a deliberate strategy to discredit the words “human rights” in the eyes of the peoples of Europe. But why would anyone want to do that? Perhaps because it suits the immediate self-interest of the individual “human rights professionals”, and the future be damned.

By the way, it is possible to defend the Somali pirates on quasi-libertarian grounds; that they only do freelance what states regularly do without arousing condemnation. One of the commenters to the MSN piece appears to take that view. I don’t, although I do accept (make that “passionately proclaim”) that states continually get a pass on evil deeds just by calling themselves states. Even so, states that have acted as the pirates do – kidnapping and murdering passing holidaymakers – do not escape condemnation, and nor should anyone else.

17 comments to Just when I was beginning to think the European Court of Human Rights might not be so bad

  • Laird

    This is why it makes no sense to “arrest” pirates and take them to trial. They should be bound and summarily dumped in the sea.

  • Mr Ed

    Well if you take it that the rule of law is universal, be it the Devil himself that you have, the rule of law applies, and a breach is a breach. The fact that they were pirates (allegedly) or perhaps AK-47 bayonet fishermen looking for tuna, should sound in damages of, say €0 and a declaration that their rights were impinged, lest they ‘profit’ from an unlawful act.

    The only way to stop piracy is probably the rule of ‘no quarter’.

  • bradley13

    48 hours? After a lengthy sea transport? Domestic criminals often wait weeks or months for a trail. The ECHR makes some weird decisions, but there must be more to this case that is discussed in the article. Can anyone skim the decision (written in French, sorry, can’t do it) and see what’s really going on? If there’s not, I do hope France tells the ECHR where to stuff their decision.

  • Tedd

    I do accept (make that “passionately proclaim”) that states continually get a pass on evil deeds just by calling themselves states.

    That reversal of perspective is important. To defend A by claiming its actions are no worse than B’s is a pretty weak defense, and just a hair’s breadth away from defending both.

    bradley13: An important detail is that, at least in legal systems that descend from the British, some time in the first 24 hours your case has to be seen by a judge, who determines whether or not the accused remains in custody while awaiting trial.

  • Mr Ed


    On a quick glance with rusty French it seems right: The infraction is in paragraph 32 of the judgment, Article 5 § 3 of the Convention:

    « Toute personne arrêtée ou détenue, dans les conditions prévues au paragraphe 1 c) du présent article, doit être aussitôt traduite devant un juge ou un autre magistrat habilité par la loi à exercer des fonctions judiciaires et a le droit d’être jugée dans un délai raisonnable, ou libérée pendant la procédure. La mise en liberté peut être subordonnée à une garantie assurant la comparution de l’intéressé à l’audience. »

    The judgment is after paragraph 75, you can see the sums ordered in 000 of Euros ‘EUR’.


    1. Décide de joindre les requêtes nos 17110/10 et 17301/10 ;

    2. Déclare les requêtes recevables quant aux griefs tirés de l’article 5 §§ 3 et 4 et irrecevables pour le surplus ;

    3. Dit qu’il y a eu violation de l’article 5 § 3 de la Convention ;

    4. Dit qu’il n’y a pas lieu d’examiner le grief tiré de l’article 5 § 4 de la Convention ;

    5. Dit
    a) que l’État défendeur doit verser, dans les trois mois à compter du jour où l’arrêt sera devenu définitif conformément à l’article 44 § 2 de la Convention, les sommes suivantes :
    i) pour dommage moral, 2 000 EUR (deux mille euros) à chacun des requérants, plus tout montant pouvant être dû à titre d’impôt ;
    ii) pour frais et dépens : 9 000 EUR (neuf mille euros) à M. Abdurahman Ali Samatar, plus tout montant pouvant être dû par lui à titre d’impôt ; 6 000 EUR (six mille euros) à MM. Ismaël Ali Samatar, Abdulqader Guled Said, Mohamed Said Hote, Abdullahi Yousouf Hersi et Daher Guled Said conjointement, plus tout montant pouvant être dû par eux à titre d’impôt ; 3 000 EUR (trois mille euros) à M. Abdulqader Guled Said, plus tout montant pouvant être dû par lui à titre d’impôt ;
    b) qu’à compter de l’expiration dudit délai et jusqu’au versement, ces montants seront à majorer d’un intérêt simple à un taux égal à celui de la facilité de prêt marginal de la Banque centrale européenne applicable pendant cette période, augmenté de trois points de pourcentage ;

    6. Rejette la demande de satisfaction équitable pour le surplus.

  • Samsam von Virginia

    Assuming this ruling stands, any problem with holding the payment until after all trials are done and using the funds to pay victims’ damages?

    As stupid as the ruling is, it should be easy to keep the pirates from profiting from it.

  • Mr Ed

    Just to try to explain the ECHR (European Court of Human Rights) and ECJ (European Court of Justice) distinction.

    1. The ECJ is the Court of the EU, its role is to adjudicate on European Community law, and to answer questions on points of European law, e.g. what does a particular directive mean, and what is the ‘correct’ way to apply EU law in a particular member state. Its main role is not to decide cases as such but to answer a question on a point of interpretation of EU law. For example, what is the correct way to interpret an EU Directive as it is applied in a member State’s law, e.g a law implementing an EU directive on maternity rights for working mothers may have not quite correctly ‘transposed’ into a member state’s law a provision of a directive. Any Court in the EU may refer a ‘question’ to the court to allow that court to understand and then implement EU law if it is uncertain as to what the law means. The ECJ is not strictly speaking subordinate to the ECHR, but it regards the European Convention on Human Rights as a fundamental part of EU law.

    2. The ECHR is the Court of the European Convention on Human Rights. This is a court covering all States signed up to the ECHR (which includes all EU States), and it can be used as a final court of appeal for someone who maintains that their human rights have been violated, and it can be used to obtain some form of redress. EU membership is conditional on adhesion to the ECHR (and subordination to the ECJ).

    In either case, reading a judgment of the court in your own language is like reading a proper judgment of a court put through translation software around 3 times, probably via Finnish and Basque.

  • Sigivald

    They should obey international law and the traditions of the sea.

    Pirates are to be summarily executed; problem solved.

  • Incunabulum

    It has not been European (or at least British) practice to summarily execute pirates since, oh, the late 1600’s. its certainly not in accordance with international law nor the ‘traditions of the sea’.

    And, while I think the EU ruling is daft, its *British* law that allows pirates to be tried in any British dominion (including at sea) – no longer requiring the accused to be hauled all the way across the Atlantic – as a response to this very conundrum, from way back in 1698.

  • 9mm justice delivered on the spot. No need to wait 48hrs for a judge. This is piracy so fuck ’em.

  • Mr Ed

    Well I cannot see any legal basis for disagreeing with the judgment, the principal of ex turpi causa (out of a wrongful act) no claim is permitted has been whittled away in the Common Law as it is, and it has no place in the ‘Universal’ wonderland of Human Rights.

  • Laird

    I understand the right to a prompt judicial determination of the propriety of arrest and detention (that derives at least from the Magna Carta, and is enshrined in the US’s “right to a speedy trial”, habeas corpus, etc.). What I can’t understand is why 48 hours is deemed too long a delay, especially after de facto incarceration (recognized as acceptable by the Court) for an extended period of time (we aren’t told how long) while they were being transported from the Gulf of Aden to France. And especially if they were denied bail at that (delayed) hearing and continued to be held in jail while awaiting trial (again, we aren’t told that detail). I don’t know the reason for the brief delay in arraignment (or whatever the French equivalent is), but even if there was demonstrably no good reason for it this seems to be a clear case of damnum absque injuria (as well as being a waste of judicial resources).

  • Nicholas (Natural Genius) Gray

    No, NickM, you are wrong. Civilised cultures have laws, which they should obey if they want any respect for the rule of law. We should never descend to the level of the pirates. Sometimes you can fight fire with fire, and sometimes with water.
    These rulings are actually making it seem as if Europe could be one of the good guys, with presumption of innocence and all that.

  • Isn’t the 48 hours limit not for a trial, but for something like a preliminary hearing? It seems a bit less unreasonable in that case.

  • Rob

    Pay the 2,000 euros (delayed), and slap a 5,000 euro (victim supplement) on them. Job done.

  • Paul Marks

    The ECJ did not start off as an E.U. court (the E.U. did not even exist at the time of its creation) – but this “court” has been adopted by the E.U. without any formal process of consent – remember the E.U. works in an “evolutionary”, “functionalist” way.

    Now E.U. “law” has to be in compliance with ECJ “law” (both the written Convention and court judgments) and all members of the E.U. have to support this stuff.

    That is why when someone says “I want to withdraw from the Convention” they are really saying “I want to get out of the E.U.” – even if they do not know they are saying that.

    And the Convention (as it has been interpreted by the “judges” – both European and British) is about giving money to pirates and a thousand other insane things.

    How do you discredit the idea of human rights?

    One way is the way of Thomas Hobbes and Jeremy Bentham – openly mock the very idea of principles of law that are not the WILL of the state.

    But another way is to make “human rights” such a laughing stock, with the use of “positive rights”, that even conservative minded (indeed especially conservative minded) people reject the whole idea – not understanding that they have chucked out the baby with the bathwater.

    That is what Harold Laski and E.H. Carr were up to when they, quite deliberately, made the international (U.N.) Declaration on Human Rights as absurd as possible.

    And the European one, which started out more sensible, has been “interpreted” in the same way and for the same purpose – to discredit the whole idea of limits on state power.

    “But Paul leading academics and lawyers are entrusted with all this”.

    Errr yes – exactly.