Fighting piracy in the 21ste century: lessons from the Netherlands

Mr Jacco Janssen, senior judge at the Rotterdam District Court

Mr Jacco Janssen, senior judge at the Rotterdam District Court. Photo: CICJ.

On 23 April, CICJ organised a seminar (in Dutch), entitled ‘Fighting piracy in the 21ste century: lessons from the Netherlands’. An interdisciplinary audience received a broad and thorough overview of the different perspectives on fighting modern-day piracy and the dilemmas that this brings up.

The first speaker, Professor Louis Sicking of VU University, introduced the afternoon’s topic with a historical perspective on the development of piracy since medieval times. Professor Sicking showed how the concept of piracy has changed over time, from a phenomenon that was not necessarily seen as illegitimate, to its criminalisation and subsequent efforts to fighting piracy. In doing so, Professor Sicking drew some interesting parallels with the contemporary debate on piracy.

Subsequently, Mr Peter Post, advisor at the Legal Affairs Department of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, outlined the evolution of the political discussion in the Netherlands on the fight against piracy in the Gulf of Aden. Important policy questions include the exact responsibility and role of the Dutch government and whether and how the military and other (private) parties can intervene.

The last three speakers focused on the four criminal cases on piracy that have been adjudicated by Dutch courts since 2009. From their personal experience, Mr Jacco Janssen (judge at the Rotterdam District Court), Mr Simon Minks (prosecutor at the The Hague Court of Appeal) and Mr Gaetano Best (PhD candidate at University of Amsterdam and advisor to the defence in several piracy cases) highlighted challenges in the criminal prosecution of crimes committed on the high seas. These challenges relate inter alia to matters of evidence and the relation between military interests and due process rights. The speakers agreed that prosecuting modern-day piracy in the Netherlands is not ideal, although their views on whether this means that the Netherlands should refrain from pursuing these cases altogether differed.

In the vivid discussion that followed, the audience also brought additional perspectives to the table. CICJ looks back on a successful event.