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Justice on the High Seas

Law professors help prosecute Somali pirates.

Somali pirates have been wreaking havoc on shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean—seizing more than 50 ships and taking more than 1,000 hostages in recent years. Now, two Cleveland law professors have traveled halfway around the world to help put high-seas crimes on trial.


Somalia won't prosecute the pirates, so the U.S., United Kingdom and others that have been capturing Somali pirates have been taking them to the Seychelles Islands, which has set up a regional piracy court and prison with the help of the United Nations.

Case Western Reserve University School of Law's Michael Scharf and Milena Sterio from Cleveland State University's Cleveland-Marshall College of Law are assisting in piracy prosecutions as part of the High Level Piracy Working Group, an elite team of piracy and international criminal law experts. The team was assembled by the Public International Law and Policy Group, the Nobel-nominated nonprofit that Scharf co-founded and directs.

Applying modern law to a centuries-old crime like piracy raises plenty of questions. The two professors are helping establish answers to sticky legal issues like the definition of piracy, the exercise of universal jurisdiction, the handling of child-pirates and the reintegration of pirates after serving jail time. Case Western Reserve law students are providing research memoranda on these and a host of other cutting-edge legal issues as part of this program.

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