The principle of universal jurisdiction applies in respect of the crime of piracy under International law

“The principle of universal jurisdiction applies in respect of the crime of piracy under International law”. Explain.


Crime of piracy is a crime which is taking place from hundred years ago. This is a crime which can often take place in oceans, seas and areas which is not under any state or region. Gradually, this crime has been included in international law in order to present them in international court and take necessary steps against them after proper investigation. For this, this crime needed to be considered as an important part of international law as it cannot be processed within a particular state law.

Pirates can be of different countries and they commit crime in other country’s border or in ocean or sea. In this case, it becomes difficult to give proper judgment under any particular country’s law, rules or regulations. That is why; principle of jurisdiction applies in respect of crime of piracy under the international law.

Universal jurisdiction

Universal jurisdiction or universality principle refers to states or International organizations to claim criminal jurisdiction over an accused person regardless of where the alleged crime was committed, and regardless of the accuser’s nationality, country of residence, or any other relation with the prosecuting entity. Crimes prosecuted under Universal Jurisdiction are considered crimes against all, too serious to tolerate jurisdictional arbitrage.

The principle of universal jurisdiction is classically defined as ‘a legal principle allowing or requiring a state to bring criminal proceedings in respect of certain crimes irrespective of the location of the crime and the nationality of the perpetrator or the victim’.

The concept of universal jurisdiction is therefore closely linked to the idea that some international norms are erga omnes, or owed to the entire world community, as well as the concept of jus cogens – that certain international law obligations are binding on all states and cannot be modified by treaty.

The concept received a great deal of prominence with Belgium’s 1993 law of universal jurisdiction”[1], was amended in 2003 in order to reduce its scope following a case before the International Court of Justice[2] regarding an arrest warrant issued under the law, entitled Case Concerning the Arrest Warrant of 11 April 2000 (Democratic Republic of the Congo v. Belgium). According to Amnesty International, a proponent of universal jurisdiction, certain crimes pose so serious a threat to the international community as a whole, that states have a logical and moral duty to prosecute an individual responsible for it; no place should be a safe haven for those who have committed genocide crimes against humanity, extrajudicial executions, war crimes, torture and forced disappearances.[3]

The United Nations Security Council Resolution 1674, adopted by the United Nations Security Council on 28 April 2006, “Reaffirm[ed] the provisions of paragraphs 138 and 139 of the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document regarding the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity” and commits the Security Council to action to protect civilians in armed conflict.

International law

International law is the set of rules generally regarded and accepted as binding in relations between states and nations. It serves as a framework for the practice of stable and organized international relations. International law differs from national legal systems in that it primarily concerns nations rather than private citizens. National law may become international law when treaties delegate national jurisdiction to supranational tribunals such as the European Court of Human Rights or the International Criminal Court. Treaties such as the Geneva Conventions may require national law to conform.

The term “international law” can refer to three distinct legal disciplines:

· Public international law, which governs the relationship between provinces and international entities. It includes these legal fields: treaty law, law of sea, international criminal law, the laws of war or international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

· Private international law or conflict of laws, which addresses the questions of (1) which jurisdiction may hear a case, and (2) the law concerning which jurisdiction applies to the issues in the case.

· Supranational law or the law of supranational organizations, which concerns regional agreements where the laws of nation states may be held inapplicable when conflicting with a supranational legal system when that nation has a treaty obligation to a supranational collective.


Piracy is typically an act of robbery or criminal violence at sea. The term can include acts committed on land, in the air, online, or in other major bodies of water or on a shore. It does not normally include crimes committed against persons traveling on the same vessel as the perpetrator.

Piracy is the name of a specific crime under customary international law and also the name of a number of crimes under the municipal law of a number of States. Those who engage in acts of piracy are called pirates. Historically, offenders have usually been apprehended by military personnel and tried by military tribunals. In the 21st century, the international community is facing many problems in bringing pirates to justice.

Piracy under international law

UNCLOS provides that all States have an obligation to cooperate to the fullest possible extent in the repression of piracy (art.100) and have universal jurisdiction on the high seas to seize pirate ships and aircraft, or a ship or aircraft taken by piracy and under the control of pirates, and arrest the persons and seize the property on board (art.105) Article 110, inter alia, also allows States to exercise a right of visit vis-à-vis ships suspected of being engaged in piracy.

UNCLOS provides for universal jurisdiction over those who commit acts of piracy. Article 105 of UNCLOS states that:

“on the high seas, or in any other place outside the jurisdiction of any State, every State may seize a pirate ship or aircraft, or a ship or aircraft taken by piracy and under the control of pirates, and arrest the persons and seize the property on board. The courts of the State which carried out the seizure may decide upon the penalties to be imposed, and may also determine the action to be taken with regard to the ships, aircraft or property, subject to the rights of third parties acting in good faith.”

The definition of the crime of piracy is contained in article 101 of UNCLOS, which reads as follows:

”Piracy consists of any of the following acts:
(a) any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed:
(i) on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft;
(ii) against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State;
(b) any act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or of an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship or aircraft;
(c) any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described in subparagraph (a) or (b).”

The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS or the Convention) provides the legal framework for the repression of piracy under international law. Many of the provisions of the Convention, and in particular those relating to the repression of piracy, are considered to also reflect customary international law. Piracy affects the international community as a whole. For this reason, article 100 of UNCLOS provides that “all States shall cooperate to the fullest possible extent in the repression of piracy on the high seas or in any other place outside the jurisdiction of any State”. Adoption of national legislation relating to piracy pursuant to the provisions of UNCLOS is an important step that States can take in order to enable themselves to co-operate effectively in the repression of piracy. The Security Council has noted with concern “that the domestic law of a number of States lacks provisions criminalizing piracy and/or procedural provisions for effective criminal prosecution of suspected pirates and called upon “all States to criminalize piracy under their domestic law”. Moreover, States that have already enacted national legislation on piracy may wish to review it to ensure the implementation of the relevant provisions of UNCLOS. Indeed, a number of States have recently updated their national legislation on piracy. The General Assembly of the United Nations has also called upon “States to take appropriate steps under their national law to facilitate the apprehension and prosecution of those who are alleged to have committed acts of piracy … and has urged all States to combat piracy actively, inter alia, by adopting measures and by adopting national legislation in co-operation with the International Maritime Organization (IMO).


Principles of Universal jurisdiction regarding crime of piracy underlies in international law. Crime of piracy is no more in shore and water vessels problem. It is now regarded in land as well. The UN has taken this crime very seriously and it is a part of international law by act. In this essay, the acts and regulations are stated which prove that crime of piracy is convicted in international tribunals. So, principles the principle of universal jurisdiction applies in respect of the crime of piracy under International law can be said in this regard.


1. D.Archibugi, M.Chiarugi (April 9, 2009). “Piracy challenges global governance”. Open Democracy. Retrieved April 9, 2009.


3. Kenneth C. Randall, ‘Universal jurisdiction under international law’, Texas Law Review, No. 66 (1988), pp. 785–8; International Law Association Committee on International Human Rights Law and Practice, ‘Final Report on the Exercise of universal jurisdiction in respect of gross human rights offences’, 2000, p. 2.

4. The General Assembly has frequently emphasized that “the Convention sets out the legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out”. General Assembly resolution 65/37 of 7 December 2010, preamble.








12. Hans Köchler, “The judgment of the International Court of Justice (2002) and its implications for the exercise of universal jurisdiction by national courts: the case of Belgium,” in: Global Justice or Global Revenge? International Criminal Justice at the Crossroads. Vienna and New York: Springer, 2003, pp. 85–101. ISBN 3-211-00795-4







[3] ^ “UNIVERSAL JURISDICTION: Questions and answers”