18 September 2012

Cannon fodder in an undeclared war

Court Report Day 100 – 17 September 2012

Three defence lawyers had, as one of them said, “the dubious honour” to give their closing address on the 100th day of the trial.

First up was the defence for the accused whose son had been kidnapped. The defence quoted from a recent article in the magazine Spiegel which said that the case could not really be tried in Germany. They then explained the situation of the accused and of his family in Somalia and pleaded for the sentence not to exceed four years.

Then the defence for one of the under-age accused spoke. He said that what the West called piracy was seen in Somalia as an act of self-defence against illegal fishing and waste dumping. The aid the West was giving to Somalia was a drop in the bucket and the illegal fishing removed more protein from the Somali diet than the aid delivered. The reputation of piracy in the West was bad because it challenged the capitalist logic of free trade. Many nations were interested in the resources around the Horn of Africa. The Swiss government had described Atalanta as an undeclared war. Was the court trying to justify Atalanta? According to the UN, the illegal fishing had caused one million Somali to flee their country. The European border agency FRONTEX would then ensure that these refugees never reached Europe. This was neocolonialism.
He continued that the court had made it clear that it was not interested in understanding the accused. It had dismissed most of what they had said. It would have been best for them to not have said anything. All the accused shared responsibility, therefore the sentences should be the same for all of them. His client had admitted his share of responsibility and had apologised to the crew of the Taipan. The aim had been to demand ransom, not to harm anyone. There was no evidence for the claim that the attack had been organised in a military fashion. The prosecution had provided no justification for the sentences they had demanded, making it seem like a political punishment.

He then elaborated on his client's situation in custody, the unsuccessful attempts to have him released on bail, the lack of opportunity to learn German in prison (which was then turned against him as a reason not to be released) and the lack of medical care. The reasons for denying bail had been based on speculations that there might be someone who could aid and abet his escape, without ever providing any evidence

He concluded by asking in whose name the verdict was going to be delivered (in German courts the verdict is handed down “in the name of the people”). Were the German people going to judge the people of Somalia?

Finally, his client wanted to thank the translators and all those who had given support. At Christmas time 2010 he had been alone and a year later he had received visits from people who were now his family.

The second lawyer for the same defendant then spoke. He pointed out that the money Germany was spending at the Horn of Africa was not spent on protecting seafarers but on securing the trading routes. German companies were making record profits, while the people in Somalia were starving. He then added to his colleagues statements that the attack on the Taipan had not been a military action, that the Somali had been wearing flip-flops and t-shirts. The risk for them had been high – approximately one in ten pirates die. It was problematic to apply German legal standards to all this. Especially for juvenile defendants, the German courts would consider motivations like peer pressure and adventure, but this would not apply to these defendants. They had been nothing but  cannon fodder.

The trial will continue on Wednesday, 19 September.