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German lawyers launch pirate defense team

The tangled case involves Somali pirates, a German ship, an overcrowded Kenyan prison, and allegations of human rights abuses.

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With a new high seas run-in with pirates happening almost daily off the eastern coast of Somalia, much of the world's attention is turning to how best to capture and bring these marauders to justice.

But a German-led legal defense team is setting out to fight an altogether different battle: how best to defend them.

A team of seven attorneys specializing in international criminal law is taking up the cause of nine Somali pirates accused of hijacking the MV Courier, a German freighter, on March 3 near the coast of Yemen. [Editor’s note: The original version misstated the number of pirates.]

The suspected pirates are being held in Kenya and awaiting the start of a criminal trial there next week. The defense team, which is working pro bono, will land in Kenya on Sunday and is expected to make the case in front of a judge that the men should stand trial in Germany.

Pirate trials are still the exception rather than the rule, and objections such as this over jurisdiction suggests the challenges confronting the European Union and United States, who are searching for a uniform legal framework by which to hold criminals accountable after they are apprehended in international waters.

Lawyers say fair trial not possible in Kenya

The nine Somalis accused in the Courier incident are in Kenya because of a memorandum of understanding signed recently between the EU and the East African nation. Although other European countries, notably France and the Netherlands, are pushing to try accused pirates in their own courts, Germany is not making similar demands.

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