Professors and students at Case Western Reserve University School of Law Provide Assistance to Kenya Piracy Court

News Release: Wednesday, December 8, 2010

This week, Professor Michael Scharf traveled 30 hours to Mombasa, Kenya to personally deliver his team’s legal research to the Chief Judge of the Kenya Piracy Court.

"Piracy was the world's first international crime," Scharf explains. "After 200 years it has re-emerged as a major problem for world shipping."

Somali Pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia and Kenya have resulted in more than a $25 billion loss in the past year alone. In response, the United Nations Security Council has authorized the United States and other countries to capture Somali pirates and turn them over to Kenya for prosecution. But Kenya's courts have struggled with the novel legal issues presented by the prosecution of dozens of modern day pirates.  

A Kenyan High Court judge ruled last month that the Piracy Court lacks authority to continue prosecuting Somali pirates because Kenya does not have a domestic statute giving the magistrate-level Piracy Court jurisdiction to prosecute acts of piracy committed outside Kenya -- a decision Scharf hopes to help reverse.

Scharf says that the Chief Judge of the Piracy Court, Rosemelle Mutoka, will be sharing the results of Case Western's research with the Kenya Court of Appeals, which will be considering the matter in February.

Meanwhile the U.N. Security Council is examining options to bolster the Kenya Piracy Court or establish a new international tribunal to handle the growing number of Somalia piracy cases.  

The legal assistance to the Kenya Piracy Court is a part of a pilot program by the Law School's War Crimes Research Office and the Public International Law and Policy Group, a non-profit organization co-directed by Scharf.

"The legal issues related to piracy are not so different from those we have worked on for the international war crimes tribunals over the past eight years," Scharf says. The law school has provided more than 200 legal research memos to 6 international tribunals since Scharf established the War Crimes Research Office in 2002.

Kimberly Brown, a second year Case Western Reserve law student helped draft one of the memos for the Piracy Court. “It was fantastic to get to work on such a cutting edge international law question that may have a significant impact in the real world.  I came to Case Western Reserve because of my interest in international law, but I never thought I'd get to work on something this exciting and important as a law student," says Brown.

Scharf has provided training and legal assistance to the tribunals that have tried Saddam Hussein, Charles Taylor, Radavan Karadzic, and the leaders of the Khmer Rouge.  The Chief Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone nominated Scharf and the Public International Law and Policy Group for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.

Before returning to his family back in Cleveland for the holidays, Scharf flew from Mombasa to Kigali, Rwanda, where he was invited to present the Keynote Address December 9th for the Rwandan government's international conference in commemoration of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Scharf can be contacted directly for comment at or (216) 534-7796.


Posted by: Carolyn Widdowson, December 8, 2010 06:59 PM | News Topics: Official Release