A Kenyan court ordered the release of nine suspected Somali pirates, saying Kenya lacked jurisdiction to try them for crimes committed outside its territory.
The nine had been arrested by crew of a German navy vessel with the help of US helicopters in the Gulf of Aden and handed over to Kenya.
High Court Judge Mohamed Ibrahim said that changes to part of a law under which the suspects were being tried — section 69 of the Penal Code — had forced him to cut short their cases, Reuters reports.
“Had the repeal … not taken place, I would have been able to conclude this judgment at this stage, as I have held that the trial court has no jurisdiction over this case as the offence … took place in the high seas and not within the territorial waters of Kenya,” he said in his court ruling in the port city of Mombasa.
“I do declare this is the obligation of the government under the constitution and all international conventions on human rights to ensure the safe passage and delivery of the applicants.”
Foreign navies patrol the Indian Ocean to help protect commercial shipping from pirates, who have made millions of dollars in ransoms for the release of ships they have captured.
Many of the suspected pirates detained in the busy shipping lanes off the coast of Somalia by US and European Union warships have been taken to Kenya to face trial and the east African country has called for more nations to share the burden.
A deal between Kenya and the European Union to try suspected Somali pirates expired at the end of September. The authorities in Kenya have yet to renew the agreement, although discussions between both parties are continuing.
Kenya has so far convicted 26 suspects captured at sea off Somalia while 84 are still in jail facing trials.
Besides Kenya, the Indian Ocean archipelago Seychelles has taken in suspected gunmen and Tanzania has said it plans to put them on trial too. There are hopes Mauritius will also sign a similar agreement.
Ibrahim asked the Attorney General to advise the Ministry of Immigration, foreign affairs, police and other law enforcement agencies on how to arrange for the relocation of the released men.
“In default, this court requests the UNHCR (UN refugee agency) to take custody and care of the applicants and consider them as displaced persons who require their protection and assist them relocate,” he said.