Somalia

To Live Outside the Law You Must Be Honest

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Peter Leeson, an economist who has written about both the legal system that emerged in stateless Somalia and the legal system that emerged among old-time pirates, now writes about the legal system that has emerged among—of course!—Somali pirates:

southparkpiratesOver the last year or so Somali piracy has flourished into a full-blown economic activity in some of Somalia's coastal communities. Somalia's modern sea bandits pirate full time; and while they spend little time together on their ships, they spend significant time together in their pirate communities on land. A new, albeit different, pirate society is being born.

Pirates thus face a governance problem they haven't faced since, well, the 18th century. And they're rising to the occasion. Somali sea dogs have a code of conduct that includes rules for dealing with inter-pirate theft, conflict, and theft from their victims.

According to one Somali pirate, for example, "If any one of us shoots and kills another, he will automatically be executed and his body thrown to the sharks." Further, this pirate added, "If a pirate injures another, he is immediately discharged and the network is instructed to isolate him. If one aims a gun at another, he loses five percent of his share of the ransom."

According to another Somali sea dog, "Anybody who is caught engaging in robbery on the ship [the pirates overtake] will be punished and banished for weeks. Anyone shooting a hostage will immediately be shot." "I was once caught taking a wallet from a hostage. I had to give it back and then 25,000 dollars were removed from my share of the ransom."

The Somali pirates' "laws" are enforced by a "mobile tribunal," a kind of traveling pirate court, that oversees relations between the significant number of Somali "pirate cells"—separate but coordinated bands of sea scoundrels that dot Somalia's coastline.

Read the whole thing here.

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  1. This is a master’s thesis all on its own.

  2. what happens if you squeze another matie’s parrot?

  3. so, I hope we now have convinced that anarchists that law and the force of law are inevitable.

  4. According to one Somali pirate, for example, “If any one of us shoots and kills another, he will automatically be executed and his body thrown to the sharks.” Further, this pirate added, “If a pirate injures another, he is immediately discharged and the network is instructed to isolate him. If one aims a gun at another, he loses five percent of his share of the ransom.”

    So, when he says “another”, does he mean another pirate, or another person? It kind of matters.

    “Anybody who is caught engaging in robbery on the ship [the pirates overtake] will be punished and banished for weeks.

    Any robbery at all, or only robbery that doesn’t go into the communal pile that is distributed amongst the pirates? Again, it kind of matters.

  5. Isn’t the spontaneous order of the free market amazing?

  6. Any robbery at all, or only robbery that doesn’t go into the communal pile that is distributed amongst the pirates? Again, it kind of matters.

    One assumes the primary purpose of modern piracy is extortion. Robbing the hostages just makes life more complicated that it needs to be.

  7. I would assume that “robbery” means from the communal take. I guess it’s possible that they might declare the merchant crews’ belongings to be off-limits in hope of encouraging hostage cooperation, but I doubt they feel a need to go that far. Besides, merchant crews would probably have lots of electronic items and alcohol that pirates would covet.

  8. So, in all likelihood, what we are talking about with the pirates is no more sophisticated that the kind of clan/tribal thing most primitive societies have. You are free to, even expected to, rob and assault “outsiders”, and transgressions against clan/tribe members will be dealt with by “elders”.

    Hardly stop the presses stuff.

  9. “I was once caught taking a wallet from a hostage. I had to give it back and then 25,000 dollars were removed from my share of the ransom.”

    His penalty was $25k from his cut of the “ransom”. I assume that he still had a positive payout.

    So why steal wallets when you’re getting high 4 figures as your share of the extortion?

    So the rules must be: 1) don’t fuck with the hostages . . .

  10. so, I hope we now have convinced that anarchists that law and the force of law are inevitable.

    Anarchists who want law codes to emerge and be enforced outside the state? They already know that.

  11. Wouldn’t they then be a de facto state however they emerged? If they are enforced by someone and its not all voluntary, is that acceptable to anarchists? Or is it assumed that by agreeing to be in the group, they are also agreeing to deal with the group’s rules and enforcement so that’s acceptable?

  12. Or is it assumed that by agreeing to be in the group, they are also agreeing to deal with the group’s rules and enforcement so that’s acceptable?

    See, also, the “social contract.”

    I wonder if you see any “Somalia, love it or leave it” bumper stickers in those pirate towns?

  13. What? People are shot now? Why not make them walk the plank?

  14. Arrrrr, matey, a poirate’s loife ferrr me, Arrrr.

  15. I knew a girl named Marie who used to say that about being honest. She was Sweet… I wonder whatever happened to her.

  16. Governance? Sounds more like the UAW.

  17. Or is it assumed that by agreeing to be in the group, they are also agreeing to deal with the group’s rules and enforcement so that’s acceptable?

    That’s pretty close, and where they do cross over into infringing upon others, it would rightly be considered criminal by the out-group members. Contrast this with the state which by definition claims sovereignty over others, and its infringements considered legitimate.

  18. What about fair trials and is there any presumption of innocence? How many witnesses to a crime need there be to reach a guilty verdict?

  19. Da fuck

  20. “So, in all likelihood, what we are talking about with the pirates is no more sophisticated that the kind of clan/tribal thing most primitive societies have. You are free to, even expected to, rob and assault “outsiders”, and transgressions against clan/tribe members will be dealt with by “elders”.

    Hardly stop the presses stuff.”

    I think it’s press worthy because most Westerns forget that a good chunk of the planet still runs on that kind of tribalism and needs to be reminded of it.

    “What about fair trials and is there any presumption of innocence? How many witnesses to a crime need there be to reach a guilty verdict?”

    There’s no such thing as an absolute “fair trial”. If there are enough protocols in place, and society agrees with them, then we deem it “fair”. Our system of what’s fair might not match that tribe’s system of fairness. Our system of a “fair trial” doesn’t even match Europe’s. Also most tribe’s have the opt in function, where if you opt to be part of the tribe, you generally agree to the customs until you gain enough authority to change them, hence even if you don’t think a custom is “fair” you agree to abide by it because you opted in.

  21. Pirates back in the day signed a ships document containing clearly defined rules and elected the captain democratically.

  22. What is the penalty for physically assaulting a hostage who invokes the Writ of Parley?

  23. I’m calling Shenannigans on this one (You guys started the South Park thing). This sounds more like a clever PR move than anything else.. Why let it be know that Somali pirates are not allowed to point their weapons at, or injure crew? Doesn’t that defeate the threat that piracy works under? And besides, they shure-as-sh*t HAVE shot up people and ships in the past. Unless your name is Ragnar Danneskj?ld, a pirate is a pirate, and should be treated as such.

  24. I’m calling Shenannigans on this one (You guys started the South Park thing). This sounds more like a clever PR move than anything else.. Why let it be know that Somali pirates are not allowed to point their weapons at, or injure crew? Doesn’t that defeate the threat that piracy works under? And besides, they shure-as-sh*t HAVE shot up people and ships in the past. Unless your name is Ragnar Danneskj?ld, a pirate is a pirate, and should be treated as such.

    What you have to understand is that the rules in the pirate code are not exactly laws.

    They’re more like guidelines.

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