Dutch ask sea tribunal to free Greenpeace activists

HAMBURG Wed Nov 6, 2013 10:24am EST

Liesbeth Lijnzaad (R), Legal Adviser of the Netherland's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Dutch delegation are seen at a hearing at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) in Hamburg, November 6, 2013. The Netherlands will ask an international court on Wednesday to order Russia to release 30 people detained during a protest against oil drilling in the Arctic. REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer

Liesbeth Lijnzaad (R), Legal Adviser of the Netherland's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Dutch delegation are seen at a hearing at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) in Hamburg, November 6, 2013. The Netherlands will ask an international court on Wednesday to order Russia to release 30 people detained during a protest against oil drilling in the Arctic.

Credit: Reuters/Fabian Bimmer

HAMBURG (Reuters) - The Netherlands asked an international court on Wednesday to order Russia to release 30 people detained during a Greenpeace protest against oil drilling in the Arctic at a tribunal Moscow refused to attend.

Dutch government representative Liesbeth Lijnzaad said Russia had "violated the human rights" of the activists who tried to climb onto Russia's first offshore Arctic oil rig in September, detaining them for seven weeks "without grounds".

Russia has said it does not recognize the case, accusing the activists and their ship, the Dutch-registered Arctic Sunrise, of posing a security threat. Prosecutors charged the 30 with piracy but then reduced the charge to hooliganism, which carries a maximum jail term of seven years.

President Vladimir Putin has said they are not pirates but has faced growing criticism in the West over what is seen as Russia's heavy-handed treatment of the case.

Countries have no right to seize vessels belonging to third countries in their exclusive maritime economic zones, Lijnzaad told the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in the German port of Hamburg.

Tribunal president judge Shunji Yanai set November 22 as the provisional date for a court decision.

Another Dutch government representative, Rene Lefeber, told the court exclusive economic zones such as that where the Greenpeace ship was arrested gave nations rights to protect their natural resources but not the same powers to board and arrest vessels as they can in territorial waters.

As Russia's arrest of the vessel was illegal, other actions which followed this including the detention of the crew were also illegal, Lefeber said.

PIRACY AND HOOLIGANISM

The Hamburg court was established by the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea - of which both the Netherlands and Russia are signatories - to settle maritime disputes. Its decisions are binding but it has no means of enforcing them.

Greenpeace, a global environmentalist group based in Amsterdam, praised the Dutch bid to free the ship and crew.

"The Netherlands is taking a strong stance in support of the rule of law and the right to peacefully protest," Greenpeace international general counsel Jasper Teulings said after Wednesday's hearing.

Teulings said Greenpeace feared the 30 detainees still faced the piracy charges - which carry a maximum jail term of 15 years - despite a decision by the Russian committee handling the case to reduce them to hooliganism in late October.

"Nothing has changed despite the statement by Putin and from the investigative committee that the charges would be requalified to hooliganism," Teulings said.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev last week reiterated Moscow's stance that Greenpeace posed a threat to the security of Russian workers and the environment by disturbing work at the platform.

The case has added to strains in relations between Russia and the Netherlands. On Tuesday, the Dutch foreign minister denounced a Russian law banning homosexual "propaganda" among minors and said violation of gay rights could be grounds for asylum in his country.

(Reporting by Michael Hogan and Alexandra Hudson; Editing by Gareth Jones)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (10)
webtelly wrote:
Yet another subtle ploy by the Dutch to gain a hold on Russian oil fields. Nothing more powerful as leverage than public perception.

Nov 06, 2013 7:22am EST  --  Report as abuse
ccharles wrote:
What is this to say, that Russia has no right to protect there oil rigs? The world over, unauthorized personal trying to get on an oil rig, regardless of the owner, would be considered criminal the world over and subject to possibly prison time and confiscation of there boat. Why expect different from Russia?

Then to bad mouth there stand against homosexuality, was that the carrot on the stick to get them to do what you want them to do?

Nov 06, 2013 7:51am EST  --  Report as abuse
DPalmer wrote:
Fine, assume the Russians didn’t have the right to seize the ship. That doesn’t mean they didn’t have the right to arrest the crew for clear violations of the law.

So release the vessel and GreenPeace can send a new crew to pick it up. meanwhile the old crew can sit in jail until their court date.

Nov 06, 2013 8:27am EST  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.

Photo

California's historic drought

With reservoirs at record lows, California is in the midst of the worst drought in decades.  Slideshow