Greenpeace has made a name for itself by irking numerous governments and major corporations. This past October, one of Greenpeace’s activist ships found itself in hot water when Russian authorities arrested 30 protesters in the Arctic Ocean. The Russian government claims that two activists tried to board an oil platform, forcing authorities to respond. Now, a UN maritime tribunal has ruled that Russia must release both the crew and the ship.
Russia has released all thirty protesters on bail, though the status of the ship remains unclear. It is also not yet known if the protesters will be free to leave the country, or if they must remain in Russia. While Russia does appear to be following the United Nations’ ruling, it has previously stated that the UN has no jurisdiction in the case.
Since the Greenpeace ship was flying a Dutch flag, the Netherlands immediately lodged a request for release with the United Nations. The United Nations has now ruled in favor of the protesters and ordered their release. Immediately following the ruling, the Russian government claimed that it would “study” it and consider it, but was not compelled to act on the ruling.
Russia argued platform is Russia’s property
The UN Court also ruled that Russia must allow all of the activists and the ship itself to leave Russia. According to the UN, Russia had no authority to intervene since the oil platform was in international waters. Russia has previously argued that the platform is Russian property and that activists violated Russian law, thus giving them the authority to act. Rumors are swirling, however, that Russia will grant full amnesty on the upcoming Dec. 12 anniversary celebration for the adoption of their Constitution.
The 30 protesters were arrested in early October after their ship was searched. The Russian government accused the crew of having drugs on board, and ultimately charged the crew with piracy. The piracy charge was later reduced to “hooliganism”. All individuals have now been released on bond, although the status of the ship remains unclear.
Greenpeace may face further legal battles
The court did rule that a $5 million dollar bond must be posted. It remains unclear whether Greenpeace could face further prosecution in Russian or international courts. So while the protesters may have been freed, Greenpeace may have to face further legal battles within Russian or international courts. If so, the fees and costs for these legal proceedings could quickly add up for the non-profit organization.
With more governments and companies operating in international waters, laws are becoming murkier. While the United Nations has tried to step in to fill the void, its ability to enforce rulings and actually patrol the seas remains limited. So far, the United Nations has largely avoided the most complicated maritime issues, such as the South China Sea. Still, as international waters become more and more important, the UN may be forced to become more involved in international disputes.