International Lawyers Bring the Legal Finish to Cutlass Express 2024

March 13th, 2024

Maritime law is a critical training component in exercise Cutlass Express 2024. Given that exercise scenarios take place in territorial and international waters (and can cross multiple jurisdictions), maritime laws help establish consistency and create a standard for countries when boarding a vessel or taking action during operations at sea. Training on these laws, then, increases understanding and effectiveness of nations across Africa’s East Coast.

Six military and civilian legal advisors and lawyers from Djibouti, Tanzania, Mozambique, Madagascar and Somalia participated in information exchanges and briefings in support of the exercise in the Seychelles. These advisors also coordinated on the legal element of various exercise injects, bringing realistic training and procedures to the exercise environment.

U.S. Navy C. Rebecca Page, judge advocate with the U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa Legal Reserve Unit, said an important piece the group has discussed during the exercise is the legal finish.

“The legal finish is having the information and admissible evidence to support a trial if a decision to prosecute is made,” Page said. “I hope they take back the importance of a legal finish, and that what we’ve discussed will enhance future application of a legal finish in their operations.”

On Friday, March 1, Pooja Bissoonauthsing, a legal officer from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), briefed the group on the Djibouti Code of Conduct, covering UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the jurisdictional component, procedures applicable to boarding a vessel, and how to actually do the legal finish of maritime cases.

“It’s good the participants are here, networking and keeping in contact, working together on cases and consolidating the communication on a national and regional level,” Bissoonauthsing said. “These crimes are inherently transnational in nature so you need to be able to contact your counterparts to get all of the information. It’s fundamental and instrumental to have that collaboration for the cases.”

In discussions on the Djibouti Code of Conduct, Bissoonauthsing noted there can be a big gap between the people who conduct maritime operations and their country’s prosecutors.

“The coast guards would benefit from legal advice before conducting operations because the first thing the defense will do is challenge the legal basis for the operation,” Bissoonauthsing said. “If you get that wrong, the whole case is gone.”

She reinforced the importance of the Djibouti Code of Conduct, as all of these countries (and more) are signatories to the Code of Conduct. This agreement is “instrumental in repressing piracy and armed robbery against ships in the western Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden,” according to the International Maritime Organization, though it also plays a key role in maritime security and stability more broadly.

“It’s a non-binding agreement to fight maritime crime, initially created for fighting piracy but now it has gained scope and focuses on information sharing,” Bissoonauthsing said. “It’s a very good instrument at the disposal of the states.”

Cmdr. Griffin Farris, judge advocate with the reserve unit, said he hopes participants take home a better understanding of their role in the overall process, the importance of that role, and how they can best serve in that role once they go home.

“I appreciate everyone’s willingness to be candid with us regarding the legal challenges they face,” Farris said. “We have common challenges and it’s helpful to come together as a group and discuss how we can best face those.”

The legal briefings and discussion have been well received by participants, and continue to strengthen a foundation of combined approaches to countering shared regional threats, Page said.

“Some are sharing challenges they’ve experienced in their own countries, and they want to collaborate on ways they can be overcome,” she said.

The U.S. shares a common interest with African partner nations in ensuring security, safety, and freedom of navigation on the waters surrounding the continent, because these waters are critical for Africa’s prosperity and access to global markets.

For over 80 years, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa (NAVEUR-NAVAF) has forged strategic relationships with allies and partners, leveraging a foundation of shared values to preserve security and stability.

Headquartered in Naples, Italy, NAVEUR-NAVAF operates U.S. naval forces in the USEUCOM and USAFRICOM areas of responsibility. U.S. Sixth Fleet is permanently assigned to NAVEUR-NAVAF, and employs maritime forces through the full spectrum of joint and naval operations.