Global Policy Forum

Somali Piracy Threat Requires New Courts, Jails, Laws, UN Says

Domestic and international laws alike have proven incapable of containing a huge upsurge in piracy off the coast of Somalia. The special adviser on piracy to the UN Secretary-General, Jack Lang, recommended to the Security Council that special courts be established to prosecute pirates.  This would include a court located in Tanzania, but with Somali jurisdiction.  Lang also recommended that all nations include the crime of piracy in their legal codes - the Security Council made the same recommendation in 2010.  Such international cooperation may increase states' capacity to prosecute Somali pirates.

By Bill Varner

January 25, 2011

The failure of international efforts to deter piracy off the coast of Somalia requires urgent action, including creation of new laws, courts and jails, according to a report today to the United Nations Security Council.

"The status quo is no longer satisfactory," Jack Lang, the special adviser on piracy to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki- moon, told the Security Council. "There is this race between the pirates and the international community, and progressively that race is being won by the pirates."

Piracy in the region costs as much as $7 billion a year in lost shipping revenue, higher insurance premiums and the expense of deploying naval warships to the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean, Lang said. He also warned of growing links between pirates and terrorists in Somalia who have been tied to al- Qaeda.

Pirates hijacked a record 53 ships and 1,181 crew members in 2010, most of them off Somalia, according to the London-based International Maritime Bureau. The Security Council met following the reported Jan. 22 seizure off the coast of Somalia of a German vessel with 12 men on board belonging to the fleet of Bremen-based Beluga Shipping GmbH.

Lang, who said nine out of 10 captured pirates are released because there isn't sufficient capacity to prosecute or incarcerate them, recommended establishment of three new specialized courts. Two would be established in semi-autonomous Somaliland and Puntland, and a third with Somali jurisdiction in Tanzania.

Civil War

A court can't be set up in Somalia itself because the nation has been in a state of civil war for two decades and hasn't had a functioning central administration since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre. Its Transitional Federal Government and 8,000 African Union troops are battling Islamic militants for control of the capital Mogadishu and southern Somalia.

Lang also proposed new criminal laws for acts of piracy, construction of prisons, sharing of forensic information such as fingerprints, financial monitoring, and UN sanctions against what he called the "dozen brains behind" the pirates.

"It is very important that the kingpins be tackled," Lang said. "We know their names."

Piracy, Lang said, is "slightly separate from terrorism, but we do see in Somalia some links."

Taken together, the recommended steps would cost about $25 million, Lang said.

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice and other members of the Security Council expressed support for Lang's proposals and a plan to adopt a draft resolution to implement them.

'Creative Solutions'

"Piracy off the coast of Somalia threatens us all," Rice said. "Much more work remains to be done. My government remains open to exploring creative solutions to increase and facilitate domestic prosecutions."

Somalia's Ambassador Elmi Duale also endorsed the UN proposals, saying the situation requires "immediate action."

Lang said pirates are better organized and use increasingly sophisticated weaponry and technology such as global satellite positioning systems. He also cited the "emergence of a real industry" of negotiators and interpreters.

"Pirates are becoming the masters of the Indian Ocean," he said.


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