Regional approach crucial to bring Somali pirates to justice, says UN anti-crime chief

16 December 2008

The United Nations crime-fighting agency today proposed a regional approach to bringing pirates off the Somali coast to justice similar to one that has proved successful in fighting drug traffickers in the Caribbean.

“Gunboats are necessary, but not sufficient,” UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa said of the European, Indian and United States warships now seeking to provide protection from the rampant piracy that has seen scores of ships hijacked for ransom, including those carrying vital UN food supplies for hundreds of thousands of hungry Somalis.

“These bandits can be defeated in the courts, the banks, the ports as well as on the high seas using the weapons of international law and multilateral cooperation,” he added, also proposing development aid to improve local administration and create job alternatives in Somalia itself as a way of going after the pirates on land and destroying their coastal bases and support networks. Strict steps must also be taken to track down their proceeds in the international finance system.

“Pirates cannot be keel-hauled or forced to walk the plank, nor should they be dumped off the Somali coast; they need to be brought to justice,” he said.

In the face of the collapse of Somalia’s own justice system, the unwillingness of ship-registering countries like Liberia, Panama and the Marshall Islands to deal with crimes committed thousands of miles away, and possible legal problems for trial in countries providing the warships, a more realistic option would be for the pirates to be tried in the region after being arrested by local policemen deployed on the warships.

Under such a deal, similar to the Caribbean drug operation, an officer from Djibouti, Kenya, Tanzania or Yemen would join a warship off the coast as a ‘ship rider,’ arrest the pirates in the name of his or her country, and then have them sent to their national court for trial.

“Regional cooperation is essential,” Mr. Costa said. “A few years ago, piracy was a threat to the Straits of Malacca. By working together, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand managed to cut the number of attacks by more than half since 2004.”

Pirates must also be fought on land by having their coastal bases in Somalia and their support networks dismantled in exchange for development aid to create job, he stressed. “Shipping and insurance companies should provide assistance to prevent further attacks instead of exacerbating the problem by paying ransoms,” he added.

Finally Mr. Costa proposed going after the financial flows. “Somali pirates are in it for the money, so we should try to capture their treasure. Unlike buccaneers of old, Somali mafias are not burying their booty in the sand. While some transactions are made in cash or the hawala (informal transfer) system, pirates are increasingly working through intermediaries in financial centres. This is where we need to hit them,” he said.

 

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