Continuing piracy-related incidents off Somalia and their increasing sophistication illustrates the weaknesses of an entirely sea-based approach to combating the scourge, a senior United Nations official said today.
João Honwana, Director of the Africa I Division of the Department of Political Affairs (DPA), told a meeting of the Contact Group on piracy off the coast of Somalia – held at UN Headquarters – that the situation showed the need for the international community to deal with the issue of piracy in a comprehensive, cohesive and broad-based manner.
“The international community’s engagement at sea remains necessary and has demonstrated its deterrent value,” he said. “But the continued increase in the [number of incidents]… underscores the limits of an exclusively sea-based approach.”
Mr. Honwana said the UN has been strengthening the capacities of individual Member States to ensure that suspected pirates are prosecuted through harmonizing national laws with the international legal regime.
The UN, through its Office of Legal Affairs (OLA) and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), is also assisting with efforts to encourage more States to share the burden of prosecuting and imprisoning pirates, which has largely fallen to Kenya.
UNODC has helped countries review their counter-piracy laws, provided training for prosecutors, developed court facilities in the Kenyan port city of Mombasa, delivered witnesses to trial and improved prison conditions and reduced overcrowding.
Mr. Honwana said the UN would also continue to provide technical support to authorities across Somalia.
“UNODC and UNDP [the UN Development Programme] are working on the improvement of prison conditions in Puntland and Somaliland to allow the transfer of convicted pirates back to Somalia, and in the longer term, increase the capacity of Somalia’s basic legal and institutional structures.
“In this regard, international support towards rebuilding Somali institutions is crucial to combat piracy, while also creating livelihood opportunities for the local communities.”
Mr. Honwana reiterated the UN’s request to the Contact Group to set up a new working group focused on land-based initiatives to tackle the root causes of piracy, while an international trust fund is also being created to channel resources to projects and activities that deal with piracy.
Yesterday, dozens of countries signed up at UN Headquarters to a declaration that commits them to taking greater steps to prevent or delay further pirate attacks. The so-called New York Declaration, which is non-binding, calls on signatories to make widely known “best management practices” for ships and other vessels to protect themselves against possible attacks on pirates.
The declaration was first proposed in May by four of the countries with the world’s largest ship registries – Panama, the Bahamas, Liberia and the Marshall Islands. Yesterday’s signatories included the United States, China, France and the United Kingdom.