Top UN legal official outlines judicial options to fight piracy off Somalia

21 June 2011
Patricia O'Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs

Helping the courts in Somalia attain international standards to handle trials of suspects arrested for engaging in maritime piracy off the East African coast can be an important step in combating the scourge in the Indian Ocean, the top United Nations legal affairs official told the Security Council today.

“Achieving international standards will be a critical step because it will open the way for naval States to be able to enter into arrangements with Somali authorities for the transfer of piracy suspects apprehended at sea,” said Patricia O’Brien, the Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs in a briefing to the Council.

Ms. O’Brien was outlining to the Council the legal options contained in the reports by the Secretary-General and his former Special Adviser on Legal Issues Related to Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, Jack Lang, on how Somalia and the international community can legally step up counter-piracy efforts.

On the modalities of establishing specialized anti-piracy courts inside Somalia as recommended in Mr. Lang’s report, Ms. O’Brien said the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) are already helping local authorities in the Somaliland and Puntland regions of Somalia to build the capacity of the local courts to try piracy cases.

Bringing the courts in Somaliland and Puntland to international standards could take three years, but that timeframe could be shortened through the use of international experts to assist and mentor local professionals.

“Initial research my Office confirms that there are legal professionals among the Somali diaspora who could be contacted to determine whether they would be willing and able to play this role,” said Mr. O’Brien.

The UNDP and UNODC assistance programmes have faced the challenges of seriously out-of-date criminal and procedural codes and shortages of trained judges and other legal professionals, she added.

On the option of establishing an anti-piracy court in another State in the region, Ms. O’Brien told the Council that Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and regional administrations are not in favour of having a Somali court outside the country’s borders.

“In the most recent consultations, officials of the Transitional Federal Government, and of Puntland and Galmudug, expressed their preference for the location of any such court within Somalia, and confirmed their willingness to work toward agreement on a location for it,” said Ms. O’Brien.

“If the proposal for an extraterritorial Somali court were to process, a key ‘modality’ would be the negotiation of an agreement between the Transitional Federal Government and the host State to regulate their respective rights obligations,” she added.

She stressed that her Office was ready to look into greater depth any of the options in the Secretary-General’s report on piracy off the coast of Somalia, if the Council decided to mandate the Secretary-General to do so.


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