Updated Criminal Code in Gabon legislates against piracy and maritime crime
Maritime crime is on the rise along the coast of West Africa, making these waters one of the global hubs for piracy. The fiscal well-being of these countries depends largely on their coastlines, and yet national legal frameworks have proven inadequate to punish crimes committed at sea. To address this challenge, the UNODC Global Maritime Crime Programme (GMCP) invited experts from Benin, Gabon, Nigeria and Togo to present their legal frameworks and to scrutinise the respective bills from 6 to 8 October 2015 in Libreville, Gabon.
Leading this fight against piracy, the countries' legal experts have undertaken to update their national Criminal Codes to effectively sanction piracy. Moreover, the application of UNODC's recommendations has enabled many countries to adapt legislative codes to confront the challenges posed by piracy. While drafting the bill for the creation of a new Penal Code, Gabon also committed to define piracy in accordance with the instructions of Article 101 UNCLOS ( United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) while Togo is set to unify the crime of piracy with that of armed robbery at sea. This will avoid eventual difficulties in terms of evidence gathering, which often impede effective prosecution.
The meeting also gave participants the opportunity to present their definition of piracy, a crime for which the Beninese legal system has yet to set a defined penalty. During roundtable discussions, a series of exercises allowed for a confrontation between the Beninese legal framework and a factual case study. Maurice Jeunet, UNODC mentor in anti-money laundering, led case studies that encouraged all participants to better understand the legal disparities that prevent countries from addressing the laundering of maritime crime assets.
Participants at the meeting in Libreville
Participants had the opportunity to compare their responses with those of other countries, rendering this teamwork a rich learning experience. It is also in this spirit that the facilitator, Giuseppe Sernia, Programme Officer of the UNODC Maritime Crime Programme for West and Central Africa, joined into a discussion on the similarities and differences between national legal frameworks. Various discussions examined the comparative advantages and shortcomings of the different legal systems (common law and civil law) that are used by the concerned countries to fight maritime crime.
Finally, the jurisdiction of different courts in these four countries was also subjected to scrutiny. As indicated above, Gabon has recently adopted a new Criminal Code, in part dedicated to the creation of special chambers to deal with cases of piracy and maritime crime. This development also led the participants to reflect on the exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal Courts in Nigeria and the concomitant problems. The draft bill in Nigeria, under consideration by the National Assembly and deemed "excellent" by the other countries, promises to address this problem.
This meeting forms part of a larger project, the merits of which were already illustrated in Nigeria and Togo in July. The efforts of UNODC and the four countries - Benin, Gabon, Nigeria, Togo - have led to concrete results. Gabon's adoption of a new Penal Code will fill the gap that had previously allowed the perpetrators of crimes at sea to enjoy impunity. The roundtables simulated real scenarios, giving the countries less experienced in prosecution an opportunity to understand the stakes, and then address the gaps. In addition, strong team work enabled each country to fine tune their respective draft laws to offer more guidance to legislators, for example on the power of arrest. As a follow-up, workshops devoted to each country will take place during this project, which is fully funded by the United States, in addition to coordination meetings where both new and experienced participants will continue to monitor the development of legal reforms.