VIENNA, 16 DECEMBER 2008 - To counter the threat of maritime piracy in the Horn of Africa, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has put forward a number of proposals. The recommendations come as the Security Council meets to examine ways to improve international coordination in the fight against piracy, and in the wake of an International Conference on Piracy around Somalia which took place in Nairobi on 11 December.
"Pirates can not be keel-hauled or forced to walk the plank, nor should they be dumped off the Somali coast", said the Executive Director of UNODC Antonio Maria Costa, "they need to be brought to justice".
UNODC has proposed a number of measures designed to deter, arrest and prosecute pirates.
"Ideally, suspects should be tried in the country where they came from, or in the country that owns the seized ship. But the Somali criminal justice system has collapsed, and countries like Liberia, Panama and the Marshall Islands - where many of the ships are registered - do not want to deal with crimes committed thousands of miles away", said Mr. Costa.
A second option is for the suspects to be sent to stand trial in the countries whose ships captured them: most probably the European Union, India or the United States. "But this is also unlikely since there are strict international standards about protecting human rights and handing over suspects within a short period of time", said the head of UNODC.
A third, and more realistic option, proposed by UNODC is for the pirates to be tried in the region, having been arrested by local policemen. "I encourage 'ship riders' to be deployed on warships operating off the Horn of Africa in order to arrest pirates and bring them to justice in neighbouring countries", said Mr. Costa. Such an arrangement (subject to a special agreement) would enable a law enforcement officer from, for example, Djibouti, Kenya, Tanzania or Yemen, to join a warship off the coast of Somalia as a 'ship rider', arrest the pirates in the name of their country, and then have them sent to their national court for trial. The practice has been employed in the Caribbean to arrest drug traffickers.
The key is to strengthen the capacity of criminal justice systems in the region to effectively investigate and prosecute piracy cases. UNODC is therefore helping States implement the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and other relevant international instruments to fight crime.
"Regional cooperation is essential", said Mr. Costa. "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".
Fourth, the piracy threat must also be tackled on land. "The pirates' coastal bases in Somalia and their support networks need to be dismantled, in exchange for development aid to improve local administration and create job alternatives to piracy and smuggling", said the Executive Director of UNODC. "Shipping and insurance companies should provide assistance to prevent further attacks instead of exacerbating the problem by paying ransoms", said Mr. Costa.
Fifth, UNODC proposes going after the financial flows. "Somali pirates are in it for the money, so we should try to capture their treasure", said Mr. Costa. "Unlike buccaneers of old, Somali mafias are not burying their booty in the sand. While some transactions are made in cash or the hawala system, pirates are increasingly working through intermediaries in financial centres. This is where we need to hit them", said the UN's chief crime fighter.
"Piracy is organized crime, and should be confronted as such. Gunboats are necessary, but not sufficient. 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 multi-lateral cooperation", said Mr. Costa.
For information, please contact:
Mr. Walter Kemp
Spokesman and Speechwriter
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
Telephone: (+43-1) 26060 5629
Mobile: (+43-699) 1459-5629