Last Updated: Sun Oct 17, 2010 00:26 am (KSA) 21:26 pm (GMT)

UN Council urges special Somali piracy courts

Prosecution of captured pirates has been hampered by disagreements over which country should try them (File)
Prosecution of captured pirates has been hampered by disagreements over which country should try them (File)

The U.N. Security Council suggested on Tuesday creating special piracy courts to plug a gap in the world response to the costly attacks on merchant ships off the lawless Somali coast.

A Russian-drafted resolution passed unanimously by the 15-nation council asked U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to report back within three months on ways of prosecuting pirates, some of whom currently go free even if they are captured.

The resolution, a rare Russian initiative on the council, expressed concern over such cases, calling them a failure that "undermines anti-piracy efforts of the international community."

The hijacking of ships near the coast of Somalia, where an Islamist insurgency and general lawlessness have created a safe haven for pirates, has cost the shipping industry tens of millions of dollars in ransoms for vessels and their crews.

As of last week, around 20 ships including everything from small fishing vessels to large tankers were being held.

An international armada of warships has patrolled an area in the north of Somalia in the Gulf of Aden for more than a year in a bid to curb piracy.

But countries which have captured pirates have often had difficulty bringing them to justice because of legal technicalities.

But prosecution of captured pirates has been hampered by disagreements over which country should try them. Somalia itself lacks the legal infrastructure to support trials.

EU nations are reluctant to try suspects captured by the force in busy shipping lanes in the Gulf of Aden but the bloc cannot send them to any country where they might face abuse or the death penalty.

More than 100 suspects have been transferred to Kenya by Western and other warships patrolling the Indian Ocean to combat piracy.

While eleven suspected pirates have been brought to the United States to face piracy and other charges for attacks on two U.S. Navy ships off the coast of Africa, the U.S. Justice Department said last week.

Options suggested by Tuesday's resolution included creating special domestic chambers, possibly with international components, a regional tribunal or an international court.

International courts

The United Nations has broad experience with creating international courts to deal with war crimes, but has not so far tackled piracy.

Some U.N. diplomats have said privately, however, that such special tribunals are complicated, expensive and might not be worth the trouble. It could be better, they said, to assist countries prepared to prosecute pirates in national courts.

Over the past year and a half, the Security Council has passed several resolutions on piracy in the Horn of Africa and authorized countries to use military force to pursue pirates in cooperation with Somalia's transitional government.

Russia, Japan, the European Union and others have sent naval forces to the region to combat piracy.

But Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said earlier this month that "so far the results have not been entirely satisfactory" because of what he called a "weak link" in legal processes.

The council's resolution praised countries that had changed their domestic laws to criminalize piracy but noted "with concern" that others did not have such provisions. It called on all countries to do so.

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