Following Security Council Debate, UN Deploys Assessment Mission to West Africa

As anticipated in previous posts, the UN recently deployed an assessment mission in West Africa. The mission, composed of representatives of several UN Offices and Agencies, has been tasked with examining the scope of the threat of piracy in the region as well as local capacities in ensuring maritime safety and security in the Gulf of Guinea. In addition, the Mission will make recommendations on anti-piracy measures, also looking at the broader context of organized crimes and drug trafficking. Upon its completion, the Mission will submit a report to the UN Secretary General.

The Mission’s deployment was preceded by a much anticipated debate at the UN Security Council. Spearheaded by Nigeria’s presidency, the Council discussed the need for action against piracy and emerging transmaritime criminality in West Africa. Several representatives made statements during the debate, highlighting the increasing nature of the problem and its impact on international navigation as well as the economy and the overall security in the region. The Council unanimously stressed the need to develop lessons learned from the fight against piracy in East Africa and the Gulf of Aden and concurred on the need for a coordinated holistic approach to tackle the issue and its socio-economic roots before it escalates further.

Notably, West African states currently sitting in the Council called for strong international support and asked for a UN resolution to provide a region-wide legal framework for action. Remarking on the specific and novel features of piracy in the area, Gabon went as far as proposing the drafting and adoption of an international instrument against piracy.

Other states, however, ranked the situation in the Gulf of Guinea as of lesser severity to the situation in the Gulf of Aden and other coastal areas of East Africa. The United States, France and England, among others, stressed how the leadership in the fight against piracy should remain in the hands of the states directly concerned by this phenomenon, while the international community should focus on continuing or increasing technical assistance and capacity building already provided, particularly in the fields of information sharing and personnel training. France recently confirmed its support towards anti-piracy measures in the region with a donation of 1 million dollars to Ghana, Togo and Benin as part of a three years founding project.

The debate was followed by the Security Council unanimous approval of Resolution 2018 (2011) on the issue of piracy and organized crime in West Africa, developing on the main points of the discussion before the Council. Due to its significance with regard to piracy in West Africa, the resolution, interestingly falling under the rubric of “Peace and Security in Africa” will be further discussed in a forthcoming post. As a preliminary remark, it is worth noting that Resolution 2018 confirms Articles 100, 101 and 105 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea as setting out the applicable legal framework to counter piracy and armed robbery at sea and, further, notes that applicable international legal instruments already provide for the creation of criminal offences and prosecution of persons responsible for seizing or exercising control over a ship or fixed platform by force. The Security Council thus appears to resist to any call for updated or novel legislation to combat modern piracy although the current legal framework is arguable not suited to encompassing all forms of transmaritime criminality, including piracy, armed robbery at sea, and drug and arms smuggling at sea.

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