Somalia Monitoring Group Report Now Available

The latest Report of the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia is now publicly available. The Monitoring Group is tasked to focus on the ongoing violations of the embargo imposed on Somalia since 1992 by the Security Council. The Group prepares reports of its activities, which are then submitted to the UN Security Council and its subsidiary Sanctions Committee on Somalia. The Sanctions Committee concerning Somalia was intially established to oversee the arms embargo and its violations. The mandate  of the Committee was then amended and modified by subsequent Security Council resolutions relevant to Somalia. In parallel, the Committee also oversees a sanction regime imposed on Eritrea. For further information, see here.

The Report, of over 300 pages in length, can be downloaded here. A previous unofficial dissemination of the Report generated a debate on the ongoing situation in Somalia, particularly concerning allegations of widespread corruption and collusion of government officials. Several aspects of the Report are also dedicated to the issue of piracy off the coast of Somalia. (See paras 38-50 and Annex 4). Interestingly, the Monitoring Group has found no evidence that would suggest a structural or organizational link between Al-Shabaab as an organization and Somali pirate networks.

“Somali-based piracy threatens not only the peace, the security and the stability of Somalia, but regional and international security as well. Although pirates have been more active than ever in 2011, the adoption of best management practices by the shipping industry, more effective international counter-piracy naval operations and the increasing use of private maritime security companies have substantially lowered the number of vessels successfully hijacked. As a result, pirates have to adapt and diversify, engaging in kidnap for ransom on land, and marketing their services as “counter-piracy” experts and “consultants” in ransom negotiations. This evolution of the piracy business model is being driven largely by members of the Somali diaspora, whose foreign language skills, passports and bank accounts are all valuable assets. But the Monitoring Group has also been able to confirm the collusion of senior Transitional Federal Government officials in shielding a notorious pirate kingpin from prosecution, providing him with a diplomatic passport and describing him as a “counter-piracy” envoy.”

According to the Monitoring Group, the situation appears particularly concerning in the autonomous Puntland region (see Annex 4.1). In particular, the Report discussed the much rumored Puntland Maritime Police Force, in connection with the use of private security companies operating on the ground in the region (See Annex 5.3).

The Report is also critical of the role of the international community, calling for a more robust commitment to investigate Somali piracy from a law enforcement perspective and to prosecute identifying key individuals who organize, finance or benefit from it, also singlying out a somewhat ambivalent role played by the UK in twarthing piracy.

“The UK Government’s ambivalent posture with respect to Somali piracy is illustrative of a more general international reluctance to tackle Somali piracy as a form of international organized crime, rather than as a sui generis product of Somali statelessness requiring custom-made military and custodial responses. Unless and until this attitude changes, international counter piracy efforts will continue to treat the symptoms of Somali piracy rather than the cause.”

Finally, the Report also discusses the role of private maritime security companies (See paras 72-74 and Annex 5.4) and the risk of some of these representing a potential new channel for the flow of arms into Somalia. In this regard, the Report expresses concern for the increasing use of “floating armouries” to store arms and ammunitions at sea.

“The Monitoring Group recommends that:

(a) The Committee should proceed without further delay to designate known pirates and their associates identified by the Monitoring Group or Member States for targeted measures;

(b) The Security Council should consider the possibility of establishing a specialized investigative group of experts with a mandate to collect information, gather evidence and record testimonies relating to acts of Somali piracy, including and especially the identification of pirate leaders, financiers, negotiators, facilitators, support networks and beneficiaries;

(c) The Security Council should consider making explicit reference, in its next resolutions on Somalia and piracy, to the Monitoring Group’s responsibility of investigating and identifying key individuals responsible for acts of piracy off the coast of Somalia, as well as the movement and investment of piracy proceeds, and call upon Governments, international organizations and national law enforcement agencies to exchange evidence and information with a view to the arrest and the prosecution of senior pirate leaders and their associates, or to their designation for targeted measures;

(d) The Security Council should consider options for the establishment of an international regulatory authority that regulates, monitors and inspects the activities of private maritime security companies operating floating armouries and providing armed protection to vessels in international waters.”

Pirate Attacks Hit “Low Season” in Somalia – Why and What’s Next?

According to the International Maritime Bureau, pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia continued to fall sharply in the first half of 2012.  July 2012 was particularly significant, with no reported attempted attack. Remarkably, it was the first full month with no noteworthy pirate activity off the coast of Somalia and the larger Indian Ocean since at least half a decade. The last reported attack dates back to 26 June 2012, when a Maltese-flagged bulk ship was fired upon near the Yemeni coast. As of 29 July 2012, Somali pirates are still holding at least 11 vessels and 174 crew members.

A piracy situational map we’ve rarely seen – Courtesy Oceanus Live

The suprising drop in Somali pirate activity is spurring a debate on the reasons behind it and the impact of the international efforts to counter pirate attacks. Among the main factors are the pre-emptive and disruptive counter piracy tactics employed by the international navies, with military operations now extending both at sea and on land, the effective implementation of the Best Management Practices by the shipping industry, including the use of citadels and other ship hardening means, the strengthening of a regional judicial system of law enforcement and prosecution, also targeting piracy financiers and kingpins, and in particular, the manyfold increase in the use of Privately Contracted Armed Security Personnel and government-provided Vessel Protection Detachments by ships travelling through the area. It is likely that all these factors together and concurrently have contributed to the falling numbers, tipping the risk aspect to rise above the possible profit expectations for wannabe pirates. Bad monsoon weather is also an additional factor often overlooked, with July and August being traditionally difficult months to set off to sea in the region for both pirate mother ships and small skiffs.

What’s Behind the Horizon?

The current status quo requires the operational strategy to continue and focus also on wider land-based solutions encompassing both security and economic development. Some commentators have warned that pirates and their financiers are simply sitting idle awaiting for better days to come.  Notably, August 2012 will mark the end of the Somalia TGF. While there are high hopes for a better future for Somalia, it is difficult to assess how this will reshape the Country’s current political landscape. There are also fears that the successes of current anti-piracy measures will detract the necessary attention below warning levels with a consequential lull in the international and national effors to combat piracy. If so, the momentum could shift back in the pirates’ favor.

Mauritius Strengthens Its Anti-Piracy Capacity

Last month, Mauritius became the latest country in the Indian Ocean area to enter into an agreement with the United Kingdom for the transfer of suspected pirates before its courts for prosecution. The agreement was announced earlier this year during the London Conference on Somalia, which highligthed the UK driving role in Somalia’s recovery, including the fight against piracy. Mauritius thus follows in the footsteps of Tanzania and the Seychelles who have recently penned similar agreements with the UK, in 2012 and 2010, respectively, aiming to break the pirates business circle by providing a jurisdictional basis for their prosecution after apprehension at sea.

Prime Minister David Cameron and his Mauritius counterpart Navinchandra Ramgoolam sign the prisoners transfer agreement – FCO

Notoriously, foreign navies deployed off the Somali coast to counter piracy are reluctant to take pirate suspects to their own countries because they either lack the jurisdiction to put them on trial, or fear that the pirates may seek asylum. Evidentiary hurdles are also seen as an increasing impediment to effective prosecutions. Suspected pirates detained on the high seas are therefore often released after a brief detention due to the governments’ reluctance to bring them to trial.

Under the terms of the new international agreement, Mauritius will receive and try suspected pirates captured by British Forces patrolling the Indian Ocean. Last year, Mauritius entered into another agreement with the European Union for the transfer, trial and detention of suspected pirates captured by the EUNAVFOR naval mission. As reported on this blog, Mauritius has also inked a deal with the TFG, Somaliland and Puntland to start to transfer convicted pirates to Somali prisons, paving the way for the commencement of prosecutions in Mauritius.

The first trial of a suspected Somali pirates is due to commence in September 2012. In the meantime, Mauritius, already a signatory of UNCLOS, further strengthened its anti-piracy capabilities by adopting various relevant legislative instruments. First and foremost, a new anti piracy law was adopted at the end of 2011. The new Piracy and Maritime Violence Act 2011, premised on the transnational dimension of modern day piracy and the principle of universal jurisdiction to counter it, incorporates nearly verbatim in the national judicial system the definition of piracy as contained in Article 101 of UNCLOS. Acts of violence within Mauritius internal waters are defined as “Maritime Attack”. The novel term adds a degree of fragmentation in the definition of this offence, which is otherwise commonly referred to internationally as “armed robbery at sea”. In an attempt to cater for a wider range of piracy related criminal activities, the Piracy Act also criminalizes the offences of hijacking and destroying ships as well as endangering the safety of navigation. For each of these offences, the Piracy Act provides for a maximum term of imprisonment of 60 years.

More interestingly, the Piracy Act introduces the possibility for the holding of video-link testimonies and/or the admission of evidence in written form where the presence of a witness, for instance a seafearer, cannot be secured. While not uncommon in certain national criminal jurisdictions, as well as those of international criminal courts, the introduction of out of court statements, particularly when relevant to the acts and conducts of an accused, could trigger fair trial rights issues. These issues are principally due to the limited ability of the defence to test such evidence when relied upon at trial in the absence of the witness. In light of these concerns, the Piracy Act provides for the admissibility of evidence in rebuttal as well as for the court’s discretionary power in assessing the weight to be given to written statements.

In addition to the Piracy Act, which entered into force on 1 June 2012, Mauritius also adopted and/or amended its laws concerning assets recovery and mutual assistance in criminal matters in order to foster cooperation with foreign governments to tackle pirates and criminal cartels. The implementation of the agreement with the UK, however, is still to be fully tested. In May 2012, the UK announced that defence budget cuts required it to scale back its naval commitments in the region, withdrawning its ships from full-time counter-piracy operations.


The HMS Ocean Arrives in London Ahead of the London 2012 Olympic Games – Courtesy AP

These difficulties have been compounded by the need to commit ships and personnel to the security efforts for the London 2012 Olympic Games. The UK long-term commitment to combat piracy in Somalia extends beyond its current patrolling and disruption efforts in the Indian Ocean. To remain within the Olympic spirit, French Baron Pierre de Coubertin, considered the founder of the modern Olympics Games, famously noted how “The important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle, the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”  With piracy attacks in the region at their lowest level, during monsoon season, however, it is worth considering whether we should be content with the current efforts to combat piracy, or whether we should be aiming for more.

Somalis Pirates on Trial in France: 4 year long pre-trial detention creates evidentiary hurdles

Following her earlier post on French legislation on PCASP, below is another guest post by Valerie Gabard:

After four years of provisional detention, six Somalis faced a jury trial in Paris this month for the hijacking of the French luxury yacht Le Ponant in the Gulf of Aden, in 2008. They were tried for holding the 30 crew members as hostages in exchange for a 2.15 million euros ransom. The six men were arrested a week after the hijacking while driving in Somalia territory. When arrested by the French Military, they were carrying $200,000 believed to be part of the ransom. The convictions and sentences were delivered on Thursday last week. Two of the accused were acquitted by the Court, while the four others were convicted and sentenced to four to ten years of imprisonment.

The six men were charged with kidnapping, illegal confinement and organized gang theft but not with a specific offence of piracy. The legal qualification chosen by the Prosecution and the Investigating Judge in this case is due to the absence, in 2008, of a specific definition of piracy in the French Penal Code. Since 1825, France had a law criminalizing piracy but it was obsolete and did not reflect the definition adopted by the Montego Bay Convention. This Law was thus abolished in 2007 and only replaced by new Piracy legislation on 7 January 2011. Despite the legal lacunae from 2008 until 2011, the existing offences of kidnapping, illegal confinement or the offence of seizing or taking control of a ship by force or threat of violence (see article 224-6 of the Criminal Code) largely covered the legislative gap. The new legislation does not substantially change this approach as it does not create an independent offence of Piracy but merely refers to existing crimes in the Criminal Code that could qualify as Piracy as defined by the Montego Bay Convention (See Report from the French Senate – in French).

Le Ponant

During the trial, five of the six accused claimed their innocence. Only one admitted his participation in the operation and his presence on the yacht. Two accused admitted being on Le Ponant but only as sellers and three claimed that they were never pirates or having ever boarded the yacht. Although the accused were identified by the crew four years ago, with time passing doubts arose concerning identification and some of the crew members changed their initial statements. The captain of the yacht confirmed at Trial his initial statement but recognized that the identification of the pirates after four years is today impossible. The weakness of the eyewitness identification and the absence of forensic evidence linking the accused to the yacht, lead the Prosecution to rely almost exclusively on circumstantial evidence. The six men were not arrested on board of the yacht but a week later, during an armed operation conducted by French forces, while traveling by car on Somali territory. They were arrested carrying $200,000 believed to be part of the ransom. Establishing whether or not the accused were ever on the yacht, appeared to be the real evidentiary challenge in the case. The Accused benefited from these doubts and, while the motivations of the verdict are not immediately available, this almost certainly explains the acquittals with respect to the two accused that firmly denied their participation in the crimes. The convictions and sentences imposed by the Court also appear to mirror the accused admissions as their role in the operation during the investigation and at Trial. This shows that it is probably their own admissions that lead the jury to believe that they were guilty rather than the evidence presented by the Prosecution.

The Prosecution requested sentences ranging from 10 to 15 years imprisonment but the Court did not follow this approach acquitting two accused, convicting one to ten years, two to seven years and the last one to four years of imprisonment for complicity. This latter only acknowledged driving the car and, presumably should be released with the two acquitted persons as he has already spent four years on provisional detention. Parties have ten days to appeal the judgement but the six Somalis seem generally satisfied with the outcome and only the Prosecution might file an appeal. It is highly possible as the Prosecution wants this case to be an example and a warning for the Somalis still actively implicated in piracy in the Gulf of Aden. Indeed, because it considered the sentences to be too lenient, the Prosecution already appealed last year the Judgement that jailed five Somalis pirates between four and eight years for hijacking the yacht Carréd’As in the Gulf of Aden in September 2008. The appeal trial is still pending.

Four years of provisional detention prior to trial is significant, in particular when a trial concludes with two acquittals. The acquitted men are Somalis being transferred to France for the purpose of the Trial, thus placing them in an isolated and fragile situation. They are now recognized as not guilty and are set free but in an unfamiliar country with no money, no papers and their lawyers as only assistance (See “Abdulkader, «pirate» somalien naufragé dans les rues de Paris”). French authorities appear to repeat the tragic story of the only man acquitted at the first piracy trial (See previous CHO Blog post “Acquitted of Piracy, lost in Paris”).  This emphasized one of the down sides of extraterritorial trials.

Finally it should be noted that there are two more piracy trials coming up in France where the accused are already provisionally detained in France. The first one involves three Somalis arrested while hijacking another French yacht, the Tanit in 2009 and the second one involves the trial of seven men accused of the attack in September 2011 of a catamaran where a French citizen was killed. The latter should be tried based on the new piracy law that appears to be passed to address the unforeseen burgeoning of Somali piracy in the Gulf of Aden.

4th Circuit Decides Definition of Piracy Evolves with the Law of Nations

A three-judge panel of a U.S. appeals court has decided that UNCLOS sets forth the definition of piracy for purposes of U.S. law. As we signalled here and here, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit was faced with the question of whether “piracy as defined by the law of nations” in 18 U.S.C. § 1651 (adopted in 1816) constitutes a static or evolving concept. In a well-written and extremely thorough decision, the court has determined that the law of nations is an evolving concept and that the definition contained within UNCLOS constitutes the law of nations as defined in the statute.  Since UNCLOS defines piracy in part as ‘an illegal act of violence,’ a completed theft is not requisite to the crime. This has important repercussions for future prosecutions because pirates are often unsuccessful in boarding ships or taking anything of value even though they may fire upon vessels with AK-47s and RPGs.  Limiting the definition to the law of 1816 would have prevented U.S. courts from exercising jurisdiction where conduct less than a completed robbery was perpetrated. Here are the crucial bits of the opinion:

The defendants would have us believe that, since the Smith era, the United States’ proscription of general piracy has been limited to “robbery upon the sea.” But that interpretation of our law would render it incongruous with the modern law of nations and prevent us from exercising universal jurisdiction in piracy cases. See Sosa, 542 U.S. at 761 (Breyer, J., concurring in part and concurring in the judgment) (explaining that universal jurisdiction requires, inter alia, substantive uniformity among the laws of [the exercising] nations”). At bottom, then, the defendants’ position is irreconcilable with the noncontroversial notion that Congress intended in § 1651 to define piracy as a universal jurisdiction crime. In these circumstances, we are constrained to agree with the district court that § 1651 incorporates a definition of piracy that changes with advancements in the law of nations.

We also agree with the district court that the definition of piracy under the law of nations, at the time of the defendants’ attack on the USS Nicholas and continuing today, had for decades encompassed their violent conduct. That definition, spelled out in the UNCLOS, as well as the High Seas Convention before it, has only been reaffirmed in recent years as nations around the world have banded together to combat the escalating scourge of piracy. For example, in November 2011, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 2020, recalling a series of prior resolutions approved between 2008 and 2011 “concerning the situation in Somalia”; expressing “grave[ ] concern[ ] [about] the ongoing threat that piracy and armed robbery at sea against vessels pose”; and emphasizing “the need for a comprehensive response by the international community to repress piracy and armed robbery at sea and tackle its underlying causes.” Of the utmost significance, Resolution 2020 reaffirmed “that international law, as reflected in the [UNCLOS], sets out the legal framework applicable to combating piracy and armed robbery at sea.”

Considering the importance of this opinion, the public defender may choose to petition for en banc review. The three judges on this panel were all Democratic appointees, which may mean they were more receptive to the evolving law concept. Whereas if the entire bench (15 judges) were to hear the case, it could reach a different conclusion.  The defendants also have the option of appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court. Therefore, there may yet be more to this story.