UN Optimistic for Progress in Somalia – Looks to Increase Its Engagement

Later next week, the UN Security Council will resume its discussion on Somalia. Among the main issues will be the future of AMISON as well as the embargo on arms and Somali charcoal. Before the Security Council is also the Secretary General Report S/2013/69 pursuant to Resolution 2067 (2012) containing the Secretary General’s options and recommendations on the UN presence in Somalia. The Report considers several possible structural configurations for a future UN presence in Somalia further to the end of the political transition period and the development of the democratization process, including the setting up of a peacekeeping, peace-support or a peacebuilding institution, either in coordination or jointly with the existing Africa Union presence. While the possible establishment of a peacekeeping operation in the near future remains under review, the Secretary General currently favors an assistance mission located directly in Somalia that would integrate the functions of the UN Political Office for Somalia and the UN Support Office for AMISOM (UNSOA) but keep the UN humanitarian country team separate:

United Nations assistance mission. Under this option, a new United Nations mission would deliver political and peacebuilding support with a presence across Somalia. In terms of logistics support to AMISOM, a dedicated Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Mission Support would report directly to the Department of Field Support in New York on delivery of the AMISOM support package, in order to ensure efficient delivery to AMISOM. At the same time, she or he would report to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on United Nations mission support issues and policy and political questions arising from the functions of UNSOA relevant to the mandate of the United Nations assistance mission. The United Nations country team would remain structurally separate, but would participate in enhanced mechanisms for strategic integration and operational collaboration, supported by an expanded office of the Resident Coordinator/Humanitarian Coordinator. The scope for full structural integration would be reviewed annually, on the basis of progress in the political, security and humanitarian situation. Criteria for this review would be developed by the Somalia Integrated Task Force. This option enhances the strategic integration of United Nations functions while preserving distinct reporting lines for different United Nations mandates at the current sensitive stage of operations. This option is recommended; (para. 75(c))

There are reasons to believe that the Security Council will endorse the Secretary General’s recommendations and the deployment of the new mission will commence soon. The fight against piracy remains one of the main area of focus. Resolution 2077 (2012) renewed the current anti-piracy operations for another 12 months. Worthy of note is also the Secretary General support for the creation of a maritime component for AMISOM to consolidate control over southern and central Somalia and contribute to the training and mentoring of the Somali coast guard and maritime police (para. 82). Undoubtedly, the current drop in piracy attacks in the region is among the major successes of the international community involvement in Somalia so far. In this regard, it is essential that the current piracy deterrence and prosecution efforts are further developed as a starting point to enhance Somalia’s overall security and justice sectors:

The improved security situation in Somalia should help in the fight against piracy by denying the perpetrators safe havens both on land and along the coast. I encourage the new Government to develop a comprehensive national maritime economic and security strategy and a supporting legal framework, including declaring Somalia’s exclusive economic zone, working closely with all stakeholders. The resources that the maritime environment brings would contribute to financing the changes that are necessary for Somalia to recover from the last two decades of conflict. In this regard and as part of the wider security sector support, assistance should also be mobilized and delivered to the justice and corrections services. I have emphasized that the international community must address the root causes of piracy — instability, lawlessness and a lack of effective governance in Somalia — and therefore continue to intensify its engagement to link the counter-piracy approach with development and State-building goals (see S/2012/783). (Para. 88)

In Brief: UNDP Human Development Report for Somalia – Youth Empowerment Is Key

Aerial view of a typical homestead on the outskirts of the southern Somali port city of Kismayo – Credit: UN Photo/Stuart Price

The United Nation Development Programme released its Somalia Human Development Report 2012. The Report, the first since 2001, discusses the factors behind Somalia’s conflict and state collapse in the past 20 years, and focuses on the enormous potential that lies in empowering Somali youth to become an engine of peace-building and development.

Key data

  • Somali development and humanitarian indicators are among the lowest in the world;

  • Over 70 percent of Somalia’s population is under the age of thirty;

  • The youth population in Somalia may continue to swell due to high fertility rates, estimated at 6.2 births per women between 2010 and 2015;

  • Overall unemployment among people aged 15 to 64 is estimated at 54 percent in Somalia, up from 47 percent in 2002;

  • The unemployment rate for youth aged 14 to 29 is 67 percent—one of the highest rates in the world; women lose out more, with unemployment rates at 74%, compared to men at 61%;

  • Life expectancy in Somalia is 50 years, up from 47 in 2001;

  • Over 60% of youth have intentions to leave the country for better livelihood opportunities;

  • Somalia ranks as one of the worst countries worldwide for women. Gender-based violence and discrimination against Somali women is widespread.

In particular, the Report estimates that, since 1991, the international community, including the Somali diaspora, has collectively spent just over $55 billion in responding to Somalia’s conflict, of which Piracy accounts for about 40%, followed by humanitarian and development aid; remittances; peacekeeping and military responses, counter-terror initiatives; and costs associated with international crime and illicit financial flows.

The Mekong Pirates on Trial

For 3 days at the end of last week, the Intermediate People’s Court in Kunming, the capital of the Yunnan Province in southwest China, was the stage for yet another high profile, yet swift, criminal trial. The case involved the mysterious murder of 13 Chinese sailors on the Golden Triangle’s area of the Mekong River in October last year. We have blogged about the incident here, focusing in particular on China’s unprecedented role in strengthening law enforcement in the strategic Mekong River basin. Since the murders, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar and even Thailand joined China in holding several military patrols across the lawless boundary waters.

The Mekong River Trial in Session at the Intermediary People’s Court in Kunming

The murders, one the deadliest assault on Chinese nationals oversea, sparked a large public outcry in China. It therefore comes as little surprise that the trial attracted much attention from the Chinese press. Among the 6 defendants was Naw Kham (aka Nor Kham aka Jai Norkham),a member of Myanmar’s Shan ethnic minority and a notorious once-untouchable drug lord and gang leader who for years is thought to have ruthlessly run the drug and other illicit trade in the Golden Triangle area. Naw Kham was arrested in April in Laos in another joint military sting operation and traded over to China shortly thereafter. Prior to his arrest, only two blurred pictures of Naw Kham were said to exist.

Naw Kham is Extradited to Beijing amid Tight Security – Xinhua

Much of the news regarding the investigation and trial is limited to Chinese media, with only a few outlets providing reporting in the English language. The holding of the trial has been hailed as another example, further to the joint river patrols, of China’s growing concern over cross-border security issues and its novel policy of regional cooperation in combating international crimes. Indeed, it is unlikely that the arrest and trial of the alleged perpetrators could have taken place in such a swift manner without China’s involvement. As discussed in another previous post, most notably this policy included China’s unprecedented participation in the international anti-piracy patrols off the coast of Somalia and in the larger Gulf of Aden area. Chinese media praised the trial as a model of judicial cooperation, coupling armed drug trafficking gangs on the Mekong and Somali pirates as “common enemies of mankind” and calling for their prosecution as a duty of all States. This is a remarkable development in the debate over the universal nature of piracy prosecution but also, leaving piracy aside, in the more controversial debate over modern China’s sovereignty and its role in large-scale international cooperation. However, China’s sudden primary stance in the Mekong murders also seems to be a show of strength in view of other disputes concerning the economic development in the Mekong River basin as well as in other areas of economic interest in Asia.

After allegedly confessing his role in the Mekong River murders upon his arrest and recanting it in a recent interview, the media reports that Naw Kham partially admitted knowledge of the murders at the beginning of the short trial, which then concluded with his full admission of guilt and plea for leniency. All other defendants, members of Naw Kham’s gang, promptly confessed their responsibility upon the opening of the trial. They were all accused of murder, drug trafficking, kidnapping and hijacking and now face the possibility of the death penalty. During the trial, simultaneous interpretation was provided in Laotian and Thai to accommodate the testimony of foreign policemen and witnesses from Laos and Thailand. Such testimonies are apparently unprecedented in Chinese judicial proceedings. China asserted jurisdiction over the case upon its direct links with the crimes and the victims as well as within the general framework of regional cooperation within the Mekong River. Chinese media also praised the trial as a demonstration of the efficiency of Chinese judiciary to the rest of the world. From an international justice perspective, however, doubts still remain as to the procedural fairness and completeness of such fast-paced trials whose outcome increasingly relies on the defendant confession. Interestingly, the arrest and trial of Naw Kham seems to have fallen under Interpol’s radar, as at the time of writing Naw Kham still remains on its Most Wanted Fugitive List.

Naw Kham Arrives in Court Blindfolded – Not a Common Procedure Everywhere – Xinhua

According to the prosecution, the Chinese boat refused to pay protection money for safe-passage in Naw Kham controlled areas and the murders were framed as a drug related incident to set an example. Several aspects of the murders, however, remain unclear. In particular, one possibly relevant factual element of the case appears to have been given limited consideration, namely the alleged participation in the murders of 9 members of the Thai military, part of an army unit responsible for security along the Mekong. Initial investigations by Chinese authorities already revealed a role played by a group of Thai military. It is still unclear whether they acted in collusion with Naw Kham’s gang. Investigation by Thai authorities, who are currently holding the soldiers as suspects, appear to show conclusive and corroborative evidence of the Thai soldiers shooting at the Chinese boats once they crossed over into Thailand.

The Oil Continues to Spill: Transmaritime Criminality in West Africa

This time last year, we dedicated a few posts to the rise of piracy and other criminal activities in the Gulf of Guinea.  In particular, we discussed how much of these activities was a by-product of internal insurgencies and economic discontent in Nigeria and how the country’s attempted crackdown had the unintended consequence of pushing these criminal activities to nearby countries where lack of enforcement powers allowed them to thrive.

The situation has since continued to worsen. While there is currently a lull in piracy activities in Somalia and the Gulf of Aden, armed robberies and pirate attacks are sharply on the rise in West Africa. Reported incidents in the territorial waters of Nigeria, as well as Togo and Ghana, or in the international waters adjacent thereto, are now almost a daily occurrence. In the most recent of such attacks, the MT Energy Centurion, a Greek-owned oil tanker was hijacked and its 24 member crew kidnapped off the coast of Togo.

Historic Map of West Africa dated 1829 by Sidney Hall – Garwood & Voigt

The region is traditionally considered as a cornucopia of natural resources. West Africa is rich in oil and other hydrocarbons, but also fish, cocoa and timber, for instance. Nigeria is currently the biggest African oil producer, with an output of about 3 million barrels a day, most of which is exported to Europe and the US. Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone are the next countries to enter the oil production and export business, with new deposits discovered in their national waters in recent years. Such discoveries have the potential to bring economic development to some of the poorest countries in the world, in a region often forgotten even when plaugued by years of ruthless civil wars and rampant mismanagement. Development, however, needs to be matched by strong governance capabilities. Due to its social and geographical features, the Gulf of Guinea is not only suitable for commercial transportation but is also a potential hotspot for criminal activities, particularly exacerbated by unemployment, corruption and  lack of governance. Oil bunkering, piracy, illegal waste dumping, poaching, drugs and migrant smuggling are only the most visible tip of a larger array of criminal activities. Autonomous movements also have increasingly resorted to violence, with terrorism often inexorably spurring into ties with criminality. These activities are often, but not exclusively, perpetrated by organized criminal cartels. Smaller criminal gangs, however, also operate some activities. Their common medium, often or exclusively, is the sea, which provides direct opportunities for criminal acts as well as the means to perpetrate such acts. Oil platforms in international waters are increasingly the targets of pirates and robbers, while subsidized petrol is smuggled from Nigeria into neighboring countries in overnight trips just a few miles off their coasts. Transmaritime criminality consists of the composite interaction of various forms of organized criminal activities, including criminal cartels, oil, drugs, arms and human trafficking, the deeply rooted social causes at their basis as well as their economic and environmental impact. Transmaritime Criminality thrives on the high seas as well as in coastal developing countries due to limited law enforcement and rule of law capabilities.

Despite its apparent similarities with pirate activities in Somalia, the situation in West Africa is potentially more complex. Attacks are often reckless, and more violent. Rarely do these entail long lasting hijackings and kidnapping for ransom. Presumably due to the lack of capabilities to hold a ship  and its crew hostage for long periods, criminals often resort to stealing the ship’s cargo and releasing it after a few days. This was the case, for instance, in the hijacking of the MT Energy Centurion, which was quickly released in Nigerian waters with its crew after its valuable cargo was siphoned off. The oil will then likely be sold through the black market in face of the complacency, or powerlessness, of local authorities.

Subsidized Nigerian Oil is Smuggled Overnight to Togo and Picked up Directly Ashore to be Sold in the Local Black Market – Photo Daniel Hayduk – BBC

This criminal surge in West Africa did not go unnoticed at both the international and regional level. The UN Security Council has already dedicated various meetings and resolutions to the situation in the Gulf of Guinea. The US, but also France and China, among others, have stepped forward to provide assistance, in the form of training or equipment, to countries in the region. These, in turn, have engaged in coordination and dialogue, launching joint policing operations. The past spiraling of piracy in Somalia has obviously provided an indicator of the potential gravity of piracy thriving in lawless environments. It also developed a set of best practices in combatting piracy and its root causes. No internationally-sponsored naval patrolling mission akin to those launched by the EU or NATO in the Indian Ocean is foreseen in West Africa. The envisaged solution is that of a funneling these best practices through regional coordination, encompassing strategies of short and long term period, rather than direct international intervention. These strategies include the strengthening of enforcement powers and ad-hoc legislation. Typically, several affected countries have found their penal codes to be lacking the full criminalization of piracy and terrorism. A UN-sponsored regional conference aiming to put this phenomenon high on the agenda has been long envisaged, but yet failed to materialize. Against this background, it is worth reiterating the need to avoid the immediate risk of resource fragmentation, with already a plethora of UN and regional agencies and organizations involved as stakeholders. The fight against transmaritime criminality in West Africa has also the potential risk of becoming another lucrative self-feeding business, with military contracts already allegedly awarded to contractors of dubious background.

The Illegality of a General Pirate Amnesty

The Shiuh Fu No.1 fishing boat, pirated Christmas Day 2010; the whereabouts of the crew of 13 Chinese, 12 Vietnamese and 1 Taiwanese mariners is unknown

It is estimated that 245 hostages and 7 hijacked vessels remain in pirate hands. There exists a kind of stalemate as pirates hold prisoners and ships in Somali ports while negotiations between pirates and shipping insurance companies have slowed or broken down completely. Somalia’s presidential candidates have offered one possible solution to this stalemate. President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed has said that, “Those who leave behind what they have done will be forgiven.” For his part, Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali has said that “There is no mercy for pirates, not from me, but if someone gives up and says, ‘I repent and want forgiveness’, then we have to do it.” However, a general amnesty for pirates might be illegal and, in any event, might be ineffectual.

Pursuant to UNCLOS, Article 100 “Duty to cooperate in the repression of piracy” provides that “All States shall cooperate to the fullest possible extent in the repression of piracy on the high seas or in any other place outside the jurisdiction of any State.” UNCLOS does not specifically assert there is a duty to prosecute pirates once apprehended. On this point, the International Law Commission, in its commentary to the predecessor treaty (1958 LOS treaty), has said of this provision that “Any State having an opportunity of taking measures against piracy, and neglecting to do so, would be failing in a duty laid upon it by international law.” But it also asserted that states “must be allowed a certain latitude as to the measures it should take to this end in any individual case.” It has been convincingly argued by others (namely Geib and Petrig) that prosecution is discretionary under this provision. Geib and Petrig also note that there may be an obligation to prosecute certain acts of armed robbery at sea which are in violation of the SUA Convention and the Hostages Convention. However, Somalia is not a party to either of these conventions. Therefore, a general amnesty for Somali pirates arguably would not be in violation of the duty under Article 100 of UNCLOS or other treaty obligations.

There also exists under international law, a duty to prosecute egregious human rights violations, such as genocide, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, torture, and crimes against humanity. (for a summary see this decision of the ECCC Trial Chamber). International tribunals and treaty bodies have generally held amnesties to be incompatible with this overriding duty to prosecute. In particular, the Special Court for Sierra Leone Appeals Chamber has held that blanket amnesties are impermissible under international law for universal jurisdiction crimes. The duty to prosecute arises not only from the treaty obligations taken on by states but also the egregiousness of the proscribed conduct. Based on this international norm, there may be a duty to prosecute pirates who have engaged in the practice of torturing hostages or for any other act constituting piracy if sufficiently egregious. It has been argued that piracy is not among the most egregious of international offences, but piracy consistently garners impressively long sentences and capital punishment remains a potential penalty for pirates in the United States. Based on this background, a general amnesty of pirates might run afoul of an international duty to prosecute.

One possible avenue for the provision of amnesties is discussed in the Provisional Constitution of Somalia. Article 111 provides for the creation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, “established […] to foster national healing, reconciliation and unity”. It further provides the TRC’s mandate shall include “bearing witness to, record and in some cases grant amnesty to the perpetrators of crimes relating to human rights violations”. It is not clear if the drafters intended this provision to encompass possible amnesties for pirates. However, the language of the Article is sufficiently broad to apply to such crimes. Any such amnesties would have to be approved by the TRC composed of traditional elders, members of the Federal Parliament, respected members of civil society, judges and security personnel. Insofar as the TRC could dispense individual amnesties based on the particular circumstances of a case, it might not run afoul of an international duty to prosecute.

This brings us to two very practical matters. Even if such amnesties were granted by the Somali government, would they be respected by other states were they to gain custody of these individuals? Any state may prosecute Somali pirates based on universal jurisdiction. States whose vessels and nationals have been victim of pirate attack would have to exercise a great deal of restraint to not prosecute such individuals due to an amnesty dispensed by the Somali government.

Finally, there is no guarantee that an amnesty for Somali pirates would be effective at definitely quashing the phenomenon in the long term. Nigeria provides a helpful example (see here for background). In 2009, the Nigerian government offered many of the militants/pirates in the Niger Delta an amnesty and stipends if they agreed to stop attacks of oil platforms and other interests. The cost of this amnesty programme is immense, estimated to be $405 million in 2012 alone. But not all ex-militants have found new jobs and there is an increasing danger that the attacks on off-shore oil interests may reignite. For Somalia, the lessons are two-fold: (1) an amnesty must be accompanied by alternative job training and job creation to be effective and (2) such a programme is potentially very expensive and perhaps outside of its means.