In Brief: Second International Counter-Piracy Conference Concludes in Dubai

The second International Counter-Piracy Conference concluded yesterday in Dubai, UAE. The Conference, which brought together public and private stakeholders in the fight against piracy, welcomed the significant progress made in combating maritime piracy on land and in the waters off the coast of Somalia and reiterated the need for a comprehensive approach to eradicate piracy and its root causes. The Conference Declaration, adopted by foreign ministers and senior government officials, as well as representatives from UN agencies and top executives from leading maritime companies and organisations, backed the UAE proposal to make the UN Trust Fund to Support Initiatives of States to Counter Piracy off the Coast of Somalia a centralized focal point for funds donated towards the development of Somalia’s maritime security capacity. During the Conference, the UAE pledged US$1million to the Trust Fund. The donation was then matched by a pledge made by Ocean Beyond Piracy.

The Conference also expressed support toward the establishment of a permanent, legitimate, and fully representative government for Somalia and welcomed initiatives to foster long-term economic development in Somalia’s on-shore communities, as well as the increasing financial contributions made by the global maritime industry towards counter piracy initiatives. Industry leaders attending the conference also issued a statement underlining concerns about the impact of hostage taking and violence on seafarers and their families and calling for clear and consistent standards of conduct for privately contracted armed security guards on board of vessels.

Somalia’s Transitional Government President Sheikh Sharif and Somaliland’s President Ahmed Mahamoud Silanyo

One of the most significant development of the Conference, however, has been the holding of unprecendented formal discussions between the leaders of Somalia and the self-proclaimed breakaway region of Somaliland, further to initial talks held last week in London. Somaliland initially agreed to enter into talks with Somalia during the London Conference earlier this year. While the parties are still far apart, particularly with regard to Somaliland’s independence status, they jointly inked the Dubai Declaration, which aims to pave the way for future talks and cooperation between them, including the common fight against piracy and terrorism.

After the London Conference on Somalia: A First Appraisal of Counter-Piracy Measures

The much awaited London Conference on Somalia was finally held at Lancaster House, London on 23 February 2012. Fifty-five delegations attended the Conference, including the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, the UN Secretary General, Ban-ki Moon and the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton as well as the leaders of various countries in the Gulf of Aden and East Africa region, such as Djibouti, Seychelles, Mauritius, Kenya and Tanzania. Leaders of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government as well as of the breakaway regions of Puntland, Galmudug and Aluh Sunnah wal Jamaah (ASWJ) also participated. As anticipated, the self declared autonomous region of Somaliland attended the Conference, marking a major policy shift for the former British protectorate which deliberately stayed away from several previous peace conferences on Somalia. While the participation of all regions of Somalia was certainly a legitimating factor for the Conference, it is worth noting that the direct interests of Somalia were represented by 5 different delegations.

The Conference was meant to be a key moment in Somalia’s troubled history and called for a change in the international approach from the fruitless policies of the past 20 years. The Conference was preceded by much debate and a degree of controversy, particularly on the future of Somalia’s transitional federal institutions, whose mandate will end in August 2012. The Somali diaspora showed hope for more inclusiveness in building the political and economic landscape of the country. On the eve of the conference, in a bid to increase leverage of the decisions to be taken in London, the UN Security Council boosted the current African Union peacekeeping mission, raising its troop contingent up to 17000 soldiers.

The Conference registered a series of important political commitments from the stakeholders of the Somali cause, relevant to political, humanitarian, security and governance issues. Notably, leaders attending the Conference recognized the importance of empowering the Somali population and creating accountability for its political leadership, with the international community acting as a facilitator of the process. We will soon assess whether these commitments could turn into effective and practical action and what will be their contribution in shaping the future of this country. Not surprisingly, the fight against piracy occupied a prominent place in the discussion. Perhaps the most important aspect of the Conference in this regard was the acknowledgment that piracy in Somalia requires a comprehensive approach on land as well as at sea to tackle the root causes of piracy. This is a very important step. A military-focused approach of targeting pirates at sea coupled with limited judicial accountability measures could only provide a short term deterrent if not coupled with social development, economic growth and good governance. The underlying causes of piracy, but also its direct effects, are inextricably intertwined with all other problems affecting Somalia.

“We agreed that piracy cannot be solved by military means alone, and reiterated the importance of supporting communities to tackle the underlying causes of piracy, and improving the effective use of Somali coastal waters through regional maritime capacity-building measures.”

Some of the most encouraging developments of the Conference pertain to the immediate fight against piracy. These include the signing of important agreements enhancing the current plans by the international community to create a “cycle of justice”, or, as we called it, a “Globalized System of Criminal Justice”, where pirates are caught at sea, transferred to regional states for prosecution and, finally, imprisoned in Somalia. Hosting the Conference created momentum upon the UK’s own contribution to tackle piracy. The UK and Tanzania signed a memorandum of understanding allowing the UK Royal Navy to transfer suspected pirates apprehended at sea to Tanzania for prosecution. The UK also signed a statement of intent with Mauritius for the same purposes. These agreements are particularly relevant in light of Kenya’s current suspension of the transfer of suspected pirates for prosecution before its national courts. Plans for the imprisonment of pirates also registered some significant development. Puntland committed to the transfer of convicted pirates in the region to its prisons from August 2012. In an effort to enhance its anti-piracy strategy, Somaliland will also focus on improving its capacity to jail suspected and convicted offenders. Somaliland signed a ground breaking agreement with Seychelles for the transfer of convicted pirates to its prisons. In addition, Somaliland has recently passed a law declaring piracy illegal and making it an offense punishable by a maximum of twenty-five years. Somaliland previously limited prosecutions to charging alleged pirates with armed robbery.

“There will be no impunity for piracy. We called for greater development of judicial capacity to prosecute and detain those behind piracy both in Somalia and in the wider region and recognised the need to strengthen capacity in regional states. We welcomed new arrangements, which enable some states and naval operations to transfer suspected pirates captured at sea for trial by partners across the Indian Ocean region, and if convicted, to transfer them to prisons in Puntland and Somaliland which meet international standards. We noted the intention to consider further the possibility of creating courts in Somalia specialised in dealing with piracy.”

The first chance to evaluate the outcome of the London Conference will be, yet again, at another conference. Turkey, an increasingly growing ally of the Somali cause, will organize in cooperation with the UN the Second International Conference on Somalia. The conference will be held on 1 June 2012 in Istanbul. In addition, the UAE, the current chair of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia. will host a second International Maritime Counter-Piracy Conference on 27-28 June 2012 in Dubai, further to an initial event hosted in April 2011. But the real work will be on the ground as attempts are made to execute the promises made at the conference, including exercising the rights and obligations set out in the newly minted transfer agreements.

Save the Date: London Conference on Somalia on 23 February 2012

As indicated in a recent post, the UK will host the London Conference on Somalia on 23 February 2012. Around 40 governments are expected to attend, along with the United Nations, African Union, European Union, World Bank, the Inter-Governmental Authority for Development, the Organisation of Islamic Conference, and the League of Arab States. Representatives of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Institutions, as well as the Presidents of the breakaway and autonomous regions of Somaliland, Puntland and Galmudug are also expected to attend. Ahead of the Conference, the UK Foreign Secretary today visited Mogadishu for the first time in nearly twenty years.

Somalia has been without an effective central government since President Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991. More than twenty years of civil war have had a dramatic effect on Somalia and its population. Announcing the Conference, UK Prime Minister David Cameron described Somalia as “a failed State”. Notably, the mandate of the Transitional Federal Institutions currently in charge of governing Somalia is due to end in August 2012.

The conference will discuss how the international community and Somali political leaders can step-up their efforts to tackle both the root causes and effects of the problems in the country. Central to the discussion are, obviously, anti-piracy efforts and perspectives. We will be trying to closely follow any relevant development in this regard, both on this blog as well as on our facebook page. In the meantime, those who are interested in this topic can follow the debate on the blog of the newly appointed UK Ambassador to Somalia.

Drones v. Pirates

 

In today’s Wall Street Journal, it is reported that the U.S. is deploying armed drones to the island nation of the Seychelles in order to strike militant targets and, if and when necessary, Somali pirates:

A senior defense official said the U.S. hasn’t yet used the Reapers deployed the Seychelles to conduct armed reconnaissance on pirate ships, but the option is open to use the drones to strike at pirates who have mounted attacks.

“If there was a piracy situation gone wrong, the Seychelles are a good place from which to put something overhead,” said the senior defense official.

The U.S. stationed Reaper drones in the Seychelles from September 2009 until this past spring, when they were withdrawn. Those aircraft weren’t armed and were used only for surveillance. Officials said at the time that those drones were to be used to monitor pirates.

With terrorists and pirates living in such close quarters, it is easy to mistake them as one and the same. Consequently pirates become legitimate targets for pre-emptive attack. But even if pirates are considered to be terrorists (a very big “if”), there are limits as to how they may be engaged. The Deputy National Security Advisor John Brennan recently signaled that the U.S. continues to reserve the right to take unilateral action against individuals who are a threat to the United States. Nonetheless, he recognized: “International legal principles, including respect for a state’s sovereignty and the laws of war, impose important constraints on our ability to act unilaterally—and on the way in which we can use force—in foreign territories.” Even members of al-Qaida are entitled to basic protections afforded by the Geneva Conventions (See Hamdan v. U.S.).

On the other hand, if pirates are treated as criminals, destroying a pirate skiff by a drone-fired missile prior to an attack or even after an attack would constitute summary justice. As I have mentioned before, this does not prevent seafarers from protecting themselves in the face of an attack. But if an attack has occurred and pirates are racing off with their booty or if pirates are discovered at sea with the tell-tale signs of planning an attack (e.g. rifles, ladders), they must be arrested and not scuttled by an unmanned drone.

Although the Prime Minister of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) has no problem with the U.S. targeting members of al-Shabaab within Somalia’s territorial borders, he would not accept similar treatment of pirates. Without the consent of the TFG, drones will likely be restricted to a surveillance role regarding pirates within Somali’s territory and territorial waters. The same is likely true of pirates in international waters, absent extraordinary circumstances.