[Tamsin Paige is an M.Phil (Law) Candidate, Australian National University College of Law]
Piracy originating from the coast of Somalia hit its peak in 2011, with 236 attacks occurring in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and the Somali region of the Indian Ocean in that year, according to the IMB’s 2012 piracy report. So far in 2013 the IMB has reported only 9 attacks originating from Somalia, resulting in two hijackings, indicating that significant headway has been made through counter-piracy efforts. As part of my thesis examining the role the law has played in the rise and fall of piracy, in Somalia and throughout history, I had the privilege of being invited by the Seychelles Attorney-General to spend January 2013 observing piracy prosecutions in the Seychelles and conducting confidential interviews with those involved in the investigation, prosecution and incarceration of Somali pirates. This fieldwork yielded a wealth of interesting data, some of which I will share here.
The first thing that struck me about the broader regional prosecution process was the importance that was put on the Seychelles involvement and how it was viewed as key to the continued efforts to engage in regional prosecutions of Somali pirates. The esteem in which the Seychelles government is being held for its efforts in counter piracy is tempered by two of the key issues being faced by the legal enforcement regimes: capacity and the repatriation of convicted pirates to United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) established and mentored prisons Somalia.
The repatriation of convicted pirates from Seychellois prisons to UNODC mentored prisons in Somaliland and Puntland are the key to the continued regional prosecutions. In January 2013 it was estimated that convicted and suspected pirates made up 20% of the prison population in the Seychelles. The repatriation program is referred to as the conveyor belt, as the Seychellois government is reluctant to take any more suspected pirates for prosecution unless it can repatriate an equal number of convicted pirates to Somali prisons. However, a number of capturing nations are disinclined to authorise these transfers as the prisons in Somalia did not meet European standards, even though evidence overwhelmingly shows that they more than meet human rights standards. However, more recently there have been indications that the EU has agreed to future repatriation transfers.
The capacity issues that were highlighted by my observations and by the interview participants are in no way restricted to the size of the prisons. The capacity and structure of the court systems in the region, the administrative capacity of the investigatory bodies and the investigatory capacity of the enforcing navies were all raised (along with other issues) as stumbling blocks to the effective prosecution of Somali pirates. Beyond highlighting the need for more nations within the region to engage in prosecuting captured piracy suspects, the issues being faced with the court system were varied.
One participant argued…