Security Council debates legal options for pursuing pirates off Somali coast

Somali piracy suspects transported to trial in Nairobi, Kenya

25 August 2010 – Commending the efforts undertaken so far to combat piracy off the coast of Somalia, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today stressed that more can be done, as the Security Council debated legal options to help bring the perpetrators of such crimes to justice.

“Over the past three years, the international community has made concerted efforts to combat the problem, including by establishing a Contact Group and deploying significant naval assets to the region,” he told the Security Council as it met to discuss the issue.

“Nonetheless, we can do more,” he added. “In particular, we need to implement the existing legal regime, so the fight against piracy in international waters is effective.

In a report released last week, Mr. Ban identified seven options for furthering the aim of prosecuting and imprisoning persons responsible for acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea, which has been a growing problem in recent years.

In the past seven months there have been 139 piracy-related incidents off the coast of Somalia, he noted. Thirty ships have been hijacked, and 17 ships and 450 seafarers are being held for ransom.

The first option presented in the report is to enhance ongoing efforts to assist regional States to prosecute and imprison those responsible for acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea.

The second would involve locating a Somali court, applying Somali law, in a third State in the region.

The third and fourth options would involve assisting a regional State or States to establish special chambers, embedded in the State’s national court structure, to conduct piracy trials.

Option five would require active engagement by the States of the region and the African Union to establish a regional tribunal to address the scourge of piracy.

Option six would be an international tribunal – analogous to existing “hybrid” tribunals – with national participation by a State in the region.

Option seven would be a full international tribunal, established by the Security Council acting under Chapter VII of the Charter.

Mr. Ban emphasized that achieving substantive results in combating piracy – whether through a new or existing judicial mechanism – will require political and financial commitment from Member States.

“We will need both to establish the mechanism and ensure that it has the capacity and resources to prosecute a large number of suspects, while ensuring due process,” he stated. “Furthermore, in considering the establishment of such a mechanism, a host State will need to be identified.

“This, in turn, will require adequate arrangements for transferring those convicted to third States for their imprisonment. This is particularly relevant given the large number of suspects apprehended at sea.”

To further explore these issues, the Secretary-General announced that he intends to appoint a Special Adviser on Legal Issues Related to Piracy off the Coast of Somalia.

UN Legal Counsel Patricia O’Brien noted a number of challenges associated with achieving and sustaining substantive results in the fight against piracy off the Somali coast.

These include the large number of suspects, the fact that any judicial mechanism would be addressing a symptom of the situation in Somalia, not its causes, and the lack of any defined completion date for the mechanism’s work.

“It is for these reasons that sufficient political and financial commitment by States would be necessary, not only to establish a new mechanism, but also to sustain it.”

The Council welcomed the report containing the possible options, and deemed it vital to find long-term solutions to the problem of prosecuting suspected, and imprisoning convicted, pirates.

“The Security Council strongly believes that persons responsible for acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea off the coast of Somalia, including those who incite or intentionally facilitate such acts, should be brought to justice,” the 15-member body said in a presidential statement adopted at today’s meeting.

Speakers at the meeting also stressed that effectively tackling piracy and armed robbery off the coast of Somalia will require a sustained response, not only at sea, but also on land where piracy originates.

Therefore, it is vital to support efforts to achieve peace and stability in Somalia, which continues to be plagued by fighting between Government forces and rebel groups, and remains the scene of one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world with 3.2 million people – more than 40 per cent of the population – in need of aid.


News Tracker: past stories on this issue

Ban lays out options for prosecuting pirates operating off Somali coast

Related Stories

More videos »


In-depth Interviews