U.N. envoy proposes piracy courts in Somali enclaves

UNITED NATIONS Tue Jan 25, 2011 3:23pm EST

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UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A U.N. envoy proposed on Tuesday special courts be set up rapidly in the Somali enclaves of Somaliland and Puntland, and in Tanzania, to try captured pirates who are costing the world billions of dollars.

Pirates based in Somalia have turned the busy shipping lanes off the coast of the lawless Horn of Africa nation into some of the most dangerous waters on earth.

"Pirates are becoming the masters of the Indian Ocean," the envoy, Jack Lang, told the U.N. Security Council.

Many pirates are captured by international warships trying to combat the scourge but 90 percent of them are then released because no place can be found to prosecute them, Lang said.

With conflict-torn Somalia lacking the legal infrastructure to try pirates, Kenya and the Seychelles have prosecuted dozens of suspects handed over by foreign navies. But both have said they would have difficulties coping if all the seized pirates were sent to them.

Lang, special adviser to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Somali piracy, recommended specialized courts be set up within eight months in Somaliland and Puntland in northern Somalia, and at Arusha in Tanzania. They would use Somali law.

In a report to the Security Council, Lang put the cost of the project at less than $25 million over three years. The funding could be provided by a special donors' conference.

The breakaway enclave of Somaliland and semi-autonomous Puntland, itself a center of piracy, are seen as relatively stable compared with Somalia proper, where a weak interim government is battling Islamist insurgents.

Arusha is now the site of a U.N.-backed tribunal that tries suspects from Rwanda's 1994 genocide. Lang, a former French culture minister, proposed the same facilities be used to try suspected Somali pirates.

PIRATE ECONOMY

Lang also recommended two special prisons be built, one in Somaliland and one in Puntland, with capacity of 500 prisoners each, with a third to be built in Puntland soon afterward.

Any such project will have to be authorized by the Security Council, which took no immediate decision after listening to Lang's oral presentation at a meeting on Tuesday.

Researchers reported earlier this month that maritime piracy costs the global economy between $7 billion and $12 billion a year, including higher insurance rates, with Somali pirates responsible for 95 percent of the cost.

The highest ransom on record for a single vessel is $9.5 million. There are now some 30 ships, ranging from fishing boats to bulk carriers, held by Somali pirates.

Lang told the council the problem was worsening.

"The pirate economy ... is having a destabilizing effect on Somalia and the entire region owing to rising prices, insecurity of energy supplies and loss of revenue," his report said.

The number of victims was rising, it said, with 1,900 people taken hostage since the end of 2008.

Lang also proposed all countries should make piracy a criminal offense and impose universal jurisdiction for it, meaning they could prosecute pirates whatever their nationality and wherever the offense took place.

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said Washington "would support further consideration" of the report's ideas but also favored trials being held by Somalia's neighbors.

British envoy Philip Parham said Somali courts and prisons were "the best long-term solution" but the Arusha court would need its facilities for Rwanda trials for the foreseeable future.

(Editing by John O'Callaghan)

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