The U.N. Security Council on Monday backed the idea of special courts to try captured Somali pirates but put off a decision on thorny details such as where to locate them.
A council resolution asked U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to report back within two months on how to prosecute suspects, widely seen as one of the weakest links in the international effort to combat the scourge of Somali piracy.
Pirates based in Somalia have turned the busy shipping lanes off the coast of the conflict-torn Horn of Africa nation into some of the most dangerous waters on Earth and cost the world billions of dollars.
As of last week, pirates were holding at least 29 vessels, ranging from fishing boats to tankers, holding their crews hostage and demanding multi-million-dollar ransoms.
International warships dispatched to tackle the problem have captured many pirates but 90 percent of them are then released because no place can be found to prosecute them, according to a U.N. special adviser on the issue, Jack Lang.
With Somalia lacking legal infrastructure, Kenya and the Seychelles have prosecuted dozens of suspects handed over by foreign navies. But both say they would have difficulties coping if all the seized pirates were sent to them.
In a report to the Security Council in January, Lang, a former French culture minister, recommended that specialized courts be set up in the enclaves of Somaliland and Puntland in northern Somalia, and at Arusha in Tanzania. The two enclaves are seen as more stable than Somalia proper.
Monday’s Russian-drafted resolution said the council “decides to urgently consider the establishment of specialized Somali courts to try suspected pirates both in Somalia and in the region, including an extra-territorial Somali specialized anti-piracy court.”
But diplomats said the request to Ban to submit another report effectively put off the decision. “We thought this needs a little bit more input,” one diplomat said.
Britain, in particular, had objected to the proposed use of the existing Arusha court, which tries war crimes suspects from the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, saying it needs all its facilities for its own purposes.
Diplomats have stressed that the proposed courts, which will use Somali law, will not be like the costly full-fledged U.N.-backed and funded international tribunals that try war crimes from Rwanda and former Yugoslavia.
Monday’s resolution also urged all countries to criminalize piracy, said the crime could be prosecuted anywhere no matter where it was committed, and called on states and organizations to fund prisons in Somaliland and Puntland to house pirates.