UN: Donors to spend $9.3 million to prosecute Somali piracy suspects in Kenya, Seychelles

By Tom Maliti, AP
Tuesday, June 15, 2010

UN: Donors to give $9.3M on Somali piracy cases

NAIROBI, Kenya — Donors will spend $9.3 million to help Kenya and Seychelles prosecute suspected Somali pirates and improve those countries’ criminal justice systems, a U.N. official said Tuesday.

Although a coalition of international navies spends millions of dollars each year to patrol the pirate-infested passageway along Somalia’s coast, the U.N. drug agency’s Alan Cole said the money will help cash-strapped countries like Kenya follow through on seeking justice for suspected pirates.

Earlier this year Kenya said it would stop accepting new piracy suspects captured by naval forces patrolling the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden where Somali pirates have been hijacking vessels.

Kenya holds the second-largest number of piracy suspects awaiting trial and had said the cases are putting a strain on its already over-stretched, poorly equipped and corrupt criminal justice system. Upon receiving assurances from the European Union in May, Kenya said it would resume taking on new piracy cases.

Cole, who heads the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime’s counter-piracy program in East Africa, said the funding covers the costs of bringing witnesses from around the world for piracy trials.

It also goes to better equip police and prosecutors, and to upgrade courts and prisons in Kenya and Seychelles, Cole said. The agency is managing the funds that will cover the next 18 months of work. It has been running its counter-piracy program since May 2009.

Cole said this is the first anti-piracy program the agency is involved in.

“We are all in — if you’ll excuse the pun — uncharted waters. The experience so far has been very positive,” said Cole.

The European Union is the largest donor to the program, with Australia, Canada, France, Germany and the U.S. also contributing. A U.N.-administered fund created in September to finance such programs is also contributing money.

Cole said that trials in Kenya take about the same amount of time — 12 to 18 months — as similar cases being prosecuted in Europe, despite a backlog in Kenyan courts.

Kenya is holding 123 piracy suspects for trial. Another 18 suspects have been convicted and sentenced in Kenya, Cole said.

In total there are 540 Somali piracy suspects being held in 10 countries, said Cole. Somalia’s semiautonomous region of Puntland holds the largest number, more than 200 of them, he said.

Somalia has been mired in anarchy and chaos since 1991, and the lawlessness has allowed piracy to thrive off its Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden coastlines. Somali pirates are able to make multimillion dollar ransoms from their hijackings. The brigands are currently holding at least 19 vessels and several hundred crew members.

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