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Somalia: Special Courts and Anti-Piracy Law Proposed

(Jan. 27, 2011) On January 25, 2011, the United Nations special envoy on maritime piracy off the coast of Somalia put forward a proposal for the establishment of special courts to try piracy cases (Somalia: UN Envoy Proposes Special Courts to Try Suspected Pirates, UN NEWS SERVICE (Jan. 25, 2011), The proposal envisages the creation of two courts in Somalia and one court with extra-territorial jurisdiction in Tanzania. In his report to the Security Council, Jack Lang, the Special Advisor on Legal Issues Related to Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, emphasized that the ultimate goal is “Somalization” of mechanisms put in place for dealing with piracy, including by strengthening the Somali criminal justice system. However, in the meantime, in light of the ever increasing dangers that pirates pose in the Indian Ocean, some immediate measures, including the establishment of the three new courts, are appropriate, Lang stated. (Id.)

The proposal, said to be the result of consultations with 50 states, international organizations, companies, and research groups, also outlines related logistics. It calls for training judges, prosecutors, and prison guards in order for the proposed courts to be able to function properly. In addition, it calls for improving methods of gathering evidence, including forensic evidence. The report stated that the cost of the proposal will be an estimated US$25 million, which should be borne by the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union, and other international organizations.

Meanwhile, the Somali Parliament is considering a controversial anti-piracy bill, which the Minister of Justice proposed to the legislature on January 17, 2011, for floor action (Somalia: Parliament Discusses Piracy Related Laws, SHABELLE MEDIA NETWORK (Mogadishu) (Jan. 18, 2011), This bill, among other measures, criminalizes piracy and seeks to impose fines ranging from US$50,000-500,000 and prison terms of 5 to 20 years on individuals convicted of the crime (Somalia Anti-Piracy Law: MPs Block Law Banning 'Heroes', BBC NEWS (Jan. 20, 2011),

Many members of Parliament opposed the bill in its initial form, forcing its revision. The opposition to the bill varied, depending on the differing perceptions of the MPs on the issue of piracy and the role of the Parliament. Some members who see the pirates as individuals who serve a function of protecting the Somali territorial waters from illegal incursion by foreigners argued that it was inappropriate to enact a law to prosecute them (Somali Parliament Blocks Piracy Bill, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE (Jan. 19, 2011), Others argued that the penalties envisaged by the proposed bill are unacceptable because they are not based on Shari'a law (id.). Some even questioned the authority of the Parliament to legislate on the matter (BBC NEWS, supra). In the end, the Vice-President of Parliament was forced to instruct the 15-member Justice Committee to make appropriate changes, among which is expected to be the outlawing of foreign fishing in Somalia's waters, before adjourning the session (id.).