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Piracy off the Horn of Africa Underscores the Need for a Comprehensive Effort on the Part of the International Community to Restore Order in Somalia

Piracy is not a new phenomenon. It has existed for probably as long as sailing itself. While it was largely believed to be something of the past, it has made a notorious comeback in the last decade or so. Piracy is a domestic crime, besides being a crime under the law of nations attracting universal jurisdiction. From the kidnapping of Julius Caesar, in 75 B.C., to nowadays piracy has been rather disruptive at times, especially with regard to commercial shipping and freedom of navigation. Obviously, in the case at hand, Somalia’s extreme poverty and the lack of an effective central government make it an ideal breeding ground for piracy.

The US, together with France, Britain and other European nations have co-authored U.N. resolutions authorizing the use of force to combat Somali pirates. And France, Britain, Germany, Portugal, Spain and the Netherlands have all contributed ships alongside the U.S. to the Combined Task Force, whose mission includes preventing piracy off the Horn of Africa. The Russian Federation, China, India and Japan have also sent their warships in that area. However, despite their presence there have already been 74 attacks and 15 hijackings in 2009, compared with 111 attacks last year. And there are more than 200 international sailors currently being held captive on the seas. A sizeable international armada of warships is policing the waters off the coast of Somalia. But is that enough to stop piracy off the Horn of Africa?

The Transitional Government of Somalia in a letter to the President of the Council – requested international assistance in its efforts to address the acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships off the coast of Somalia. In a Chapter VII Resolution, unanimously adopted, the Security Council decided that the States cooperating with the country’s transitional Government would be allowed, for a period of six months, to enter the territorial waters of Somalia and use “all necessary means” to repress acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea, in a manner consistent with relevant provisions of international law. Further, Resolution1816 (2008) of 2 June 2008 called upon States to cooperate in determining jurisdiction, and in the investigation and prosecution of persons responsible for acts of piracy and armed robbery off the coast of Somalia, consistent with applicable international law including international human rights law (See also Resolutions 1814 (2008), 1838 (2008) , 1844 (2008),  1846 (2008), 1851 (2008)). The situation in Somalia was addressed in a more comprehensive way by the Security Council in Resolution 1863 (2009) of 16 January 2009. Among others, in this resolution the Security Council expressed its intent to establish a United Nations Peacekeeping Operation in Somalia as a follow-on force to AMISOM, subject to a further decision of the Security Council by 1 June 2009.

Seemingly, the 21st century’s threats to peace and security are more likely to come from failed states and their desperate young men, rather than modern militaries boasting flotillas of warships, formations of tanks and fleets of aircraft. It is to be hoped that a comprehensive effort of the international community, based on the political solution to the crisis in Somalia resulting in the end of armed confrontation between warring factions there, economic assistance and UN and African peace-keeping forces on the ground, will finally bring Somalia back on its feet and put an end to piracy. Until then, unfortunately, acts of piracy will continue unabated in that part of the world.

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