February 24, 2012
Somaliland lawmakers passed anti-piracy and extradition laws on Tuesday (February 21st) that give the autonomous region a legal framework to prosecute and jail pirates.
The move comes days after a cargo ship headed for the port of Berbera was hijacked by pirates off the waters of Oman. The ship was carrying goods valued at $1.5 million and a crew of 14 Indians and two Somalis. It was redirected to coast of Bargal near Bossaso, according to Ahmed Sayid Mohamed Mireh, the ship's agent in Berbera.
"The ship left the port of Dubai on the 10th this month and we had no information about it until Thursday but we learnt of its kidnapping on Sunday," Mireh told Sabahi. He said negotiations with pirates via local elders are in place to "solve the impasse".
According to briefing presented to the United Nations Security Council last year, 90% of pirates captured are often released because no state was prepared to accept them or prosecute them. In a letter to the UN Security Council in 2011, Jack Lang, special adviser to the secretary-general on legal issues related to piracy off the coast of Somalia, proposed "setting up two specialised jurisdictions in Puntland and Somaliland to try pirates and two prisons there to hold them".
The Somaliland legislations were introduced for debate in parliament on Saturday in a session attended by 50 members out of 82. Parliament speaker Abdirahman Mohamed Abdullahi, who presided over the meeting, said the anti-piracy law 52/2012 was passed with 46 votes.
Provisions in the new anti-piracy law include the construction of a detention centre designated for inmates charged in piracy cases. It also defines piracy as a crime in Somaliland, allowing authorities to charge pirates.
Lawmakers also voted on law 53/2012, which covers the extradition and exchange of prisoners. Abdullahi said the law passed with 31 votes, while five voted against it and 12 members abstained.
"These two laws are very important to our country and that's why the lower house passed them," Abdullahi said.
The laws are awaiting a vote by the upper house and will be enacted upon following President Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo's signature.
Somaliland parliamentarian Mohamed Jama said passing the laws is a positive step for Somaliland.
"This is crucial legislation to Somaliland," he told Sabahi, adding that the provision to build a new jail will provide ample space to hold prisoners charged in piracy cases.
The vote on the anti-piracy and extradition bills was expedited ahead of the London conference on Somalia to indicate to the international community that Somaliland can play an important role in the fight against piracy, Said Yasin Jama Alase, a professor at the University of Hargeisa, told Sabahi.
The expedited voting was done to "show the successes the Somaliland government has achieved in the fight against piracy," he said.
Earlier this month, members of parliament passed a resolution to allow representatives from Somaliland to attend the international conference on Somalia in London that opened Thursday. Silanyo, who led the delegation, said Somaliland would only participate in discussions pertaining to security and the fight against piracy in the Horn of Africa.
Alase said the anti-piracy bill demonstrates that Somaliland can tackle piracy through legal means.
"It could lead to Somaliland receiving financial help in support of the provisions in the bill to build designated jails for pirates prosecuted in Somaliland, and those transferred from other countries," Alase said.
Members who voted against the extradition law said the legislation was put to a vote too quickly.
The extradition of prisoners should have been debated further, according to parliamentarians Said Elmi Roble, Mohamed Salah Egeh and Saleban Awad Ali, who spoke to reporters after the vote.
In London, Seychelles President James Michel and President Silanyo discussed the transfer of convicted Somali pirates currently in prison in Seychelles to Somaliland, the Seychelles government announced on Thursday.
The two leaders signed a joint statement confirming their concern about the impact piracy has in the region and on international security.
"This commitment between the Seychelles and Somaliland represents an important step forward in the development of a sustainable regional justice mechanism, that will see suspected pirates apprehended by naval forces at sea, prosecuted by regional states, and if convicted, imprisoned in the region," Michel and Silanyo said in the statement.
The leaders agreed to transfer of 19 convicted pirates from Seychelles to Somaliland by the end of March, based on Somaliland's prison capacity for dealing with pirate transfers.
"Somaliland is an important partner in the fight against piracy as it remains a pirate-free area of stability," Michel said. "We commend the Somaliland government for achieving this stability and for its efforts to share the burden of incarcerating the pirates."
The agreement comes days after British Foreign Secretary William Hague announced that an internationally-backed anti-piracy centre will open this fall in the Seychelles.
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