May 25, 2010 | Commentary

Somalia’s autonomous but internationally unrecognized region of Puntland was scarcely known in the West until it became the global centre of maritime piracy in the middle of the last decade. Efforts to counter piracy in the vital shipping routes along the Somali coastline have largely focused on the establishment of an internationally-patrolled shipping corridor. However, the international naval force has not been able to put an end to pirate attacks. Roger Middleton, a piracy expert at the Chatham House think tank in London says this is because “the pirates have packed up and moved much deeper into the Indian Ocean, which is just an enormous area. With the 30 or 40 ships available to the international naval force it is just not possible to police it properly.”

If Somali piracy is to be properly addressed, there is a growing recognition that it must be tackled on land as well as by sea. Support for Somalia’s two autonomous regions, Puntland and Somaliland, is therefore essential. Puntland’s administration, led by President Abdirahman Mohamed Farole, has vowed to tackle the pervasive piracy problem, including cracking down on corrupt local authorities. However, the Puntland government has an annual budget of only US$15-$30 million, derived mostly from port taxes. The Farole government has pleaded with the international community for more support for Puntland’s nascent security sector reform (SSR) program, with little success, perhaps owing to persistent rumours that Farole’s family has directly or indirectly profited from piracy.

The situation may now be changing, however. The Puntland government is receiving assistance from private companies, bilaterial partners, and international organizations for programs to train law enforcement and security forces, a kind of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) program for pirates, and—critically—support for justice reform initiatives.

According to the Puntland state government, Threat Management Group (TMG) of Agility (Kuwait-based), a private security company, will partner with the government and provide security consulting services and training for the government law enforcement and security forces.

Efforts have also focused on reintegrating former pirates and providing them with livelihoods. Puntland is being supported by Norwegian Church AID (NCA) after the organization submitted a proposal to the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The project, Alternative Livelihoods to Piracy, aims to promote awareness of the negative effects of piracy as well as provide improved livelihoods for 1,200 ex-pirates. NCA Somalia, the implementing agency of this multi-million dollar project, is partnered with the Ministry of Justice, Religious Affairs and Rehabilitation of Puntland. Local authorities have also offered general amnesty to those that renounce piracy.

Along the same lines, the Puntland government is hoping that a social reform campaign can complement this “DDR” program. In April 2010 the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia signed a memorandum of understanding with Puntland on counter-piracy cooperation. The agreement stipulates that the two sides will “strengthen law and order in the mainland and at sea, re-establish and maintain the Somali navy to fight piracy (with its headquarters in Puntland), create opportunities for the jobless and specifically those living along the coastline…and sensitize the public against the dangers of piracy in order to end the menace.”

Strategies include engaging community leaders, traditional elders and Islamic scholars, as well as ex-pirates and the media to discourage new recruits and convince pirates to quit, and compelling the bulk of the pirates activates to shift elsewhere, away from their habitual safe havens such as Eyl.

In April 2009, Puntland security forces began to launch raids on pirate bases, resulting in the detention of over 200 pirates and the capture of 21 boats, eight vehicles and large quantity of arms and ammunition. Puntland’s regional authorities have developed a basic coast guard, but accounts suggest that the equipment and capabilities of this small force remain very limited.

These arrests have underscored the need to address a persistent problem in anti-piracy campaigns; namely the lack of legal institutions to try offenders in Puntland. In April 2009 UNODC started a Counter-Piracy Programme providing targeted support and capacity building to regional countries who agree to undertake piracy prosecutions. The programme seeks to ensure the trials and detentions are fair, humane and efficient, and take place within a sound rule of law framework. UNODC is also providing technical support to Somalia through the improvement of prisons in Puntland and Somaliland to allow for the transfer of convicted pirates back to Somalia; and through prosecutorial support and by improving Somalia’s basic legal and institutional structures in order to investigate, prosecute and detain suspected pirates in line with international standards.

In April 2010, a UN trust fund set up as part of the fight against maritime piracy announced that they would support four programs attempting to improve justice administration in Puntland and the broader region. It unveiled US$2.1 million in funding after a meeting at UN Headquarters in New York focused largely on efforts to prosecute piracy suspects. As Lynn Pascoe, UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs and chair of the trust fund, said “Prosecuting suspected pirates is an important piece of the international strategy to combat the problem.”

The four projects supported by the trust fund will help strengthen institutions in the Seychelles, Puntland and Somaliland by mentoring prosecutors and police, building and renovating prisons, reviewing domestic laws in piracy and increasing the capacity of local courts.

On May 21-23 the UN conference on Somalia took place in Istanbul to address threats to Somalia’s security and stability. Representatives of 55 nations and 12 intergovernmental organizations took part, with many calling for an international court to try pirates, just days before the Europe’s first trial of suspected pirates opened in the Netherlands. The Puntland administration will be represented but it remains to be seen whether they will receive any further international support.