The breakaway region of Somaliland has officially opened a maximum security prison, built with United Nations funding, to hold Somali pirates.
On Tuesday the Hargeisa pirate prison was officially opened in Somaliland’s capital. It can hold 460 people and currently houses 297 prisoners, 88 of whom are convicted pirates, ABC News reports.
Although the prison was officially opened this week, prisoners began to arrive in November last year. However, only pirates picked up by the Somali Coast Guard and tried in local courts have been imprisoned, as the facility is not yet accepting pirates captured by foreign countries.
Yury Fedotov, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which oversees anti-piracy efforts, met with the President of Somaliland, Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud and Minister of Justice Ismail Aar to discuss the UNODC’s counter-piracy work in Somalia.
“Critical to the success of fighting piracy is ensuring that judicial provisions on land are in place,” Fedotov said. “UNODC are working with the Somaliland authorities in their judicial reform process and prosecution services in a bid to step up responses to what is clearly a scourge both to maritime trade and travel and to local development.”
Fedotov said the Hargeisa prison “meets international standards,” and “could be a model not just for Somaliland, but for the whole region.”
More than 200 prison staff received several weeks of training from foreign exports and will be assisted by the United Nations, which has sent two staff members to the prison. Prisoners are able to engage in rehabilitation schemes that aim to provide sewing, welding, woodworking, reading and writing skills.
“The shift in approach by authorities to supplement incarceration with skills-development and rehabilitation is critical,” Fedotov said. “This level of prison reform will assist in tackling the long-term goal of dealing with piracy and UNODC are glad to be able to be part of this process.”
The Hargeisa facility is one of several prisons built to deter pirates and is the first newly renovated facility in the area in the last 50 years, the UN says. It was refurbished by the UN at a cost of around US$1.5 million.
The UN has also initiated similar programmes in neighbouring Puntland and Somalia and plans to build two 500 capacity prisons over the next few years. One will be in Garowe, the capital of Puntland, according to China Post. In addition, the UN is building a 60 capacity prison in the Seychelles.
The UN estimates there are 350 suspected and convicted pirates being held in Somaliland and Puntland. However, prison conditions in Puntland are much worse than in Hargeisa, as officials there have had to release low level criminals to make room for pirates in the overcrowded prison in Bosasso, China Post reports.
Cases of piracy have risen dramatically over the last several years – between 2000 and 2007 there were 26 acts of piracy a year off the Somali coast, but 111 were recorded in 2008 and more than 400 occurred in 2009 and 2010. Last year 790 crewmembers were taken hostage.
However, foreign governments have been reluctant to incarcerate pirates themselves, and often release pirates after catching them. This has been the main driving factor behind the creation of the Somali prison. “The transfer issue has not yet been accepted,” Aar said. He added that only Somaliland nationals would be transferred to the Somaliland prison. “Each territory should prosecute its own pirates.”
“We accept all Somalilanders in the world, but we don’t accept non-Somalilanders. We don’t have the capacity. We don’t see them as nationals,” he said.
17 countries are prosecuting pirates, and have convicted 950, including the United States, which this month sentenced five pirates to life in prison. However most nations would prefer to hand the problem over to Somalia. Earlier attempts at using Kenya to prosecute and hold pirates bogged down when a Kenyan court ruled against prosecuting more pirates brought in by foreign countries.
Somali pirates are currently holding 28 hijacked ships and 576 crewmembers, according to the International Maritime Bureau.