French trial of Somali pirates opens in Paris

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Six Somali pirates captured by French commandos in 2008 went on trial in Paris for their role in the hijacking of a yacht in the Gulf of Aden that year and the kidnapping of two French citizens.

The trial is the first of four to be held in France in a bid to increase the number of Somali pirates brought to justice and tackle a problem that has turned the waters off the Horn of Africa into some of the most perilous in the world.

Piracy is rife in the waters off Somalia, with the international community powerless to act, Reuters reports.

A total of 243 hostages and 10 vessels are being held for multi-million-dollar ransoms, according to figures from EU Navfor, the European Union’s anti-piracy task force.

Former U.N. special adviser on piracy, Jack Lang, said some 90 percent of captured pirates are being released because there is no place to prosecute them.

Somalia lacks the legal infrastructure, while other countries have refused to take charge of prisoners as their justice system is already overflowing.
“We have to fight against this sense of impunity,” Lang, a former French culture minister, told Reuters.
“The pirates need to know that if they are captured, they will be tried,” he said.

The six men on trial in Paris, aged 21 to 36, face life imprisonment for attacking the yacht Carre d’As in September 2008, and holding Jean-Yves Delanne and wife Bernadette for ransom for ten days until they were freed by French commandos. The trial is expected to last until early December.

The pirates had originally demanded a ransom of $4 million, but subsequently lowered their price to $2 million, and called for the release of six other pirates held in Paris.

OTHERS ON TRIAL

A total of 22 Somali pirates are awaiting trial in France, charged with attacks on French ships near the Horn of Africa.

Of those on trial on Tuesday, some have confessed to the crime. Others say they were forced to carry out the hijacking by criminal gangs that have sprung up in Somalia after 20 years of civil war that has brought widespread lawlessness.
“In Somalia, residents have behind them a desert of stones, and in front of them a sea pillaged by factory-ships and polluted by all sorts of rubbish. There is no longer any state. They know they are doing something wrong but they have no other choice,” defence lawyer Gustave Charvet told Reuters.

The powerlessness of the international community to stop the attacks often stems from its inability to bring the culprits to justice even after capture.

The EU Navfor figures show that 165 attempted attacks have taken place this year, with 24 actually resulting in the hijacking of a vessel.

Only 56 pirates have so far been convicted, the last 11 in a trial in the Seychelles, while 55 are awaiting trial, EU Navfor said.

Countries such as Kenya and the Seychelles have made considerable efforts to bring the culprits to trial. In October, following a spate of kidnappings of foreigners on its soil, Kenya launched an attack on southern Somalia to try to secure its porous borders from al-Qaeda-linked Shabaab rebels.

But Lang, whose mandate as special adviser ended in May, said the U.N. Security Council now needed to press ahead with implementing its April resolution calling for the creation of special courts to try captured Somali pirates.

In a report to the Security Council in January, Lang recommended that specialised courts be set up in the enclaves of Somaliland and Puntiland in northern Somalia and at Arusha in Tanzania, which are seen as more stable than Somalia proper.



Speaking on Tuesday, he said he had recently urged U.N. Secretary General Ban ki-Moon to appoint a high commissioner charged with the fight against piracy to mobilise the international community and apply the U.N. resolution.
“Only a Somalian solution, implemented as part of an international agreement, can really ensure that pirates are prosecuted more effectively,” he said.