African Legal Experts from 20 Nations Collaborate on Maritime Law Initiatives

Regional and international cooperation is critical in the development and enforcement of legal measures to combat maritime crimes off the coast of Africa, according to legal experts at a three-day conference in Balaclava, Mauritius, May 1-5,



By Danielle Skinner U.S. AFRICOM Public Affairs BALACLAVA, Mauritius May 03, 2011
Regional and international cooperation is critical in the development and enforcement of legal measures to combat maritime crimes off the coast of Africa, according to legal experts at a three-day conference in Balaclava, Mauritius, May 1-5, 2011.

U.S. Africa Command hosted its second annual African Military Legal Conference as a forum for Africans to discuss legal challenges and initiatives in collaboration with their regional partners. Approximately 50 lawyers and legal experts from 20 African nations, along with representatives from the United States, Europe, and interagency organizations, participated in the event.

Colonel Jon J. Lightner, director of U.S. AFRICOM's Office of Legal Counsel, told participants during his opening remarks that combating maritime crime is of critical importance, not just at the national and regional levels but on the global scale as well.

"It's not just about piracy, it's about illegal trafficking of all sorts--human, narcotics, weapons, as well as illegal fishing," Lightner said. "The criminal element we are dealing with is bold, creative, vicious, and adaptive."

He illustrated the severity of the problem by explaining that piracy is growing in terms of numbers, areas of operation, average ransoms paid, ransomed personnel held, and lives lost.

Many people are attracted to the act of piracy because it is seen as a lucrative business with minimal consequences. They generally come from ungoverned countries and those with weak economies, such as Somalia, which lacks a national legal structure to deal with the problem.

UK Army Lieutenant Colonel Nigel Moreland, legal advisor to NATO for counter-piracy, explained that many pirates are former fishermen who were drawn to piracy because they could no longer support their families. Illegal fishing, another major maritime crime, is devastating to the economies of coastal nations, depleting fish stock and causing loss of jobs, which then leads to increased piracy.

Moreland said that this issue has been compounded by increases in the absence of rule of law and with the growing awareness that piracy is a lucrative activity.
"When I say piracy pays, it pays a lot. It pays a lot of money for a pretty insignificant investment on the part of those individuals who are practicing piracy."

According to several of the presenters, piracy and other maritime crimes will continue growing until measures are taken to deter these illegal activities. A critical aspect of this effort centers on coordinating a regional and international legal response, which includes prosecution and appropriate punishment of the criminals.

The conference aims to promote better regional and international coordination through discussion and understanding of legal and operational processes (such as detection, monitoring, boarding, search, seizure, evidence collection, and prosecution).

The first day featured a series of presentations focusing on the response of international legal systems to maritime crimes, including a keynote address by UK Royal Navy Commodore Neil Brown, Oxford Fellow.

"The international legal framework, which addresses piracy and every other element of maritime security, is clear. We haven't been suffering from a lack of law. We're suffering, if anything, from a lack of implementation and a lack of capacity," Brown stated.

He added that the solution should be an international and interagency approach to help the coastal nations build their capacity.

"The key lesson for the international community from the progress that's been made in the Horn of Africa is to recognize that this moment is only an example of what can be achieved more widely. For every type of crime at sea, the answer is the same. The answer is about preparing nation states to act themselves and to act collaboratively," he said.

During the second part of the day, a panel of African legal experts from Cameroon, Kenya, and Seychelles, talked about their national legal systems and challenges.

Kenya, because of its geographic location next to Somalia, faces many maritime threats such as piracy, oil spills, and trafficking, said Nancy Gatwiri Kairaria, a legal officer from the Kenya Maritime Authority. Known as the premier gateway to East and Central Africa, the Port of Mombasa is Kenya's only deepwater port and links Kenya to Uganda, Rwanda, Southern Sudan, among other land-locked countries. Because so many countries rely on Kenya for trade, assuring maritime security is a regional priority.

Kairaria said that the way forward for Kenya in terms of piracy prosecution involves training on Kenya's maritime law for judicial officers, judges, and lawyers combined with the enactment of local law for maritime crimes.

Throughout the rest of the week, participants will continue learning about legal frameworks in various African nations, followed by small group discussions on regional and bilateral cooperation.

This event was the second annual military legal conference conducted by U.S. Africa Command. The first legal conference was hosted in Accra, Ghana in May 2010.
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