Thursday, June 3, 2010

Who Wants to Try the Captured Pirates? (No One)

By NICK WADHAMS / NAIROBI Nick Wadhams / Nairobi

After Kenya threatened in March to halt prosecution of Somali pirates unless wealthier countries ponied up the cash to pay for the trials, the European Union's foreign policy chief, Baroness Ashton, came to Nairobi to cut a deal. Kenya relented, and remains one of the few countries shouldering the burden of prosecuting the men accused of wreaking havoc with global shipping off the Horn of Africa. But Kenyan lawyers defending accused pirates tell TIME that they have not been paid for their work, and have no funding to collect evidence in their clients' defense.

"It seems that this is a game which the international community wants to play to show that these people were tried, but their intention is only to put these people in jail - it's a one-way ticket to jail," says Dickson Nyawinda, who has defended several accused pirates. "If you want people to be fairly tried, you pay lawyers to do that. Even the government, when it is trying those who are accused of murder, hire defense lawyers and pay those lawyers." (See pictures of the pirates of Somalia.)

In most Western countries, a public defender being denied the funds to mount a serious defense is grounds for a mistrial. Yet, according to Nyawinda, the countries whose warships hunt Somali pirates at sea and ask Kenya to try those they capture have shown no sign of being willing to fund trials that amount to anything more than political theater. "We have not received any payment and there's not even a promise to pay," Nyawinda complains. (See pictures of dramatic pirate-hostage rescues.)

The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, which oversees payments for the trials in Kenya and the Seychelles, says that's not true. The UNODC is paying for defense lawyers, says Alan Cole, head of the UNODC's Counter-Piracy Program in Nairobi, but only in cases when a suspect doesn't have access to one. Sometimes Somali piracy suspects hire lawyers but don't end up paying them, he says. "We only provide financing when the judge determines the client doesn't have a lawyer," Cole says.

The U.N. established a trust fund in January to help support anti-piracy initiatives, but in April announced it was releasing a paltry $2.1 million to support several them, including a public relations campaign aimed at persuading Somalis to give up piracy. In a country where a pirate can earn tens of thousands of dollars and would have few legitimate alternative job options, it was hardly surprising that Somalia's Deputy Prime Minister Abdulrahman Adan Ibrahim last month called the foreign fight against piracy a "waste of money."

The Western powers do not have many options available when it comes to dealing with pirate suspects. One captured pirate, Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse, was brought to New York City for trial, after taking part in the hijacking of the Maersk Alabama a year ago. That was the ship whose captain spent five days as a hostage in a lifeboat with Muse and three other pirates before U.S. snipers killed Muse's three cohorts. Muse pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 27 years in prison.

The Netherlands and Yemen have also conducted their own pirate trials, but few other countries have wanted to get involved, and Somalia's own judicial system is all but nonexistent. Russia, for example, boasted about its boldness after it deployed a commando team to free the Russian crew of a vessel hijacked in early May. The operation was successful, and Moscow initially promised to try the 10 pirates it had captured. But then the Russian Defense Ministry announced that it had freed the pirates because it didn't have the legal jurisdiction to try them.

"It is much easier to catch pirates than to decide what to do with them," Gen. Nikolai Y. Makarov, Russia's military chief of staff, told the Interfax news agency. Russia's solution: It put the suspects back in their small boat and set them adrift about 300 miles from shore. They had no supplies or navigation equipment, and almost certainly died.

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