Kenya cancels piracy trial deals

These four suspected Somali pirates were yesterday charged in a Mombasa court with hijacking nine Kenyan fishermen on board the boat mv Sherry. They have been denied bail October 1, 2010.

What you need to know:

Number of cases in the courts

  • Kenya is the only country in the region that has been trying pirates.
  • In June, there were 13 piracy cases in Kenya’s courts, only two of which have been concluded. The 18 pirates who were convicted were given sentences of seven to 20 years.
  • The remaining 11 cases involve more than 100 pirates.

Kenya has terminated agreements committing itself to try captured Somali pirates in its courts in bold defiance of diplomatic pressure from Western powers.

The Western powers have, in turn, launched last-ditch diplomatic efforts to save the accords, but President Kibaki is yet to bow to the pressure.

In a statement dated September 30, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it wished to “acknowledge that the MoUs (memoranda of understanding) will effectively terminate on 30th September, 2010”.

The move has been welcomed by Kenya’s political elite, who say Western countries have reneged on promises to assist the country deal with these bandits of the high seas.

Last year, the Kenyan government, represented by Foreign minister Moses Wetang’ula, signed MoUs on pirate captives with the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Denmark, Canada and China.

Under these pacts, Kenya agreed to accept pirates seized by foreign warships, and after due trial, jail them. In exchange for this commitment, Western countries pledged to assist Kenya with this task.

Mr Adan Keynan, chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Foreign Relations, said he is not alone in welcoming the end of the pirate accords.

“What we do know is that the agreement between Kenya and a number of partner states in the fight against pirates comes to an end on the 30th of September,” he said.

“Arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating pirates here exposes Kenya to these very serious security challenges,” Mr Keynan told the Daily Nation. “It’s not in the interest of Kenyans to try Somali pirates here.”

Accept captured pirates

In June, the parliamentary committee released a report criticising the government’s decision to accept captured pirates.

“The prosecution and incarceration of the pirates in Mombasa poses a serious security threat to Kenya,” the report says. “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs proceeded to conduct... the six MoUs in total disregard for the security concerns of the country.”

The report says dealing with pirates “has exacerbated the backlog of cases at the courts in Mombasa”, driven up costs because suspects must be provided with lawyers and translators and drained the capacity of the Public Prosecutions Department.

In addition, the report says, keeping Somali pirates in Kenyan jails has led to “indoctrination” of the local prison population.

“The committee, after extensive deliberations recommends that the government should not accept any more pirates for prosecution in the country, withdraws and terminates with immediate effect the implementation of the six MoUs,” the report, which was passed with unanimous support, reads. The government later set the September 30 expiry date for the agreements.

Kenyan politicians claim their foreign partners have not kept their side of the bargain by providing enough money, as well as judicial and technical support, as they pledged to do.

Canadian High Commissioner David Collins said on Wednesday that Western powers have been pressuring Kenya to reconsider its decision.

“We, along with like-minded countries, are working very closely with the Kenyan Government to try and renew the MoUs,” he said.