UN crime prevention chief pledges enhanced cooperation in Somalia

On a mission to the Horn of Africa nation, Executive Director Waly underscored on Friday that “Somalia faces daunting challenges that range from terrorism to resurgent piracy, poverty and the consequences of climate change.”

A complicated crisis

Speaking to UN News in Mogadishu, Ms. Waly said interlinked threats included piracy, illegal fishing, different types of trafficking and smuggling, together with terrorism: all underpinned by money laundering and corruption.

These threats also have an impact far beyond Somalia. Firearms trafficking across the Gulf of Aden supplies Al-Shabaab and other terrorist groups, while migrant smugglers operating along Somalia’s northern coast transfer people towards the Arabian Peninsula. 

At the same time, unregulated foreign fishing fleets are exploiting Somalia’s marine resources, threatening biodiversity and livelihoods in the Indian Ocean.

Mogadishu coast, Somalia.

Mogadishu coast, Somalia.

Drug trafficking could also be an expanding threat, Ms. Waly added, due to the difficulty of policing Somalia’s long coastline and the country’s connectivity in terms of air travel. 

Resilience and the rule of law

The 2013 attack on the Banadir Court Complex in Mogadishu by the militant group Al-Shabaab stands as a sombre example of these challenges. The 30 deaths, multiple casualties, and damage to the facility struck “a heavy blow to the justice sector of Somalia,” Ms. Waly noted. 

Judges and prosecutors had fallen victim to terrorist attacks.

Improving the rule of law – important for any government – becomes even more crucial in a country confronting terrorism, organized crime, and corruption, which is why Somalia and UNODC have been working together to establish the Mogadishu Prison Court Complex (MPCC).

Mogadishu prison and court complex.

Mogadishu prison and court complex.

Conceived, designed, and delivered by UNODC, the establishment of the MPCC was a direct response to the attack on the Banadir Court Complex, and stands as an example of the strong and enduring partnership between the United Nations and the Government of Somalia.

In Mogadishu to inaugurate the MPCC, Ms. Waly noted that the complex is now “a centre for the administration of justice, with two courtrooms, three prison blocks with a capacity of 700 beds, and accommodation for judges to reduce the need for road travel during a trial

It provides a secure environment for the judiciary and a humane setting for prisoners, fostering rehabilitation and long-term security.”

It is the latest in a series of construction and renovation projects supported by UNODC to help bolster Somalia’s legal and correctional infrastructure. 

Since 2010, UNODC has constructed new prisons, renovated existing prison facilities, and erected Ministry of Justice buildings and other security sector facilities in Mogadishu, Bosasso, Garowe, and Hargeisa.

Preventing piracy

Promoting the rule of law does not stop at Somalia’s land borders, however. Piracy off the coast of Somalia had been a threat with global consequences for years, Ms. Waly told UN News, until a recent decline.

But geopolitical tensions in the Red Sea have escalated insecurity and affected shipping routes, with an estimated 50 per cent decrease in trade vessels passing through the Gulf of Aden due to Houthi rebel attacks from Yemen, which the rebel movement says are in solidarity with Gaza. 

Pirates, sensing the international community’s diverted attention, have increased operations with increased impunity along the Somali coast. 

A Somali coast guard crew member at the launch of a patrol boat near Mogadishu.

A Somali coast guard crew member at the launch of a patrol boat near Mogadishu.

Since November 2023, pirates have hijacked dhows (a traditional sailing boat used in the region) and used the boats to carry out command-and-control attacks against larger vessels.

“These challenges pose a direct risk to international peace and security, endanger the lives of seafarers, and disrupting trade routes that many countries rely on for economic stability, food security, and sustainable development,” Ms. Waly warned. 

To increase maritime security in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, UNODC is training law enforcement officers on how to detect, interdict, and prosecute illicit trafficking and maritime crimes.

UNODC is also providing essential marine communications and maritime equipment to support law enforcement. In Mogadishu, for instance, Ms. Waly officially handed over a refurbished patrol vessel and communications equipment to the Somali Police Coast Guard.

A coast guard patrol boat is launched near Mogadishu in Somalia.

A coast guard patrol boat is launched near Mogadishu in Somalia.

Through these and other efforts, Ms. Waly said, UNODC is helping Somalia improve its operational capabilities and legal framework for prosecuting piracy, while enhancing collaboration on maritime security in the region.

Ms. Waly reiterated UNODC’s commitment to continue and expand its work in Somalia. “Today, we write another chapter in Somalia’s story of resilience and hope, for a future where every Somali citizen can live in peace, security, and dignity.”

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