Heads of State and Government on Sunday, 03 July 2022, in Accra, Ghana, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) adopted the Supplementary Act on the Conditions of Transfer of Persons Suspected of Having Committed Acts of Piracy and Their Associated Property and / or Evidence for prosecution among member states. In a communique by the Authority, the adoption of the said Act was to further strengthen the gains made in securing the region’s maritime domain from acts of piracy.
Over the past decade, the Gulf of Guinea region has been at the epicenter of the global discussions on maritime security as a result of the incidents of piracy recorded in the region. In 2013, leaders of the members states of ECOWAS, the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and Gulf of Guinea Commission (GGC), responded to this threat by adopting the Yaoundé Code of Conduct to provide a framework to facilitate cooperation at the regional level to prevent and prosecute piracy and other illegal activities in the Gulf of Guinea waters. In line with this framework, several initiatives have been undertaken at the bilateral and multilateral levels to suppress piracy in the region’s maritime domain. Notwithstanding these efforts, several factors such as the absence of robust maritime legal frameworks in the Gulf of Guinea states to prosecute acts of piracy has immensely undermined these efforts. To date, only a few countries like Cabo Verde, Togo, Nigeria, Senegal, and Liberia have criminalized piracy and established universal jurisdiction in line with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) 1982, to prosecute acts of piracy. This situation invariably has accounted for the very few successful prosecutions in the region over the past decade, like the Hailufeng II and G Dona 1 piracy prosecutions recorded in Nigeria and Togo respectively.
In response to this challenge and to further strengthen regional cooperation, ECOWAS in partnership with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) developed the Supplementary Act on the Conditions of Transfer of Persons Suspected of Having Committed Acts of Piracy and their Associated Property and/or Evidence among ECOWAS members states, with support from the European Union (EU) through the project, “Support to West Africa Integrated Maritime Security (SWAIMS)”.
The Act serves to facilitate the transfer of piracy suspects and the associated property and/or evidence to member states with the appropriate legal framework to ensure ‘legal finish’ with the prosecution of piracy, while ensuring compliance with applicable international human rights law, including the treatment of suspected or transferred persons, as well the inclusion of provision on death penalty to safeguard that no transferred person or persons are subjected to death sentence for acts of piracy.
As a follow-up to the successful adoption of the Supplementary Act, ECOWAS and UNODC have initiated the process for the development of implementing arrangements, in the form of Standard Operating Procedures (SoPs), to ensure the successful implementation of the Act among member states. The SOPs will essentially cover three (3) aspects, the phase of the transfer process from the point after a positive decision by the sending state/arresting state to transfer persons suspected piracy, to the phase of pre-trial proceedings and lastly the phase of the main trial and appeal proceedings. As part of the process for the development of the SOPs, legal finish assessments of the criminal justice chain of some ECOWAS member states that have been identified as potential receiving states under this regional transfer agreement is being conducted.
ECOWAS and UNODC look forward to the continuing efforts to strengthen regional cooperation in response to piracy and other maritime crime.
In line with its Strategic Vision for Nigeria UNODC will continue to support the Nigerian Government in effectively combating maritime crime.