New York, Jun 27 : The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and Kenya, the country currently holding the highest number of piracy suspects, have opened a new high-security courtroom to try suspects in the port town of Mombasa.
"Kenya has taken on a heavy burden in dealing with a crime that affects the entire international community," said John Sandage, Officer-in-Charge of UNODC's Division of Treaty Affairs on Saturday.
"Today's event is a recognition of their commitment and a demonstration of solidarity from the international community," he said.
The new courtroom -- intended to increase trial efficiency in the system and provide a secure, modern environment suitable for piracy cases -- was built by UNODC's Counter-Piracy Programme with contributions from Australia, Canada, the European Union (EU), France, Germany and the United States.
It is designed to hear cases of maritime piracy and other serious criminal offences.
"There are no V.I.P. prisoners and there are no V.I.P. defendants: all the improvements have impact on everybody in the criminal justice system," Alan Cole of the Counter-Piracy Programme at the regional office of UNODC told UN Radio.
He added that the courtroom is one part of international efforts through UNODC to improve conditions in Kenya and improve capacity of the country's justice system "so that as many pirates as possible can be given as good a trial as possible without any additional load on the Government of Kenya."
Some 123 suspected pirates have been held in Kenya, of which 18 have been convicted and 105 remain on trial.
The majority were arrested in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Somalia, where the fragile Transitional Federal Government (TFG) is unable to securely hold and try them.
In April, the Security Council put forward the possibility of establishing international tribunals to try pirates, with members calling for
tougher legislation to prosecute and jail suspects.
There are also plans to create a regional trial centre in the Seychelles, which is currently holding 31 suspects apprehended by the EU Naval Force Somalia -- Operation (EU NAVFOR).
Despite international naval patrols, "the attacks continue, indeed, they are increasing," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the General Assembly last month.
Over the four years until 2009, there was a seven-fold increase in piracy incidents off the coast of East Africa, and a global jump in incidents from 100 in 2008 to 406 in 2009, according to UN International Maritime Organization (IMO) global figures.