In recent years, governments and the United Nations have become increasingly alarmed by piracy off the Coast of Somalia. Indeed, instances of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the waters off the Coast of Somalia have increased, areas in which pirates now operate have extended and pirates are demanding higher ransoms.
Experts attribute piracy to the lack of a functioning government in Somalia since civil war broke out in the nation following the fall of Mohamed Siad Barre’s regime in 1991. However, one issue that I think needs to be addressed on equal grounds is the other side of the piracy issue: the woes of the victims of foreign toxic waste dumping and illegal fishing in waters around Somalia. While I agree that those who currently use this rhetoric to engage in the lucrative business of piracy are no longer limited to the poor fishermen who fell victim to these instances of toxic waste dumping and illegal fishing, transatlantic partners must do more to address the impacts of their own nationals’ toxic waste dumping and illegal fishing on these local populations.
This issue of toxic waste dumping and illegal fishing that had been the origins of Somali piracy has not just been a problem for Somalia. Toxic waste dumping and illegal fishing by corporations from developed countries has become a common practice in much of the developing world, especially in Africa. Once fisheries in developed countries were depleted, fishermen from these countries turned to other areas, mainly the waters around developing countries, where weak governments lacked the capacity to stop them.
Moreover, because the disposal of industrial and nuclear waste costs over ten times in developed countries as it does in developing countries, many corporations from developed countries have often chosen Africa as their target to dispose of this waste. Both toxic waste dumping and illegal fishing in developing countries have only served to exacerbate the socioeconomic conditions of developing countries. After all, fish is an important source of protein for many people in developing countries and fishing is a way for coastal communities to make a living. Toxic waste dumping has also led to environmental degradation, as well as health hazards, where the rate of cancer and deformity have increased in some populations that lived near areas where radioactive wastes had been disposed.
The international community has so far only attempted to resolve the issue of piracy in Somalia through increasing international patrols and the prosecution of pirates. Others have suggested aiding Somalia in its state building process so that the state will be able to effectively punish those who are involved in acts of piracy and to eliminate the problem on its own. Yet transatlantic partners have continued to ignore the actions of their own corporations, so they are not doing enough to protect the coastal communities and fisheries in Somalia and other developing countries.
The international mechanisms to prevent such illegal dumping exist. The “UN Convention on the Law of the Seas” serves to protect states’ territorial waters by defining an “Exclusive Economic Zone” and the “Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal” has attempted to reduce the rate of transfer of hazardous wastes between developed and developing states. What is missing is international enforcement of these laws and conventions to protect the people in developing nations and to hold corporations accountable for violating these laws.
Governments must now realize that they need to punish their own nationals and corporations for their involvement in the illegal fishing and toxic waste dumping businesses. While it will be a major challenge for governments to accept and admit to the illegal practices that their nationals have been engaged in, transatlantic partners must address the underlying cause that led many Somalis into piracy if they want to resolve the piracy situation altogether. Ignoring our own crimes will only feed into the Somali pirates’ trap of portraying their actions as heroic.
Aiko Shimizu is a graduate student at Columbia University in the City of New York. She has worked in several United Nations agencies, as well as the Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations.
This article was submitted for the atlantic-community.org's competition: "Empowering Women in International Relations." It coincides with the 10th Anniversary of UN resolution 1325 calling for an increased influence of women in all aspects of peace and security. The contest is sponsored by the U.S. Mission to NATO and the NATO Public Diplomacy Division. You can read more submissions from the competition here.