600 detainees assisted by the United Nations Volunteers in Niger
The effectiveness of a legal response to terrorism heavily depends on the respect of basic human rights of detainees suspected in terrorism cases. For this reason, since 2017, UNODC has been supporting Niger's judicial system, which deals with numerous cases related to terrorism, by organizing trainings for Nigerien lawyers and by providing legal aid to detainees awaiting trial in several prisons in Niamey.
In July 2017, UNODC appointed and trained 10 United Nations Volunteers (UNVs) in Niger, as part of its US funded support project to the judicial system. Between the 1st and 12th of February, new trials were opened for 81 detainees accused of conspiring with Boko Haram, including two women, and their cases were concluded.
"It is certain that the work of the UN Volunteers has significantly contributed to holding hearings in February, firstly, through an effective and accelerated follow-up of cases with the counter-terrorism Specialized Judicial Unit, and secondly, by preparing the detainees and best behaviors to adopt during the hearings " explains Ali*, a UNV lawyer based in Niamey.
In the 60 days following their first training, an initial assessment reported that the 10 UNVs (5 of them are women) had already assisted the counter-terrorism Specialized Judicial Unit (in French, "Pôle judiciaire spécialisé") in treating 230 cases.
UNODC organized an assessment mission in Niger between 22 and 26 January 2018. During the mission, UNODC officials met with the UNVs, magistrates from the Specialized Judicial Unit, the focal point of the Bureau of Counterterrorism of the US Department of State as well as Mrs Amadou Bibata, Secretary General of the Ministry of Justice in Niger, to discuss the project's progress, successes and shortcomings, as well as its possible further development.
Mrs. Adamou Bibata took this opportunity to express the strong will to continue the cooperation with UNODC on behalf of Niger: "We wish to thank UNODC for its support, which has been crucial and we guarantee that the State of Niger will undertake everything to see this partnership continue".
The mission has also confirmed that UNVs have provided legal aid to more than 600 detainees in the prisons of Niamey, Kollo and Koutoukalé since the beginning of the programme in July 2017. They brought these cases to the attention of the Specialized Judicial Unit which treated and judged nearly 200 of them between September and January 2018. Since September 2017, 59 persons were released, 18 of which beneficiated from temporary release.
The UNVs have started interviewing women, children and the elderly as they are considered as the most vulnerable groups in prisons.
"Every day is a struggle but we don't feel bad working hard for this". When we see a glimmer of hope and light in the eyes of prisoners, it encourages us. The results we have obtained motivate us," said Fatima* in January 2018 before evoking a story that particularly moved her during the interviews she conducted at the end of 2017.
Indeed, during an interview with an inmate in Kollo prison, 30 km South of the capital, she discovered that he had contracted a disease that prevented him from walking. She made every effort to obtain permission to transfer him to Niamey prison so that he could benefit from medical care at the Niamey hospital. Finally, thanks to her perseverance and determination, the transfer was accepted and the detainee could see the doctor who referred him to Niamey hospital. Fatima has also filed an application for temporary release and hopes it will be accepted. The transfer of a detainee suspected of terrorism is difficult to obtain in Niger. Indeed, the case of Cheïbani Ould Hama, a detainee who had been able to escape from the prison of Niamey in June 2013 after his transfer**, remains fresh in people's memories.
On 5 February, Mr Pierre Lapaque, Regional Representative of UNODC in West and Central Africa and Mr Erik Van der Veen, Coordinator of the Sahel Programme, met with the UNVs during the planning meeting for the new phase of UNODC support project in order to congratulate them on their excellent work. The experience is being considered as a good practice to be replicated in other Sahelian countries. Moreover, in the upcoming months, UNVs will receive a new training on criminal proceedings as well as treatment of vulnerable detainees, similar to the one Fatima assisted.
In 2006, the Member States of the United Nations committed to ensuring "the apprehension and prosecution or extradition of perpetrators of terrorist acts, in accordance with the relevant provisions of national and international law, in particular human rights law" (UN Global Counter Terrorism Strategy, 2006). UNODC and its partners encourage UNVs in their efforts to work towards an efficient justice system in Niger, as a response to terrorism.
*To ensure their security, the UNVs are not referred to by their real names.
**At first, he was imprisoned under high security outside Niamey for acts of terrorism. Then, in March 2012, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison and transferred to the civil prison of Niamey. He is now in jail in the United States.