Making the Sahel a priority: a UNODC comprehensive response to fight transnational crime and terrorism
The UNODC Sahel Programme Progress Report 2017 was officially launched on 15 June 2017 in Vienna, Austria. The Report showcases the results achieved by the governments of the Sahel region, with the support of UNODC, regarding their fight against drug trafficking, transnational crime and terrorism.
The report was presented at the UNODC Headquarters in the presence of Aldo Lale-Demoz, UNODC Deputy Executive Director, honorable Marou Amadou, Minister of Justice of Niger, and Pierre Lapaque, UNODC Regional Representative for West and Central Africa.
« The nexus between terrorism and transnational crime has become blatant, and it is now mandatory to involve member States towards closer cooperation in order to address these challenges, where illicit financial transactions related to drug trafficking, as well as trafficking in persons are often used to support violent extremism and terrorism», said Aldo Lale-Demoz, when presenting the report.
Hon. Marou Amadou, also noted that: « as for Niger, UNODC's actions and interventions must be welcomed, since they allowed us to train officers from the criminal justice chain on these various issues; they are now aware of their role as they can integrate international standards and enhanced technical tools into their daily tasks ».
As drugs, crime and terrorism often represent transnational threats in the Sahel, a regional approach offers the firmest foundation for operational responses to counteract these problems. Therefore, with more than 330 activities implemented in the region, and over 9,000 direct beneficiaries, the Sahel Programme has generated concrete results across the region.
Making the Sahel a priority
With about 70 million inhabitants of which two-thirds are under the age of 25, the Sahel is one of the poorest regions in the world. Spanning across Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, and located in a semi-desertic area, the region is in need of strong support for effective border control, accountable criminal justice systems, and strengthened law enforcement capacities, in order to better respond to the various threats it faces.
Since its implementation in 2014, the Sahel Programme supports governmental institutions, with a particular focus on terrorism prevention, anti-corruption, border management and improving judicial systems and law enforcement agencies to promote peace and stability in Sahel countries. In this regard, the Sahel Programme contributes to making the region a priority for both UNODC and the international community.
During the launch, M. Lapaque emphasized on the "positive shift operated in the region" thanks to the "impressive results made possible through the full support of government partners of the Programme".
As the Report demonstrates, results achieved by government institutions in the Sahel showcase strong ownership in dealing with the various security challenges they are facing:
- In January 2017, Burkinabe legislators passed a law to create a Specialized Judicial Unit to strengthen the fight against terrorism and its financing.
- Chad has established an anti-terrorist coordination cell regrouping law enforcement agencies and magistrates to facilitate information exchange. The creation of the cell followed technical assistance provided by UNODC to enhance cooperation within the criminal justice system.
- The G5 Sahel has established a Security Cooperation Platform (PCMS). UNODC experts have provided specialized training to PCMS staff to strengthen their capacity to counter terrorism and transnational organized crime.
- Malian authorities dismantled an international drug trafficking network operating in Mali. The arrest was made possible through specialized training, cooperation and information exchange between law enforcement agencies in the region, which UNODC and MINUSMA facilitated.
- Mauritania passed a law allowing better access to legal aid for its citizens in September 2015. UNODC provided support to Mauritanian authorities during the development of this legislation, ensuring that the law aligns with UN standards and norms for legal aid. Mauritania is now the fourth country in the Sahel to have such legislation in place.
- Following the adoption of the anti-corruption bill in December 2016, the government of Niger has recovered more than 5 million US dollars in assets. A portion of the funds was traced back to a hospital close to the capital Niamey.
- In early 2017, the government of Niger signed a UN Protocol that ensures appropriate protection for children associated with armed and terrorist groups, and agrees to refer these children to child protection services. In this regard, during the launch of the report, M. Amadou said that "UNODC's support has been an important contribution to improving the criminal justice chain in dealing with terrorism-related cases".
- Several drug, passport, gold, and dollar bills seizures were also made possible through the training of Joint Airport Interdiction Task Force (JAITF) and AIRCOP officers.
The activities that led to these results were funded by Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, the European Union, France, Germany, Japan, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and the United States.
Towards greater South-South cooperation
The report adds that the Sahel Programme implementation will continue, with a focus on a greater South-South cooperation among Sahel countries, and on priority areas such as pro-active investigation techniques to counter transnational crime in key border zones and foreign terrorist fighters, cybercrime and radicalization.
The Sahel Programme also works closely with Algeria, Libya and Morocco, and other UN agencies in order to ensure a comprehensive and sustainable approach to the challenges affecting the region, and to further their integration into activities and initiatives in the region.
M. Lapaque lastly added that the Sahel Programme "has a strong foundation on which it can rely, in order to provide the Sahel countries with the necessary assistance to promote peace in the region, and to rebuild the trust of vulnerable populations in the government authorities."