Sahel countries agree on priorities to protect and assist victims and witnesses
Assistance and protection of victims and witnesses in the criminal systems is an integral part of crime prevention and criminal justice reform, as well as a human rights obligations. As part of UNODC's Contribution to the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel, UNODC organized a regional meeting, in Nouakchott, Mauritania, from 2 to 4 December 2014, which provided an overview of the legal and practical challenges faced by Sahel countries in protecting and assisting victims and witnesses of crime.
The meeting, which was supported by the Republic of Austria, brought together 39 participants from Algeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger and Senegal, representing the police, judiciary, civil society and UN organizations. Participants highlighted the importance of witness protection and assistance of victims as part of fighting impunity and having successful investigations into organized crime, drug trafficking and terrorism. They agreed that while some general provisions exist in national legislation, most countries in the region lack comprehensive victims and witness protection legislation and programmes.
Opening session of the regional meeting on the protection and assistance of victims and witnesses on 2 December
Participants also shared their experiences, including cases of victims of human rights violations not being able to lodge complaints, or witnesses that had been harmed or killed as a retaliation for denouncing terrorists or criminals. Other practical examples highlighted the dilemma of senior police commanders when facing cases of violence against female police officers perpetrated by their police partner, or the situation of social stigma attached to victims of sexual violence.
At the end of the workshop participants formulated specific recommendations to improve the situation in the Sahel. These included the signature of cooperation treaties between the countries in the region to facilitate the reintegration of victims and witnesses into the society, the establishment of compensation funds for victims, the development of a guide for police on women victims of violence, and the provision of training for justice professionals as well as the need to address access to legal aid for victims.
These recommendations will serve as a basis for defining activities to be carried out by UNODC in 2015 under its Sahel Programme.