UNODC promotes the protection of victims and witnesses in the Sahel

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The cooperation of victims and witnesses is crucial to achieving successful prosecutions of criminal offenders and dismantling organized crimine groups. Yet, one of the challenges faced by many criminal justice systems in the investigation and prosecution of crime is obtaining such cooperation. This is mainly due to the fact that victims and witnesses of crime are often given minimal or no attention, and frequently no protection is provided for them.

Indeed, a fair, effective, efficient and humane criminal justice system is one that respects the fundamental rights of suspects and offenders, as well as those of victims and witnesses; that prevents re-victimization by the system itself; that assures support and protection from intimidation and harm that criminal groups may seek to inflict upon victims and witnesses to discourage or punish them from cooperating; and most importantly, that treats them with compassion while respecting their dignity.

In this regard, UNODC and Sahel countries organized a validation meeting of the draft model law on the protection of victims and witnesses for Sahel countries in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso from 18 to 20 April 2016. The model law was validated following the recommendations of the first regional meeting that took place in Mauritania in 2014. The model law seeks to fill the current legislative gap and to guarantee a harmonization between national legislation and international standards on the assistance and protection of victims and witnesses.

Participants during the meeting
Participants during the meeting

Currently, there is a legal vacuum in national legislation across the Sahel regarding this area. The few protective provisions that appear in the various texts, such as criminal codes and criminal procedure codes, lack adequate implementation. This model law shall act as a guiding tool for states in drafting and/or adopting the necessary legislation on victims and witnesses' assistance and protection.

During the meeting, the Burkinabè Minister of Justice, Mr. René Bagoro, presided the opening ceremony and highlighted the importance of this meeting and subsequent validation in light of the current terrorist threat increasingly affecting Sahel countries and their citizens.

A total of 13 participants, appointed by the Ministries of Justice of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Tunisia, discussed in detail the model that was drafted by Mr. Simo Vaatainen, a UNODC expert on the matter, according to the drafting instructions issued during the previous meeting that took place in Niamey, Niger in June 2015.

Four sessions were dedicated to a chapter-by-chapter analysis, with comments and recommendations by the participants. Following various debates, the model law on the protection of victims and witnesses was validated by the representatives, who also recommended States to take the necessary steps to ensure cooperation on these matters.

Activities aimed at developing a strong, applicable legislation in the area of victims and witnesses protection in the region are part of the UNODC Sahel Programme, which requires the strengthening of legislation in Sahel countries to provide solid legal basis for fighting organized crime in the region and beyond.