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Cross-border criminal justice cooperation strengthened in Lao PDR

Vientiane (Lao PDR), 28 June 2017
- A national workshop with representatives from the country's Central Authorities has been held in Vientiane to assist Lao PDR to more effectively address transnational crime and security challenges within framework of the ASEAN Vision 2025. The aim of the workshop was to improve the capacity of Lao PDR to engage in cross-border criminal justice cooperation, in particular mutual legal assistance (MLA) and extradition.

Throughout Southeast Asia, transnational organised crime groups and their networks profit from illicit activities that range from drug and precursor trafficking, to human trafficking and migrant smuggling, to the trade of illegal timber and endangered species. Along with the launch of the ASEAN Political-Security Community, the launch of the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015 has helped bring about freer flows of goods, services, labour and money. While this is positive for the region as a whole, it also provides increased opportunities for transnational crime groups to engage in criminal activities.

Illicit flows and movements mirror and travel alongside legal flows and movements, and as these illegal flows expand, criminal and terrorist networks will continue to benefit. This will only serve to further challenge governance, law enforcement and criminal justice systems of countries in the region.

The location of Lao PDR in the heart of the Greater Mekong Sub-region and Southeast Asia, means that it is also at the heart of many of these trade and migration routes. As such, it stands to be impacted more by these issues than others in the region.

During the workshop, representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Public Security, and the Office of the Supreme People's Prosecutor worked through a series of exercises. As a result, they were provided the opportunity to not only learn more about the legal traditions and systems regarding MLA and extradition in other countries, but also to strengthen relationships and understanding between the various Government departments within Lao PDR that work on these issues.

Workshops such as these will help to harmonise mutual legal assistance for joint investigations of transnational crime, extradition and asset recovery across ASEAN, which is currently understood and applied in different ways across the region, due in part to the varying legal systems and capacities.

At the same time, all countries of the region have signed the ASEAN Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Treaty, the UN Convention against Transnational Organsed Crime and the UN Convention against Corruption, and they are working to comply with UN Security Council resolutions relating to mutual legal assistance. Unfortunately, despite commitments to regional and international treaties and resolutions, justice cooperation in the ASEAN region has largely taken place on an ad-hoc and sometimes informal basis, leading to mixed results. Engagement with justice authorities from outside Southeast Asia is also often inconsistent - and in some cases minimal or not happening - leaving the region open to possible exploitation and criticism.

"As regional efforts to more actively engage in cross-border legal cooperation advance, it is important to ensure that national authorities have the capacity and knowledge to ensure these systems actually work," stated Brian Lee, UNODC Regional Programme Advisor. "Thus, opportunities such this workshop for authorities to increase levels of cooperation and mutual understanding at the national level are important. They go very far in strengthening the relationships and trust that permit individual countries, such as Lao PDR, to effectively engage with strategic partners to address transnational crime and security challenges."

Click here to learn more about UNODC's work on MLA and Criminal Justice.