Developing Forensic Hubs in West Africa

Praia, December 13, 2017- Drug trafficking is a growing global phenomenon that is also affecting West Africa, which has become a rebound zone for the smuggling of illicit substances from South America to Europe. Drug traffickers and organized crime benefit from the low level of control, resources and police forensic equipment. The development of forensic skills is needed to effectively counter international drug trafficking in West Africa.

In response to this situation, UNODC organized a workshop in Praia, Cape Verde, from 13 to 15 December, to develop pilot hubs for forensic science and strengthen the regional cooperation network for more efficiency in the fight against drugs in west Africa.

The workshop was organized as part of the project " Support to ECOWAS Regional Action Plan on drug trafficking, organized crime related to it and drug abuse in West Africa" funded by the European Union and implemented by UNODC, in collaboration with ECOWAS. The forensic component of the project plans to provide technical assistance in forensic sensitization, crime scene exploitation, drug and precursors analysis.

The main objective of the meeting was to define the governing rules for the pilot poles according to which the UNODC, in particular, will be able to provide an effective technical assistance to the countries of the sub-region, through the training of trainers. A validation  from Member States will guarantee the process before implementation.

                                                   The Forensic workshop held in Praia, 13-15 December 2017, ©UNODC 2017

The workshop also set a milestone towards the Regional Forensic Conference in West Africa, scheduled for 2018, which will involve forensic scientists, key international partners, ECOWAS member States and Mauritania.

The Praia workshop brought together policymakers from Ghana, Cape Verde and Côte d'Ivoire as well as regional experts and the German cooperation Agency, GIZ, with which UNODC is synergizing in a regional forensic strategy. A specific attention was paid to regional capacities for drug and precursor analysis, crime scene management and forensic awareness.

Dr. Janine Lélis, the Cabo Verde Minister of Justice and Labour and Mr. Ulrich Weins from the European Union Delegation in Praia, as well as representatives of UNODC attended the opening ceremony of the workshop.

Presentations and plenary sessions provided the necessary prerequisites for fostering exchanges between experts and participants. Working groups got through certain aspects and helped stimulate a fruitful debate around the topics dealt with. The national forensic infrastructure presentation made it possible to grasp the issues and get an inventory. Discussions also focused on defining and determining the role of the forensic pilot hubs, and the skills and disciplines required for the hubs as well.

According to Dr. Akabrou, Director of the Forensic Laboratory of Côte d'Ivoire, "this workshop is an important step towards the emergence of an operational forensic chain able to support by its expertise, the fight against crime and particularly against drugs in West Africa. UNODC and ECOWAS are committed to supporting the establishment of a permanent framework for exchanges between actors in the forensic chain. I hope that the results of this workshop will be validated by the Forensic Regional Conference in 2018 and by Member States. This workshop is a success."

According to Joao Rodrigues, a drug analysis expert and UNODC consultant, the workshop "achieved two objectives: the production of a proposal document to be submitted to ECOWAS for the creation of West African forensic hubs, and the setting up of a good professional and interpersonal interaction between the Heads of the forensic services of Cape Verde, Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana. This will fuel the development of this network as a hub to help countries in the region achieve higher standards in forensic. The commitment and enthusiasm showed by participants seem to be a good indicator of an efficient regional and international cooperation despite obstacles and the language barrier that might exist.''

The forensic program provides technical expertise to ECOWAS Member States through various activities such as strengthening the analytical capacities of laboratories and Law enforcement agencies (Police, Gendarmerie, Justice), assistance and networking, as well as the provision of quality equipment and reference manuals, forensic awareness and the promotion of standards.

UNODC has provided technical assistance to West African States for the past 20 years through its Regional Office for West and Central Africa (ROSEN) in Dakar, Senegal and 10 other local offices based in different countries of the region. As a guardian of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (TOC) and its Protocols, as well as the three Conventions on International Drug Control; UNODC is mandated to assist Member States to strengthen their national response capacities on the matter, in accordance with their international obligations.

For more information:

UNODC action against drug trafficking in West Africa

Support Project to ECOWAS Regional Action Plan on illicit drug trafficking in West Africa

UNODC Regional Programme 2016-2020 

ECOWAS Drug Unit web portal