Rethinking judicial cooperation between Africa and Europe

The West and Central African region is facing a multi-dimensional security crisis. Terrorism, organized crime, maritime piracy, conflicts over resources and all forms of trafficking appear at an all-time high. Traditional tools have largely proven insufficient against more sophisticated organized crime groups and there is a pressing need for governments, international organizations and practitioners to come up with innovative approaches to tackle the continuously growing threats to the stability of the region.

Given the transnational scope of these crimes, international cooperation to prevent them and to bring the perpetrators to justice appears fundamental. However, a lack of familiarity and sometimes outright distrust, the lack of understanding of each other's judicial systems, inefficient channels of communication are among the many obstacles to effective collaboration between practitioners in Western and Central Africa and their European counterparts. The example of trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants is a clear illustration of these challenges. In fact, with staggering numbers of victims of trafficking and smuggled migrants coming from West Africa being identified in Europe, the number of successful prosecutions against the criminal networks involved on both continents remains low.

Within this context and through its PROMIS project funded by The Netherlands and Italy, UNODC decided in 2018 to launch an innovative initiative to foster judicial cooperation through the deployment of two Nigerian prosecutors first in Italy and then in Spain.

Given the interest expressed by a number of other countries, both as deploying or hosting jurisdictions, UNODC jointly with the Siracusa International Institute for Criminal Justice and Human Rights, organized a stakeholders meeting to take stock of the overall progress made in international cooperation between the participating countries, as well as of the challenges observed and potential improvements for current and future deployments.

The meeting, hosted by the Siracusa Institute on 5 and 6 September 2019, gathered the key actors involved in the process including the liaison magistrates themselves, Italian and Spanish prosecutors, representatives from the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Justice and law enforcement agencies, EUROJUST Vice-President, WACAP focal points, as well as experts from UNODC and the Siracusa Institute.

The meeting found that the two Nigerian "liaison magistrates" have been instrumental in shortening communication channels, advancing the exchange of operational information, and following up on cases between these jurisdictions. As a result, law enforcement authorities in Nigeria, Spain and Italy have been able to identify and arrest suspects, provide evidence in ongoing prosecutions and develop new leads all towards the dismantling of trafficking and smuggling networks operating in all three jurisdictions.  Most importantly, Dr. Oliver Stolpe, UNODC's Representative in Nigeria, observed that "the direct daily contact between the Nigerian, Italian and Spanish prosecutors has helped to build trust, the most critical ingredient for successful international cooperation in tackling transnational organized crime."

"Cooperation is not an option". These words pronounced by EUROJUST Vice-President Mr. Filippo Spiezia in Siracusa show how bilateral cooperation through the deployment of African magistrates in Europe, as well as regional cooperation through the WACAP or EUROJUST is a must in the fight against transnational organized crime.