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UNODC expands Southeast Asia counter-terrorism support

Bangkok (Thailand), 25 October 2011
- During the past decade, a number of Southeast Asian countries have suffered terrorist attacks. Many face continued terrorist threats. Those which do not face direct terrorism threats nonetheless feel they must ensure that their territories and legal systems do not fall victim to terrorists seeking to hide from prosecution or wishing to perpetrate terrorist acts outside their borders.

In response to a call for support, UNDOC recently initiated the Partnership on Criminal Justice Responses to Terrorism. Housed in the UNODC Regional Centre for East Asia and the Pacific, this partnership programme is already offering assistance to national authorities to support the prevention and punishment of terrorist activity in compliance with the rule of law.

"Our counter terrorism assistance programme is tailored to each country's needs," says George Puthuppally, Senior Manager of the Bangkok-based programme. "The key to operating our programme successfully rests on a few principles. First and foremost is national ownership. This is essential for ensuring access for what we call "capacity building" which means helping our national counterparts to be able to do their jobs better. Second is developing partnerships. And third is our need to respond to requests for assistance at field level."

UNODC's regional Partnership on Criminal Justice Responses to Terrorism programme aims to build on the level of progress which Southeast Asian countries have already registered in their counter terrorism response and provide additional support. Such support will complement other bilateral and multilateral efforts technical assistance.

As a practical example, during 2011, UNODC carried out several activities to support the Partnership programme, like contributing to the review of Indonesia's anti-terrorism law and to the Lao PDR's review of its legal framework on mutual legal assistance and extradition. In the Philippines, UNODC supported national initiatives to amend its main counter-terrorism legislation, the Human Security Act (2007) - and national legislation to counter the financing of terrorism.

"To be successful, national counter-terrorism efforts must be based on effective criminal justice responses", says Puthuppally. "These are all detailed in the United Nations General Assembly's Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy." According to this strategy, the first of these responses must be that the legal system criminalizes and punishes terrorist activity in all its forms - including preparatory acts, financing, and terrorist bombing, aircraft hijacking, hostage taking and dangerous acts at sea.

An effective legal system requires law enforcement that can detect and prevent terrorist acts. Finally, an effective national criminal justice system calls on all relevant parts of the Government to work together to investigate and successfully prosecute suspected terrorists, under the rule of law and with respect for human rights.

UNODC's job is to provide countries with expertise to strengthen their counter-terrorism measures. UNODC has been doing this work since 2003. The Partnership on Criminal Justice Responses to Terrorism extends this UNODC work into Southeast Asian countries.  

Indonesia was the first Southeast Asian country to sign on to the partnership programme. It was recently also formally joined by the Philippines. Subject to approval by their Governments, the programme will eventually cover seven other East and Southeast Asian countries: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam. Two East Asian countries - China and Mongolia - will also be included.

In the coming months, the programme will continue to support legislative enhancements in Indonesia and the Philippines, and initiate training for implementation.

UNODC will lead the implementation of country programmes in close partnership with national authorities and other stake-holders. Chaired by the national counter-terrorism coordinating body and composed of key national authorities, donors and other partners, the National Steering Committees will monitor implementation.

Following the "partnership" principle, a key element of the programme will be the close working relationship with the national authorities, including the national counter-terrorism coordinating body, the ministries of foreign affairs and justice, law enforcement, prosecution service, the judiciary and financial transaction monitoring bodies. Other key partners are regional entities - especially the Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement Collaboration (JCLEC), the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Counter Terrorism (SEARCCT) and the International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) - and donor countries and international organizations active in the region.

UNODC is already working with donor countries to mobilize funds to support the programme. Several donors have taken an active interest and are exploring financing support.