UNODC releases guide to strengthen examination of documents at borders

Photo: UNODC Français / French

14 January 2011 - When people are smuggled from one border to the next, it is highly likely that the travel documents that they use have been falsified by smugglers. While the immigration control and border security agencies of many developed countries have developed high-tech apparatus to detect and disseminate intelligence about such fraudulent documents, developing nations often lack the resources and capacity to obtain and use such apparatus.

"Fraudulent identity and security documents are the grease that eases cross-border crime of all types: smuggling of migrants, trafficking in persons, terrorist mobility, smuggling of drugs, weapons and other goods, and fraud. Unfortunately there is a lack of awareness among relevant criminal justice practitioners of the benefits that forensic document examinations may provide to assist border control security and immigration facilities", explains Justice Tettey, Chief of the Laboratory and Scientific Section at UNODC.

In order to build that capacity, UNODC has issued a guide to provide practical assistance in the establishment or upgrading of forensic document examination and intelligence dissemination capacities in a holistic manner by encompassing identity, security and other types of document without security features. The guide, entitled Guide for the Development of Forensic Document Examination Capacity, aims to provide assistance to two categories of service providers: immigration and border control agencies and forensic science laboratories.

Security documents are documents containing incorporated security features to protect the value of the document. Many identity documents contain security features, such as passports, identity cards and driving licences. Other examples of security documents are currency, social security cards, travel visas and lottery tickets.

Identity documents are documents that can be used to verify aspects of an individual's personal identity. Some countries require individuals to carry a government-issued identity card, while other countries may accept a driver's licence as proof of identity.

"The current guide caters to several levels of country/agency development, from the most basic to advanced capability. It focuses on building staff skills and educational requirements needed to perform forensic document examinations and to provide court testimony, intelligence alerts and training", adds Mr. Tettey.

The guide further provides recommendations regarding the type of forensic equipment to use, reference collections and databases and also provides general guidance on designing, establishing and maintaining a forensic document examination facility. It complements an existing UNODC manual, Staff skill requirements and basic equipment for narcotics laboratories, which has recently been revised and updated to cover all forensic disciplines and provide detailed information on document examination (the new version, S taff skill requirements and equipment recommendations for forensic science laboratories, is to be published shortly).

"The information contained within this guide will have the greatest impact if a careful assessment of existing resources and equipment is carried out prior to developing capacities; a step-by-step approach is applied to the purchase of new or upgraded equipment, and adequate resources are made available to maintain the acquired equipment and databases", says Mr. Tettey.

Related Information:

UNODC laboratory and forensic sciences services

Guide for the Development of Forensic Document Examination Capacity (pdf)