UNODC launches Central America regional assessment on penal prosecution capacities to investigate trafficking in persons

Report launch2 March 2009 - The findings of 22 strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) workshops with law enforcement, penal prosecution and judicial authorities conducted during 2008 by UNODC in Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama, have been put together in a regional report which analyses in depth the political, legal, institutional and technical conditions to investigate trafficking in persons, and provides practical recommendations to overcome gaps in the prosecution of traffickers. The UNODC regional study complements the data presented in the recent Global Report on Trafficking in Persons.

In collaboration with the United Nations Latin American Institute for Crime Prevention and Treatment of Offenders (ILANUD) and the Technical Secretariat of the Central American Council of Public Prosecutors Offices, UNODC launched this regional assessment at a recent high-level event in San Jose, Costa Rica. The launch was attended by Attorneys General of the region, national authorities, representatives of diplomatic missions and international organizations, and the media.

The confusion between trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants, the scarce knowledge on what is needed to construct solid organized crime cases, and the lack of  standardized proceedings to provide mutual legal assistance at the regional level, have been identified as the main gaps for the effective prosecution of trafficking in persons cases in Central America. These and other findings have served as the basis for the elaboration of specialized training material for prosecutors within the framework of UNODC regional project against trafficking in persons funded by Canada, Norway, Spain and Sweden.

"Capacity-building is the cornerstone of this initiative", says UNODC Crime Prevention Expert Felipe De La Torre, who is based in Mexico City. "Pilot sessions to test and enrich this material are being carried out in Costa Rica and Panama. Furthermore, we are inviting directors of training units of Public Prosecutors Offices to meet for the first time in March in Guatemala to approve a regional syllabus, and provide inputs for the elaboration of a training strategy to measure the impact of UNODC training sessions."

The Central American Council of Public Prosecutors Offices aims to set regional standards on penal prosecution. In order to support these efforts, UNODC, together with ILO and ILANUD, is promoting the establishment of a Central American network of international cooperation focal points who will validate an inter-regional protocol to handle transnational cases including trafficking in persons and sexual commercial exploitation.

Inter-agency cooperation and the involvement of the private sector in the prevention of trafficking in persons are two other key components of the UNODC project. "The establishment of coordination mechanisms among international and non governmental organizations is of utmost importance to optimize resources and avoid the duplication of actions," says Ronald Woodbridge, ILANUD political adviser to the program. Moreover, on 10 February UNODC and ILANUD convoked various international organizations and NGOs to a workshop aimed at sharing each agency's work plans and agreeing on cooperation methods. "UNODC expertise on organized crime was welcomed as no training program has focused on this area," Woodbridge adds.

All these efforts will have no effect if governmental authorities, the community and the public sector are not properly sensitized on the importance of taking prompt action in the prevention and combat of trafficking in persons from all sides. In order to raise awareness on the magnitude of this crime in the region and warn potential victims on the danger of dubious job offers, UNODC is developing a communication strategy which foresees alliances with enterprises and contains a series of actions that range from art events and fundraising tournaments to advertisements in airports, rail and bus stations.