UNODC strengthens anti-trafficking units

18 September 2008 - Central America is hard hit by human trafficking. In countries like Guatemala, organized criminal groups prey on poverty and desperation to recruit victims through force and deception. To support anti-trafficking efforts, earlier this year UNODC started providing assistance to specialized anti-trafficking units in Guatemala and the region. 

In cooperation with the UN Latin American Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, UNODC is conducting a regional assessment to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) of public prosecutors' offices and national police bodies in addressing trafficking offences. The findings of the assessment will help design and tailor training courses to be delivered throughout 2009 and 2010 at the national, bi-national and regional level.

The initiative aims to enhance investigative and prosecutorial capacities of law enforcement and penal prosecution authorities. It also promotes regional cooperation on issues such as joint investigations, witness protection programmes and special investigative techniques. 

"Prosecutors, especially in rural areas, still conduct investigations from a very local perspective paying no attention to elements that can lead to cases of a transnational nature," says Felipe De La Torre, UNODC Crime Prevention Expert based in Mexico City.

Guatemala has ratified the Protocol to eradicate trafficking and is making significant efforts to introduce national anti-trafficking reforms. Investigative and penal prosecution abilities to dismantle trafficking groups and increase criminal convictions still need to be strengthened.  

Alexander Colop, head of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Unit in Guatemala says the SWOT workshops have already helped him identify some of his own strengths and weaknesses as a prosecutor dealing with trafficking cases. He is also pleased that staff at remote border control points participated. "This empowers rural prosecutors and strengthens their commitment to the difficult tasks in the field."

Effective prevention of human trafficking requires strong domestic and regional leadership. De La Torre emphasizes the commitment demonstrated by Central American prosecutors and Attorneys-General, and says that this project proves that joint-ventures between public entities and international organizations can help strengthen criminal justice systems.  

The project is already receiving praise. At its last General Assembly, the Ibero-American Association of Public Prosecutors Offices (AIAMP) commended the initiative as one to be replicated in other countries in the region.

"We need to make this a long term, sustainable programme capable of supporting not only public prosecution and police services in the fight against trafficking, but also other justice operators, such as the judiciary and border control authorities," says De La Torre. "Cooperation is vital."