Kostanay, Kazakhstan, October 2022 - Returning foreign terrorist fighters in detention pose specific challenges to prison authorities. Like other high-risk prisoners such as those convicted of violent extremist offences, their risks and needs require careful assessment; rehabilitation programmes must be tailored to their circumstances; security is of the utmost importance; and reintegration may be especially challenging. Responding to these challenges is essential for the safety of prisoners and prison staff, as well as that of the wider community locally, nationally, and internationally.
Since 2019, UNODC has delivered the Returning Foreign Terrorist Fighters Detention Programme, generously funded by the US Department of State Bureau of Counterterrorism. The programme is delivered in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Iraq. As part of this programme, in October 2022 UNODC organised a three-day study visit in Kazakhstan, with delegations from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan sharing their experiences of managing high-risk prisoners, including violent extremist prisoners, and returning foreign fighters. The overarching aim was to expand and strengthen regional cooperation on the professional training of prison and probation officers across Central Asia. The visit was funded in part by KAZAID.
The Kostanay Police Training Academy is one of the very few specialized training institutions for prison and probation officers in Central Asia. The newly developed training curriculum includes lessons on management of high-risk prisoners, including returning foreign terrorist fighters. Kostanay has become a go-to destination for law enforcement services from other Central Asian countries, attracting those seeking to learn from its good practice. Mr Nurken Mukhametkaliyev, a.i. Head of Kostanay Academy, said, “We are committed to continuing our constructive cooperation throughout the region of Central Asia.”
UNODC has worked closely with the Academy for several years, supporting the launch of a dedicated research and training centre on the implementation of the UN Standard Minimum Rules on the Treatment of Prisoners – the Nelson Mandela Rules – in November 2021. To date, 3,000 prison and probation officers from Kazakhstan have successfully completed UNODC’s Nelson Mandela Rules e-learning course, and the course has recently been launched in the Kazakh language.
The study visit began with a guided tour of the Academy, after which each of the four delegations took part in an in-depth, day long conversation, sharing their current practices. Discussions included Kazakhstan’s experience in developing, testing, and implementing risk and needs assessment tools; the importance of inter-agency cooperation; and the need for post-release support for high-risk prisoners. Find out more in UNODC's Handbook on the Management of High-Risk Prisoners.
Vahobjon Faiziev, Ministry of Internal Afraid of the Republic of Uzbekistan, said, “We exchanged ideas and tools regarding the social reintegration of prisoners, in consideration of the fact that countries of Central Asia traditionally share a common mentality and values.”
The study visit also included training delivered by international experts from the Czech Republic and Germany on motivational interviewing techniques for prison and probation officers. Motivational interviewing can be used by prison and probation officers to elicit changes in the behaviour of offenders through shifting their internal motivation to change. It provides a means of working with ambivalence, keeps the conversation more change focused, placing the responsibility for change with the offender, and provides a way of working with offenders who might be otherwise viewed as unmotivated or as presenting as resistant. It can be particularly useful in working with violent extremist prisoners and foreign terrorist fighters, as they may not be motivated to change their behaviour. As motivational interviewing involves establishment of a collaborative relationship rather than trying to force resistant offenders to change, it falls under the principles of dynamic security , which is an essential component of establishing safe and humane prison systems.
This study visit was not an end goal, but is a step on the path to improved cooperation and good practice across Central Asia. Delegates highlighted the key role of Kostanay Police Training Academy, emphasising the value they place on the professional training offered there. Concrete next steps include:
Mr Daniyar Molodkul uuly, Deputy director of the Probation Department, Ministry of Justice of Kyrgyzstan, underlined the value of ongoing cooperation. “The probation service in Kyrgyzstan is quite young. This year is going to be its third anniversary, and we would like to adopt best practices from our neighbouring countries to ensure safety and security in our country and the region and to prevent crimes related to extremism and terrorism.”
Mr. Ilhom Mahmudzoda, Deputy Head of Prison Service of the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Tajikistan, echoed this, saying, “The knowledge and experience we have gained in this workshop will enrich our daily work. We express our gratitude to UNODC and donors for organizing the event, and for our fruitful work together for more than 15 years. Conducting such events on a regular basis will help to upgrade the professional skills of prison and probation officers throughout Central Asia region.”