Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for joining us for the launch of the Southeast Asia Justice Network, SEAJust.
International cooperation in criminal matters, and mutual legal assistance in particular, enable the investigation and prosecution of organized and serious crimes, and they are at the core of the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocols and the UN Convention against Corruption.
The 190 parties to the Organized Crime Convention and the 187 parties to the Convention Against Corruption agree about the importance of mutual legal assistance, but for practitioners, it nonetheless continues to bring many challenges.
Diverse legal systems, outdated laws, lack of dedicated central authorities, difficulties in obtaining information on the legal and procedural requirements, language barriers, and different or sometimes incompatible means of communication all create obstacles to facilitating mutual legal assistance.
Furthermore, offences involving criminal misuse of the internet and other technologies are creating new complexities to the process.
The COVID-19 pandemic introduced still more obstacles to the timely exchange of requests and case files, especially for officials who normally rely on paper transmission, and who have been unable to work from their offices for long periods of time.
Criminal groups target countries with such gaps in justice responses in order to shield themselves from investigation and prosecution.
To assist Member States to address gaps and overcome challenges in facilitating mutual legal assistance, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime has helped to establish regional judicial cooperation networks.
These include the West African Network of Central Authorities and Prosecutors, or WACAP, the Judicial Cooperation Network for Central Asia and Southern Caucasus, or CASC, the Great Lakes Regional Judicial Cooperation Network, and now SEAJust.
The networks are composed of “contact points”, nominated by their governments, and available to support the contact points in other countries.
The contact points engage through informal consultations, complementing formal channels, to prepare effective requests for judicial cooperation, to obtain and provide information on the execution of the request, or to identify problems and solutions.
The judicial cooperation networks rely on the “human element” because direct contacts and mutual trust between the central authorities and other relevant officials are the basis for successful mutual legal assistance between states.
UNODC provides the networks with secretariat functions, tools and training through our Global Programme for Strengthening Capacities of Member States to Prevent and Combat Organized and Serious Crime, in cooperation with our field offices.
We also cooperate with secretariats of networks supported by the European Union and others, thus helping to link networks across different regions.
It is a system that produces results, enabling central authorities to get the help they need quickly, whether that is getting advice on legislation, identifying counterparts or initiating contact.
In 2020, the CASC network facilitated 14 complex judicial cooperation requests, involving countries in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and the Caribbean, while WACAP facilitated 17 cases with countries in Europe, Asia and Latin America.
The networks have initiated bilateral meetings between central authorities to discuss sensitive cases or to negotiate agreements on legal cooperation. The support of WACAP secretariat led to the signing of two treaties between one West African country and two European countries.
WACAP also has an agreement with the Ministry of Justice of Italy and has supported the posting of liaison magistrates from Nigeria to Italy and to Spain.
Today we have the honour to formally launch SEAJust, the newest of the UNODC-supported networks.
The SEAJust network has been operational since last March, and since that time has facilitated over 30 cases of mutual legal assistance, most of them with countries from other regions.
I am grateful to the Government of Japan for providing the funding to establish and launch SEAJust. The ASEAN Mutual Legal Assistance Secretariat has also provided vital support.
Going forward, SEAJust will continue strengthening cooperation between its members and with central authorities outside the region. Planned activities include a study trip to the plenary meeting of the European Judicial Network, as well as training on dealing with pandemic-related transnational organized crimes.
UNODC is proud of its contribution to making the judicial cooperation networks a reality, and we rely on the continued engagement of the network members and sustained funding from our donors.
I hope this event serves to generate ideas and support for SEAJust. Thank you and I wish you a productive discussion.