Sahel countries are facing several challenges in bringing terrorists to justice for crimes committed in conflict zones.
For example, complications often arise when trying to prosecute foreign terrorist fighters who have returned to their home countries or relocated to a third one due to the unavailability or inadmissibility of evidence that can be used before national courts. In high-risk situations, criminal justice officials may lack access to information that could be treated as evidence, due to the inability to conduct operations in certain conflict areas. As such, the military is well-placed in playing a critical role in the collection, preservation and lawful sharing of evidence.
This challenge was highlighted by the UN Secretary-General in several reports on the threat posed by ISIL/Da’esh to international peace and security, as well as reiterated by UN Security Council resolution 2396 (2017).
To help Members States overcome this challenge, UNODC developed a comprehensive technical assistance package to strengthen cooperation and coordination mechanisms between the military and criminal justice officials to collect admissible evidence from the battlefield - which can be used to prosecute terrorist offences before national civil and criminal courts.
Niger is one of the first countries to benefit from this comprehensive technical assistance. With the support of the Counter-Terrorism Bureau of the US State Department, UNODC launched a specialized programme for the country on battlefield evidence in December 2019.
The first milestone under the project was the development and signature of a Memorandum of Understanding between the three concerned Ministries in Niger (i.e., defense, justice and interior) and UNODC, to improve coordination among the entities when collecting battlefield evidence. Another achievement was that of the development of standard operating procedures (SOPs) to maximize cooperation and avoid overlap.
To operationalize the SOPs and improve practice on the ground, UNODC delivered an intensive five-week training in Niamey for a joint task force of Military Evidence Officers (MEO) such as investigators, gendarmes and military, who will be deployed to conflict zones and tasked with leading the process of collecting, preserving and sharing of different sources of information during counter-terrorism operations in conflict zones.
Senior representatives from UNODC contributed to the opening session, as well as the Ambassador of the United States of America to Niger who delivered remarks expressing the support of the international community and the Government of the US to Niger’s counter terrorism efforts.
During the five-week training, activities addressed three main topics: (1) the legal and technical aspects related to collection and preservation of different types of material evidence (2) the procedures for treatment of captured persons and (3) a practical training on modern criminalistic and forensics management for first responders after a terrorist attack.
During the workshops, participants shared experiences and discussed ways to improve cooperation between the military and the investigative service (gendarmes, investigators, etc.) Methods to conduct crime scene management after a terrorist attack were also addressed, along with the legal and technical requirements to ensure evidence admissibility in court.
The activities were implemented through practical exercises and real case scenarios which were supported by contributions offered by national and international experts.
The success of the training was demonstrated through feedback that was received from one of the participants who detailed how he used his newly acquired skills from the training during an actual operation in one of the conflict zones in Niger, and collected crucial information from a crime scene that had a significant impact on the investigation of the case.