UNODC brings criminal justice and civil society actors together to discuss violent extremism in West Africa

     This activity was funded by the United States

The West African region is increasingly threatened by organized crime and violent extremism, thus posing a major obstacle to peace and security of the populations.  States see the urgency in strengthening the capacity of criminal justice systems to put in place effective measures against organized crime and violent extremism and to deliver fair and transparent justice, in accordance with the rule of law.

UNODC and the Network of Central Authorities and Prosecutors of West Africa Against Organized Crime (WACAP), with the support of the United States of America, convened in Dakar, Senegal, a meeting on how criminal justice systems and civil society can better prevent and address violent extremism in Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal , with the participation of Nigeria and Chad as observers. The meeting brought together 47 representatives (among them 10 women) from different sectors of the justice system, WACAP focal points as well as civil society actors.

The meeting was officially opened by the Minister of Justice of Senegal, Mr. Ismaila Madior Fall. In his opening remarks, he stressed that "the justice system has an important responsibility to tackle the challenges of violent extremism and radicalization, involving civil society in the process of finding sustainable solutions."

Mrs Gail Fisk Malone, Mr Pierre Lapaque, HE Mr. Ismaila Madior Fall, Mr Bakary Sambe and Mrs Karen Kramer at the opening ceremony of the workshop in Dakar, Senegal

Mr. Pierre Lapaque, UNODC Regional Representative for West and Central Africa, referred to the Secretary-General's Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism, which calls for a comprehensive approach including systematic and holistic prevention measures. The plan provides States with practical methods and recommendations to prevent the threat of violent extremism and encourages States to develop and to implement national action plans with input from civil society. Highlighting the importance of the meeting, Mr. Lapaque reminded that "the work of the civil society is crucial in addressing the problem of violent extremism. They provide a good understanding of the local realities, which is needed to devise effective policies in the region to fight against transnational organized crime and corruption."

Ms. Gail Fisk Malone, Legal Adviser to the United States' Ambassador in Senegal, reaffirmed her country's commitment to support the strengthening of criminal justice in countering violent extremism, and stressed that "in order to address the problem of violent extremism, we need to understand its causes and find real solutions that involve the most vulnerable groups." Finally, Ms. Karen Kramer, Senior Drug Control and Crime Prevention Officer at UNODC, presented the aims of the initiative and the importance to devise joint and participatory follow up activities.

The first day was devoted to the presentation of the findings of the study conducted by the UNODC consultant in the five target countries as well as the regional trends. Over the past 5 months, 500 questionnaires were distributed and interviews were conducted with judges, magistrates, lawyers, prison personnel, civil society actors in Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal. Representatives of each sector and country, invited to the conference, shared constructive views and suggestions for more effective strategies for addressing violent extremism and radicalization.

During the second day, participants discussed and agreed upon regional and national recommendations concerning among other topics, cross-sector cooperation, witness and victim protection, support to vulnerable groups, detention systems, access to legal aid and international cooperation. The recommendations included, notably, the use of WACAP as a regional platform to foster dialogue between actors of the criminal justice system and civil society. Countries highlighted the importance of access to legal aid and the general lack of support provided to victims of violent extremism. They advocated for the creation of a compensation funds and tailored support to vulnerable groups. Alternatives to detention as well as deradicalization programs were also discussed.

The main outcome of the meeting was a plan of action called 'the Dakar Call to Action', which provides recommendations for governments, the criminal justice systems, and civil society. The Dakar Call to Action will serve as a basis for the UNODC's follow-up initiatives as well as for participants to advocate in their home country for tailored actions on preventing and countering violent extremism.  

The WACAP Project is a network of focal points from the 15 ECOWAS countries and Mauritania launched in 2013 with the financial support of France and the United States in cooperation with the ECOWAS Commission and the ECOWAS Court of Justice. The WACAP, set up under the auspices of UNODC, brings together judicial actors from the region dealing with organized crime and terrorism cases. It contributes to effective cooperation in criminal matters in West Africa and helps to support the investigation and prosecution of serious and organized crimes. 

For more information:

West African Central Authorities and Prosecutors against Organized Crime (WACAP)

WACAP Website

WACAP Newsletter (Jan-April 2017)

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