Nigerian liaison magistrates deployed in Europe strengthen international cooperation in prosecuting human trafficking cases 

 

30-07-2020

Trafficking in Persons remains one of the crimes that most severely affects West and Central Africa.

A growing number of criminal networks thrive off this traffic due to the significant economic returns generated from it, whilst profiteering from money laundering and corruption.

However, Trafficking in Persons endangers the lives of the victims exploited in various forms and strips them of their human rights.

While the number of trafficking victims identified in Europe is staggering, the number of successful prosecutions and convictions still remains low in countries-of-origin, and destination-countries making trafficking in persons a low-risk, high-reward criminal enterprise.

With the goal of increasing international cooperation between West and Central African countries and Europe to counter organized crime, and notably trafficking in persons,  UNODC has been supporting the deployment of Nigerian prosecutors, first to Italy and then Spain through the PROMIS project since February 2018. This has been achieved so far thanks to the financial support of the Netherlands and Italy.

The Nigerian prosecutors have been deployed in Europe to act as liaison magistrates in host countries to establish a direct channel of communication between the respective relevant authorities, to facilitate the speedy exchange of operation information. 

They also help eradicate obstacles linked to requests for mutual legal assistance (MLA) in cases of trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants, in line with the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) protocols.

 
 

On World Day against Trafficking in Persons,  two Nigerian liaison magistrates recount their experiences since their deployment to Italy and Spain, and share how their role has been fundamental to strengthen international judicial cooperation and build trust between Nigeria and the host countries. 

For security reasons the Liaison Magistrates (LM) have remained anonymous: 

 

Q1. How would you describe your experience as a liaison magistrate deployed to Italy and Spain, respectively?

LM to Italy: As a Nigerian prosecutor, the Liaison Magistrate initiative is commendable because it exposes me for the first time, to the full dimensions and ramifications of transnational organised crime and the need for an “all hands on deck” approach to cooperate in the fight against it. The initiative has provided both the EU and African prosecutors to exchange experience and expertise. Furthermore, it has helped reveal the underworld of organized criminality and that Africa is no longer a hiding place for them. Above all, the initiative has removed the bureaucratic bottlenecks in terms of expeditious response to requests. On a personal level, I was positively impressed by the readiness of the Italian authorities to assist me daily in any way possible to facilitate my job, and by their acceptance of me as an equal partner.

LM to Spain: I would say that my deployment to Spain as a liaison magistrate has been as challenging as it has been exciting. It has offered me the opportunity to work and liaise with high-level Spanish officials on international cooperation especially in the area of trafficking in persons, which is one of the core focus of the deployment. Overall, the experience has been positive, particularly in showing that levels of engagement like this are key to fighting transnational crime, especially in areas that impact both jurisdictions.

"The Liaison Magistrate initiative not only narrows the cooperation gap between jurisdiction in the EU and Africa, but creates an opportunity to build relationships and capacity by allowing for a better understanding of what works on both sides" - LM to Spain

 

Q2. Which is the greatest result achieved since your deployment?

LM to Italy: The greatest result is the network created which enables the EU and African prosecutors and law enforcement authorities to reach out to each - as well as informally (i.e. through phone calls, communication apps,  and emails) in order to respond quickly to exigent issues as they arise. Moreover, there have been physical interactions that moved us from abstract entities to real persons co-operating as equals. Finally, I would also mention as a great result, the arrest of a Nigerian fugitive convicted in Italy for trafficking in persons who had escaped to Nigeria. The arrest was the result of the close cooperation between Nigerian national police and Interpol and the constant interactions between Nigerian and Italian counterparts, facilitated by my role as liaison magistrate.

 
 

LM to Spain: The greatest result achieved so far is the facilitation of the voluntary return of a fugitive from Nigeria to Spain. The fugitive was wanted in Spain primarily for being a key member of a transnational organised criminal group specialised in luring and trafficking young victims from Nigeria to Spain for the purpose of sexual exploitation. This case required constant engagement and coordination with the law enforcement and judicial authorities on both the Nigerian and Spanish sides as it presented a number of peculiarities that needed rather innovative measures. At the end of the day, it highlighted the positive prospects that this level of cooperation paves for the future.

Q3. What lessons have you learned from this experience?

LM to Italy: I learned that Europeans respect our expertise: the zeal, and interest to give support for this initiative is unequaled. As a result of this mutual trust, the criminals are gradually being prosecuted, while requests are expeditiously channeled to the proper authorities thanks to my role as liaison magistrate. Indeed, as representative of the Nigerian central authority in Italy, on many occasions, my Italian counterparts transmit the cases directly through me and I channel them to the proper investigating authority in Nigeria.

LM to Spain: There have been several lessons learned, not just for me but for authorities across both jurisdictions. For example, it allowed us to gain a better understanding of the various challenges when it comes to the execution of judicial assistance requests and the need to establish lasting trust across different authorities - which is paramount. Dealing with cases of a confidential nature, authorities are usually somewhat skeptical to divulge information which they deem sensitive: this is where the presence of the Liaison Magistrate becomes crucial to build mutual trust.

"Criminal groups are not encumbered by differences in legal systems and regulations. International cooperation is the only way to ensure that criminal networks are dismantled, victims find restitution and perpetrators are brought to justice" - LM to Spain

 

Q4. Why do you believe international judicial cooperation is so important in fighting transnational crime?

LM to Italy: Because dismantling criminal gangs and putting them completely out of action requires concerted efforts, not only from one side. Without international judicial cooperation, most of the requests for mutual legal assistance and needed actions take too long to respond to due mainly to the cumbersome diplomatic and bureaucratic procedures.  

LM to Spain: It is obvious that without international judicial cooperation, transnational crime cannot be effectively countered. Criminal groups are not encumbered by inconveniences such as differences in legal systems and regulations. As the world becomes smaller thanks to technology, the reach and ability of these groups widens, so does their capacity to evade the reach of the law. International cooperation is the only way to ensure that criminal networks are dismantled, victims find restitution and perpetrators are brought to justice.

Q5. How could international judicial cooperation be improved, in terms of EU-Africa judicial cooperation to counter TOC?

LM to Italy: I am of the strong opinion that there is a need for constant interaction through training, exchange visits, and other activities between the EU and African law enforcement authorities. This helps to put a face to the entities we interact with through official and diplomatic means. In order to be sustainable in the long-term, initiatives like this should be supported not only by UNODC but also endorsed by national governments through the allocation of adequate means and resources for the deployment of liaison magistrates. In this way, the stay of the liaison magistrates would be more stable and their position more permanent, thus contributing to the success of the initiative and their commitment to the assignment.  

"Dismantling criminal gangs and putting them completely out of action requires concerted efforts, not only from one side" - LM to Italy

 

LM to Spain: There is a need for more initiatives of this sort. More liaison magistrates should be deployed from Africa to European countries, although historically the deployment has been from Europe to Africa. To harness the full potential of international cooperation, it needs to go both ways. UNODC has been key for the design and implementation of this pilot project, but it should be the States’ call to also prompt initiatives of this kind. Signature of bilateral judicial agreements and programmes aimed at fostering exchanges between law enforcement authorities in the EU and Africa to improve informal cooperation would improve international cooperation. The liaison magistrate initiative not only narrows the cooperation gap between jurisdiction in the EU and Africa, but creates an opportunity to build relationships and capacity by allowing for a better understanding of what works on both sides.

Q6. How has Covid-19 impacted your work and the follow-up of cases?

LM to Italy: The mobility restrictions and lockdown in response to the COVID pandemic have stalled many activities, especially in terms of investigations and following up on cases. Furthermore, the Nigerian government asked many law enforcement agencies to assist in ensuring citizens’ compliance with national guidelines issued in response to the COVID-19 crisis. This had a consequent impact on the investigations of cases on Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants. It is only very recently that investigation activities have resumed.

LM to Spain: As with almost all sectors, the impact of the pandemic on the initiative cannot be overstated. Investigative activities and by extension the follow up of cases have slowed down in Nigeria because of the lockdown, however, this has not ceased the constant keeping in touch with the law enforcement authorities on both ends.

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Read the press release: https://www.unodc.org/westandcentralafrica/en/2020-07-30-press-release-world-tip-day.html

For more information:

https://www.unodc.org/westandcentralafrica/en/2018-08-06-nigerian-prosecutor-italy.html

https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/frontpage/2019/October/unodc-promis-project-improves-judicial-cooperation-between-africa-and-europe.html

https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/human-trafficking/index.html

https://www.un.org/en/observances/end-human-trafficking-day

https://www.unodc.org/documents/westandcentralafrica/UNODC_Regional_Programme_for_West_Africa_2016-2020.pdf

https://www.unodc.org/documents/westandcentralafrica//UNODC_Regional_Strategy_for_Combating_TIP_SOM_West_and_Central_Africa_2015-2020.pdf