UN Volunteers strengthen legal and criminal justice measures to combat terrorism in Niger


Since 2017, following the establishment of a dedicated Terrorism Tribunal and a request from the authorities of the Niger for UNODC support in managing the overwhelming number of detained suspects that had increased dramatically after each operation against Boko Haram, UNODC has deployed 10 national United Nations Volunteers to Niger to provide legal assistance to persons held in pre-trial detention on terrorism charges.

The young women and men provided support in the processing of inmate files, within a reasonable period of time, in order to reduce the length of pretrial detention periods.

Remarkably, the number of 1,600 pretrial detainees in 2017 was reduced to 842 in 2019 under this project, made possible through generous funding from the United States Office of Counter-Terrorism.

"Legal assistance consists of raising our clients' awareness of criminal law and criminal procedure relating to terrorism, of their rights and duties as detainees (individually or in groups), and of gathering all relevant information about them during interviews in order to follow up their cases at the Anti-terrorism Judicial Pole," explained one of the UNVs recruited in Niger.

Detainees face various problems that the UNVs help to solve. Apart from the lack of information on their files, the main problems are lengthy pre-trial detention time, the total absence or loss of files for some, or the slow processing of files.

Other detainees face lengthy periods of imprisonment after having served the sentence imposed by the judges, or failure to notify the detainees concerned of the decisions made after trial. "This is a summary of what we are working on and what has led to good results," said the UNV Legal Officer.

The joint work of UNODC and the deployed UN Volunteers has reduced the number of detainees, supported the release of innocent people, fostered national engagement through the deployment of Nigerien UN Volunteers and had a direct impact on the future of hundreds of people.

The pilot project contributed to the reduction in the number of detainees awaiting trial, thus helping Niger to achieve a specific objective of SDG 16 on promoting the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensuring equal access to justice for all.

Here, four UNVs deployed in Niger tell us about their experiences:


1. UNV Legal Officer, Contributing to the release of a detainee

"In an interview with the detainee in question, he informed me that he was tried on the second day of Ramadan 2018. Since that date, however, he has never been informed of the Tribunal's decision. Upon my return to the Tribunal, I then consulted the two registers (of the Chief Prosecutor's Office and the Registry of Corrections), and no mention was made of him.

I then consulted with the President of the division that had presided over the hearing. Together, we searched and found the file. The prisoner concerned was released on the benefit of the doubt, information that had escaped the vigilance of the clerks, who did not transcribe it into the register. I alerted the Prosecutor of the situation, who, on the same day, issued a release order for the detainee concerned. Six months in prison for free that could have been avoided."


2. UNV  Legal Officer at Kutukale High-Security Remand Prison

"I spoke to a 42-year-old alleged terrorist from Diffa who lost his eyesight two weeks after his arrest. He has spent three years in pre-trial detention on criminal charges. I asked the examining magistrate in charge of his case, who told me that after questioning the witnesses in his case, there were no charges against him, but given the fact that it is a criminal case and that he is not the only one involved - there are seven of them - it would be difficult for him to withdraw it for lack of evidence.

So I drafted a request for provisional release on his behalf and presented it to the judge who granted it. Unfortunately, the prosecutor's office lodged an appeal of that provisional release order. I again used all the means at my disposal to justify this request for provisional release. After this second attempt, he was granted provisional release. He has now left the Kutukalé remand centre and is back in his village."


3. UNV Legal Officer, working at Niamey Remand Prison and at the transit and orientation centres for minors

"From June 2017 to March 2020 (suspension of activities due to Covid-19) my job consists of meeting regularly (three visits per week) with people prosecuted and imprisoned in Niamey for terrorism-related offences, mainly women and minors.

Most often these people come from very far away. For most of them, this is their first time in the capital Niamey. They are uneducated, very poor, without contacts, and for some of them, the women are with their children during the breastfeeding period. My legal assistance work consists of raising their awareness of their rights as prisoners, of how prisons and the justice system works.

Our work allows these prisoners to have confidence in the justice system, to have effective access to prison medical and communication services. It should be pointed out that there are sick prisoners from other prisons who end up in Niamey and who, thanks to our work, have been able to access care at the National Hospital".


4. UNV Legal Officer at Kollo Remand Prison

"I provide legal assistance to detainees arrested for terrorism in Kollo prison. I am also following up their cases at the anti-terrorist unit in Niamey to ensure that they are dealt with more quickly and efficiently.

I also provide individual and group awareness sessions to these alleged terrorist detainees on respect of the rights of detainees, on their right to request provisional liberties or hearings, on the harmful consequences of terrorism, on their right to be assisted by a lawyer, and so on.

During a working session at Kollo prison, I identified nine (9) detainees who had been dismissed from the case but were still in prison when they should have been released. Having become aware of this situation, upon my return to Niamey I immediately informed the investigating judges concerned. Thus, the necessary arrangements were made for the release orders to be sent the next day to Kollo prison and the detainees were finally released".


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