UNTOC SUCCESS STORY: Deploying African Liaison magistrates to Europe to help fight transnational organized crime


Since February 2018 UNODC has been supporting the deployment of African prosecutors to Italy and Spain as part of the PROMIS project, to foster international judicial cooperation on cases relating to trafficking in persons, smuggling of migrants and other related crimes between the countries of origin and the countries of destination.

UNODC presented the number of achievements accomplished during the Liaison Magistrate initiative at an online side event during the Tenth conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC), on 14th October.  The event,  attended by more than 50 participants, was jointly organized with the Governments of Italy, Nigeria, Spain, and The Netherlands.  

Since the inception of the initiative, four Liaison Magistrates (LMs) from Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Eritrea were deployed to Italy (03) and Spain (01). Up to present, the LMs have been involved in 45 cases, 34 Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) requests were sent, and several investigations are ongoing.

In addition to the traditional functions which include facilitating the exchange of information and the transmission of MLA requests, the Liaison Magistrates provide legal advice and solicit the prompt follow-up on cases and execution of MLA requests with the relevant authorities in the deploying country.

Thanks to its innovative elements and the hands-on approach in facilitating international judicial cooperation in accordance with UNTOC and the Protocols thereto, the liaison magistrate initiative is gathering increased interest and is likely to expand both geographically and in its thematic scope, going beyond Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants, to cover all transnational organized crimes under the UNTOC.


“The innovative aspects of this initiative reside in the fact that for the first time, prosecutors from Sub-Saharan countries are deployed as liaison magistrates to European countries to act as an interface between the national central authorities of the deploying country and the hosting country, in line with Article 18 of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime,” outlined Ms. Cecile Plunet, UNODC Regional Director for West and Central Africa. 

“By maintaining all their prosecution powers and depending on the national central authority of the deploying country, the Liaison Magistrates have initiated/reactivated international judicial cooperation between the deploying country and the host country,” she said.

Among the panelists of the side event, the two Nigerian LMs deployed to Italy and Spain were invited to present cases successfully investigated and prosecuted during their deployments.  In December 2019, mutual efforts from Italy and Nigeria led to the arrest of a person convicted in Italy of human trafficking and other related crimes and who had escaped to Nigeria.

“The basis of this Project was in the concept of the ‘liaison magistrate’ in his traditional role. However, we wanted the functions to be enhanced: no longer a mere intermediary between the judicial requirements of the two countries, but a real partner in the investigation”, stressed Mr. Giovanni Russo, Vice Chief Prosecutor of the National Antimafia and Counterterrorism Directorate in Italy. “What we are celebrating today is the third and most advanced level of cooperation: the ‘co-working system’ […] in which the ‘liaison magistrate’ performs the functions of a real investigative link in the host country, working side-by-side with the Italian prosecutors and the judicial police,” he added.

The initiative was also praised by H.E. Ms. Esther Monterrubio Villar, Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Spain to the International Organizations in Vienna:  “Criminal justice systems need also to come with effective methods and tools to confront the most complex transnational illicit activities of criminal networks. The deployment of liaison magistrates is one of these effective methods, it facilitates collaboration and coordination among central authorities and fosters trust between jurisdictions allowing for enhanced cooperation in the future”.

Mr. Oliver Stolpe, UNODC Representative to Nigeria, moderated the side event and outlined other key results achieved through the LM initiative, including shortened channels of communication, a better understanding of the respective legal, institutional, and procedural frameworks, and, most importantly, the trust built between European and African authorities.

In his closing message, H.E. Mr. Aldrik Gierveld, Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of The Netherlands to the International Organizations in Vienna, expressed his satisfaction for the concrete results achieved and announced his Government’s continuing financial support to the PROMIS project.

The Liaison Magistrate initiative - part of the PROMIS Project - is funded by The Netherlands and Italy.


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