Volunteer retreat: First meeting of Sahel volunteers in Dakar

Family photo of UN Volunteers, the UNODC Sahel programme team and the UNV programme. In the centre, Amado Philip de Andrés, Regional Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

From 13 to 15 September 2022, UNODC and the UN Volunteers Regional Office for West and Central Africa co-organized in Dakar, Senegal, the first retreat of UNODC volunteers working in the Sahel countries. For the first time, community and paralegal UN volunteers working under the aegis of UNODC in Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Niger and Chad were able to get together, meet each other for the first time, and discuss the issue of detention in the Sahel. The UN Volunteers Office in Senegal was also present during the retreat and organized an Olympiad in which UN Volunteers from Senegal and the Sahel participated, thus strengthening the UNV community.

"The volunteers' work is a source of motivation for the UNODC Regional Office" said Amado Philip de Andrés, Director of the UNODC Regional Office for West and Central Africa. The Regional Director also highlighted the great commitment of the volunteers to assist the Members States in the implementation of the Nelson Mandela Rules in the prison environment of their respective countries, as well as the positive impact of their work on prison conditions. Dr. de Andrés said he was very pleased to hear first-hand the stories of the volunteers' work in the field.

This initiative started in 2017, when Niger requested UNODC's support in managing prisoners imprisoned for terrorism-related offences. Indeed, following the military response to the growing Boko Haram threat in Niger, prisons were left with a significant number of detainees. Thus, within the framework of the Sahel Programme, UNODC supports States in the region to fight terrorism and transnational organized crime through more effective criminal justice systems.

To support Niger's judicial system in managing the situation of prison overcrowding, UNODC recruited paralegals as United Nations Volunteers. The volunteers identified prisoners and followed up on their legal cases with the relevant authorities until a decision was reached, significantly reducing the number of pre-trial detainees and relieving overcrowding in high-security prisons. Following the success of the initiative in Niger, UNODC decided to extend the experiment progressively to Burkina Faso, Mauritania and finally Chad. In parallel, UNODC has also recruited community volunteers to raise awareness of the risks of crime and the conditions of prisoners in order to facilitate their reintegration after detention.

End of the Olympiad organised by the Senegalese volunteers. Thank you speech by the participants to the organizers of the volunteer retreat.

"This retreat is a real opportunity to consolidate the work we do in the field, and also to make our work more visible. It is very pleasing to see the improvement in the conditions of prisoners in Burkina Faso's prisons. I feel part of the change," said Leonie Zoungrana, a paralegal volunteer in Ouagadougou.

Collaboration between national volunteers from different countries in the Sahel is essential, which is why this opportunity was used by all to create links, even beyond work. The volunteer retreat not only built links between UNODC's community and paralegal volunteers and created a network of young people working on the issue, but also enhanced the capacity of these volunteers to work on key cross-cutting issues in the work of the United Nations.

 This activity was funded by the Kingdom of Norway and the UN Peacebuilding Fund.