Crime prevention and criminal justice
Organized crime groups and criminals in West and Central Africa generate billions in revenues. Judicial authorities play a crucial role in ensuring these criminals are brought to justice. Many countries in the region however suffer from a lack of mechanisms for criminal justice matters and are also affected by a lack of mutual legal assistance (MLA) capacity and networks, which obstructs cooperation and coordination efforts to combat transnational organized crime. Sound rule of law, building integrity, addressing impunity, and developing a professional judicial culture are all essential pre-requisites for peace and stability in the region.
Many countries in the region do not have a formal witness protection policy. Victims' identities are often not kept confidential which leads to reluctant cooperation of witnesses and victims in investigations due to fear of retaliation. The absence of witness and victim protection inhibits the delivery of justice in West and Central Africa.
There is also a lack of awareness of the availability of legal aid services at little or no cost that represents a significant obstacle poor and vulnerable groups face. There is limited availability for specialized and targeted legal aid services for women. Countries in West Africa have made a significant progress in enhancing access to justice, and particularly access to legal aid, but at the same time face a variety of challenges in ensuring that systems are sustainable and effective.
There have been urgent and emerging security threats in the Sahel and the Gulf of Guinea related to violent extremism and transnational organized crime. In response to this, the Justice Section has and continues to enhance the capacity of the criminal justice systems to identify and respond to the threat of terrorism, reduce risks of radicalization including the promotion of social reintegration of violent extremist prisoners and the protection of children exploited by terrorist and violent extremist groups.
Key reform priorities in West and Central Africa include capacity-building for criminal justice officers to enable them to better investigate and prosecute crimes, including serious crimes (money laundering, trafficking in person, drug related offences); targeted capacity building in the areas of international cooperation in criminal justice matters and improving the prison system, by bringing it up to international standards and improving detention conditions of prisoners.
UNODC's Justice Section improves and strengthens criminal justice systems in West and Central Africa by contributing in the following ways to an environment that promotes and advances justice.