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Asmara, UNODC workshop to strengthen regional police cooperation

As it describes itself, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) “is a global leader in the fight against illicit drugs and international crime. Established in 1997, through a merger between the United Nations Drug Control Programme and the Centre for International Crime Prevention, the UNODC operates in all regions of the world through an extensive network of field offices.

It relies on voluntary contributions, mainly from governments, for about 90 percent of its budget and is mandated to assist countries around the world in their struggle against illicit drugs, crime, and terrorism. In the Millennium Declaration, countries also resolved to intensify efforts to fight transnational crime in all its dimensions, to redouble the efforts to implement the commitment to counter the world drug problem and to take concerted action against international terrorism.”

With the aim of enhancing effective criminal justice responses to trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants in Eastern Africa, among other cross-border crimes, the UNODC, in partnership with the Eritrean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, IGAD, and Interpol, recently conducted a regional workshop. The three-day regional workshop, conducted from the 30th of January to the 1st of February, 2019, gathered some thirty participants from ministries, attorney general offices, police forces and prosecution authorities from Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Uganda.

Transnational organized crime, including activities such as human trafficking, smuggling of persons, movement of illicit drugs, weapons, natural and counterfeit goods, and money laundering between countries and continents, as well as cyber-crimes, is a universal phenomenon harming countries and societies across the world. As an ongoing global issue, the UNODC seeks to address transnational crime through a variety of responses and measures.

The recent workshop held in Asmara reflects Eritrea’s and the region’s readiness to address transnational organized crimes commonly seen in the region. It saw the cooperation of Eastern African countries and stakeholders, who came together for the first time to share information and join forces to strengthen regional cooperation and coordination on combating transnational organized crime.

The workshop was held in an encouraging atmosphere, coming during a period in which Eritrea has established much diplomatic cooperation initiatives. Following the peace agreement with neighboring Ethiopia, Eritrea has achieved, in late 2018, diplomatic victories in the region and beyond.

Notably, the workshop coincides with Eritrea’s appointment to serve on the UN Human Rights Council. As well, with the latest regional developments, the workshop will certainly serve as a positive stepping stone for Eritrea’s further regional and international cooperation. During the opening ceremony, the Acting General Director of Desks in the Eritrean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Ibrahim Osman, highlighted Eritrea’s commitment to ensure safety and security, as well as its readiness to cooperate with other countries in the region.

Organized crime is a universal phenomenon that negatively impacts countries around the world. In fact, according to documents shared during the workshop, “Organized crime, including trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants, is a complex, changing flexible phenomenon. Many of the different aspects of globalization, such as easier and faster communication, movement of capital and movement of persons, have created opportunities for transitional organized criminal groups to develop, diversify and expand their activities at the international level. Traditional, territorial-based criminal groups have evolved or have been partially replaced by more flexible networks with branches across several national jurisdictions. Victims, suspects, organized criminal groups and proceeds of crime maybe located in different States, hence the need for strengthening and regional cooperation in criminal matters accords the region […] The primary purpose of the workshop is to strengthen the capacity of criminal justice practitioners for their effective, timely and appropriate communication across boarders in criminal matters, as well as understand the importance and benefits of existing police communication system, legal frameworks, and digital and financial investigation tools and mechanism in line with the United Nation Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) and its supplementing Protocols.”

The three-day workshop was filled with a broad array of programs and activities. Discussions and presentations on were organized. Topic covered included: the IGAD Security program; the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its related mechanisms of international cooperation (focusing on human trafficking and smuggling); Interpol tools and technical assistance aimed at international cooperation and law enforcement information sharing; and the importance of financial investigation in human trafficking and smuggling cases, among other issues.

Noting that the workshop is part and parcel of Eritrea’s longstanding partnership with EAPCCO, the Head of the Eritrean Police Force, Colonel Mehari Tsegai, gave a briefing about two operations that police in the region have been undertaking. According to the Colonel, Operations USALAMA and FAGIA are Interpol-backed operations against cross-border and transnational crimes. He further noted that the recent workshop, conducted through the support of the UNODC, will reinforce previous efforts and initiatives taken by the region’s police forces.

Important remarks were also made by Johan Kruger, UNODC’s Head of Transnational Organized Crime, the German Ambassador to Eritrea, Gerald Wolf, the British Ambassador to Eritrea, Ian Richards, the Charge d’Affaires of the EU Delegation to Eritrea, Dr. Nicole Miller, among others. The workshop was concluded on February 1st, after offering participants a useful platform for mutual understanding and cooperation.

The recent developments toward peace and cooperation in the region are, without a doubt, highly encouraging and welcome. However, the need for stronger security and safety measures is ever-present. Almost no country in the world is protected from the harms of organized crime. Henceforth, Eritrea’s role, alongside the other countries in the region, as well as the UNODC’s Member States, in combating various criminal threats and ensuring peace, security, safety, and stability, is vital.


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