Strengthening Law Enforcement Capacity in West Africa

Posted by Alyce Ahn
December 22, 2011
State and Justice Departments Host Workshop in Sierra Leone

Last week, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Justice, in conjunction with the Anti-Corruption Commission of Sierra Leone, held a week-long workshop, the West Africa Anti-Corruption Workshop, in Freetown to increase the capacity of law enforcement officials in West Africa to investigate and prosecute allegations of public corruption and pursue asset recovery cases.

The global fight against corruption is a central priority for the United States as corruption is a serious threat to prosperity, security, and development, impeding economic growth, trade and investment; perpetuating poverty; and compromising markets and supply chains. Moreover, high-level corruption, corruption within the justice and security sectors, and a lack of accountability erode citizens' trust in their government and contribute to a culture of impunity that enables transnational criminal organizations to thrive. Corruption in West Africa has made it an attractive place for criminal organizations to operate and their illicit activities are a threat to regional stability and U.S. national security interests.

The West Africa Anti-Corruption Workshop brought together forty law enforcement officials from Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Niger, Sierra Leone, Senegal, and Togo -- all Parties to the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), which requires countries to implement a broad range of anti-corruption measures -- in the largest workshop hosted by the U.S. Government in Freetown since the end of Sierra Leone's civil war. Experts from the U.S. Government, the Government of Sierra Leone, the Government of Brazil, and INTERPOL gave presentations on a variety of topics including: investigating corruption and conducting financial investigations; prosecuting corruption and bribery; utilizing international tools and networks; making mutual legal assistance requests; and recovering the proceeds of corruption. Participants shared their respective countries' laws and procedures, best practices, and ongoing challenges in tackling corruption, and also engaged with one another to work through real case studies. As an organizer, I was especially heartened to see participants working on case studies past the end of day and asking to delay lunch in order to continue discussing material with the presenters. It was also encouraging to see participants exhorting one another across country lines to strengthen certain laws and capacities.

The United States is committed to building upon the foundation established by the UNCAC by providing technical assistance to equip law enforcement officials with the knowledge and skills to investigate and prosecute public corruption. Fighting corruption is also an important element of the National Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime; the U.S.-EU Trans-Atlantic Symposium framework; and the West Africa Cooperative Security Initiative (WACSI), a five-year, comprehensive effort to increase security by combating transnational organized crime and drug trafficking in West Africa.

Since the workshop, the Government of Sierra Leone has requested assistance from the United States in investigating a case involving senior officials who may have solicited bribes in exchange for permission to conduct illegal logging operations. We look forward to seeing progress in this case, as well as in the ACC's other cases, and also hope the relationships built over the past week will facilitate both formal and informal international cooperation.

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