Within OPDAT’s Africa Region, experienced Resident Legal Advisors (RLAs) and Intermittent Legal Advisors (ILAs) provide advice and technical assistance to prosecutors, defense counsel, judges, and law enforcement officers, and related justice sector personnel in the region to improve their ability to investigate, prosecute, and adjudicate criminal cases involving complex, transnational, organized crime, including terrorism, terror financing, money laundering, and the illicit trafficking of arms, weapons of mass destruction, and wildlife. These programs are primarily funded by the U.S. Department of State.
Overview and Current Focus
The scourge of terrorism has hit numerous countries throughout Africa, killing and maiming thousands of innocents, causing millions to flee their homes, creating further instability in fragile areas and threatening U.S. interests and alliances. At the same time, many countries in Africa seek assistance developing better responses to other transnational criminal threats and addressing the historical neglect of justice sector institutions. In some countries, legislation is antiquated and inadequate to support modern criminal justice practices. While in other countries, legislation may be robust, but policies, procedures and practices are dated or function poorly.
The Department of Justice and OPDAT programs overall seek to provide immediate and relevant technical assistance to our African partners to permit them to respond to current threats in a manner that supports sustainable improvements in justice sector institutions and promotes the rule of law. Many of our programs are designed to support fundamental changes that are consistent with modern, international norms of criminal investigation, prosecution and adjudication.
In West Africa, for example, OPDAT has emphasized the need for proactive investigations and prosecutions that rely on closer collaboration between police, gendarmerie, and investigating magistrates. In some countries, this has included support for counterterrorism task forces, interdisciplinary training on investigating terrorist organizations and terrorism financing, and the promotion of formal and informal cross-border collaboration among countries in the region.
In both West and East Africa, we have provided career USDOJ prosecutors, supported by seasoned U.S. law enforcement personnel, to act as resources and mentors to assist our counterparts investigate and prosecute terrorists following some of the larger terrorist incidents on the continent. In addition, our prosecutors have worked alongside our foreign counterparts as they develop better processes for dealing with the backlog of detained terrorist suspects.
OPDAT has coordinated with our U.S. interagency colleagues, including with the Department of Defense and U.S. Africa Command, to assist our partners develop better cooperation between civilian and military authorities pursuing the fight against terrorist organizations operating in their countries.
Across the continent, we also offer our expertise and support for counter narcotics efforts. RLAs, in collaboration with the DEA and others, implement programs to enhance our partners’ abilities not only to prosecute simpler drug cases, but to pursue large scale cases against international traffickers who use these countries as transit hubs.
In several countries, OPDAT has been focused on helping our partners improve policies and practices that have heretofore led to excessive pretrial detention of arrested suspects. In many countries, the pretrial population of persons held in prison exceeds 60%; many of those detained are juveniles. In too many cases the authorities do not have sufficient evidence to prosecute those detained. Nevertheless, these individuals are held for months or years without trial. OPDAT has committed to assisting these countries rediscover their existing legal mechanisms and develop new tools to reduce excessive detention.
Reductions in unnecessary detention will have cascading benefits throughout the system, reducing overcrowding in the prisons and limiting exposure of vulnerable detainees to violent extremist rhetoric in those prisons, and reducing caseloads to permit police, prosecutors, and judges to focus on fewer and more important cases. In countries like Kenya and Ghana, our support for targeted programs to reduce overcrowding have not only seen immediate reductions in pretrial detention, but the focus and processes have assisted our foreign colleagues to better understand the mechanisms that have been causing the problems and to work together to solve those problems. Our support for regional programs, as well as professional exchanges as was done between Ghana and Kenya, have assisted these countries to share their experiences and solutions.
Most recently, part of our effort to support regional information sharing and training has included our RLA programs in Burkina Faso, Niger, and AFRICOM where we, joined with security and justice sector forces from these counties as well as Chad and Cameroon, met to exchange information on regional terrorism threats and best practices with military/civilian responses to acts of terrorism. The RLAs have noted that there is a disconnect between the security forces who initially encounter and detain terrorism suspects and the investigators and prosecutors who bring them to justice. This roundtable discussion was meant to specifically address and remedy this lack of coordination. Follow-up activities are being planned between these countries in the coming months.
OPDAT Africa currently has funded programs in Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Morocco, Egypt, Burkina Faso, and Niger, as well as AFRICOM in Stuttgart, Germany and the IIJ in Malta.
Effects of—and OPDAT Responses to—COVID
During the initial outbreak, OPDAT’s Africa team began making inquiries and collecting information about our foreign partners’ remediation efforts, particularly as those relate to prison populations. Our earlier efforts to encourage reductions in excessive pretrial detention gained urgency as countries began to confront the spread of the virus in overcrowded jails and prisons. With our encouragement and suggestions, a number of our partners made thoughtful and historic reductions in their prison populations to address this threat. Additionally, OPDAT also began to help our partners improve their awareness of Covid-related fraud and criminality, tracking, reporting and suggesting action on Covid-19 related fraud and criminality. Cyber criminals in West Africa had quickly begun to pivot to phishing, fraud and counterfeit pharmaceutical schemes related to the virus. In collaboration with the OPDAT intellectual property, cyber and computer hacking program team, we provided information and training on this recent scourge and how the U.S. and other countries were confronting it.