West African legal and security experts are exploring a new legal framework for regional cooperation on counterterrorism. The U.N.-sponsored program is also expected to adopt an action plan.
Some international security experts say West Africa has what it takes to become a terrorist breeding ground. It is resource rich and democracy poor. Corruption is rife, ethnic and religious conflicts abound in the midst of severe economic difficulties. There is also very little protection for civil society and human rights. A growing army of young, unemployed young men in most West African cities could become easy targets for those who seek to turn resentment and despair to their own purposes, the experts say.
Speaking at the United Nations-sponsored workshop on terrorism in Abuja Monday, Walter Gehr, of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, noted that only five West African countries have provided reports requested by UN counter terrorism agencies. "Talking about reporting, five of the 15 [Economic Community of West African States] member countries have submitted all the reports requested from them by the Counter-Terrorism Committee and the al-Qaida and Taleban Committee of the Security Council. We are proud to be associated to the drafting efforts of some of these countries, which we expect to be de-listed from the group of late submitters very soon. As a matter of course, we would like this to be the case for ECOWAS member states, both regarding the reports to the Counter-Terrorism Committee and to the al-Qaida and Taleban Committee," he said.
West Africa's growing importance as a global energy source has also raised the prospect of greater interest by terrorist groups. Economic Community of West Africa representative, Olu Arowobuso, says it is time to review the legal framework for dealing with terrorism in the region. "For such unpredictable acts and commissions, we all need to adopt various postures to prevent or to be able to effectively react to terrorist initiatives and actions. Our laws on terrorism for example therefore need to be constantly reviewed and modified to fit the exigencies of the situation. Strengthening such laws would not necessarily lead to denial of basic liberties but rather prevents and controls abuses and misuse, in for example cases of extradition requests," he said.
The three-day workshop will take a critical overview of the universal legal framework against terrorism, instruments for legal cooperation in criminal matters in West Africa, legal mechanisms offered by U.N. conventions to facilitate extradition and mutual legal assistance as well as the role of international police organization INTERPOL.