A vital part of global counter-terrorism efforts is the promotion of effective rule of law-based criminal-justice responses. In practice, however, Member States face significant challenges in their attempts to obtain admissible evidence that can be used to help prosecute and secure the convictions of terrorist suspects in judicial proceedings.The situation of foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) who travel to, or return from, conflict zones represents a particularly acute challenge. Because information related to the activities of FTFs is often located on the battlefield, it may be inaccessible to civilian prosecutors and investigators. Therefore, the prosecution of FTFs may depend on the use of Internet-based evidence and may require forms of judicial cooperation that are not provided for in established legal frameworks.
On the margins of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA73), the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED), the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and the International Association of Prosecutors (IAP) organized a side event on this theme. “Collection, use, and sharing of evidence for the purposes of criminal prosecution in terrorism cases,” an event focused on how to end impunity for terrorist suspects by bringing those responsible to justice in full compliance with international law, provided an opportunity for experts to exchange views on challenges and best practices in the sharing of information and evidence in this area.
The event consisted of three sessions: The first session discussed global initiatives developed to support the efforts of Member States to promote the collection, use, and sharing of evidence for the purposes of criminal prosecution in terrorism cases. In this context, the GCTFAbuja Recommendations on the Collection, Use and Sharing of Various Types of Evidenceof the Global Counterterrorism Forum, and the Good Practices on the Role of Central Authorities to Promote Sharing of Evidenceof the International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law (IIJ), were introduced.
The second session focused on lawful access to digital data in counter-terrorism investigations, as well as related current global and regional initiatives and cooperation. Both the Practical Guide For Requesting Electronic Evidence Across Bordersdeveloped by CTED, UNODC, and IAP, and the EUROMED Manual on Digital Evidencedeveloped by EUROMED Justice and EUROMED Police, were launched. Speakers presented challenges faced by investigators and prosecutors in obtaining digital evidence, and how the Manual and the Practical Guide would help them overcome these. Upcoming outreach activities on the Manual and future expert group meetings were also discussed.
The third session discussed the background and the status of a joint UN project that was developed by CTED under the framework of the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force (CTITF) Working Group of Legal and Criminal Justice Responses to Terrorism. This aim of the project was to facilitate the use and admissibility as evidence of information preserved, collected, and shared by the military to prosecute terrorist offences before national courts. Speakers presented relevant existing practices to this effect. Challenges observed during the development of the UN guidelines on the topic were also outlined.
The event was co-sponsored by France, Nigeria, Switzerland, and the European Union, and attended by over 100 people from more than 20 Member States, 10 non-governmental organizations and research institutes, as well as 9 international and regional organizations, and seven UN entities.
CTED’s Flickr album with photos from the event is available here.