The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) works to keep Americans safe at home by countering international crime, illegal drugs, and instability abroad. INL helps countries deliver justice and fairness by strengthening their police, courts, and corrections systems. These efforts reduce the amount of crime and illegal drugs reaching U.S. shores.
Challenges: Benin is an exceptional U.S. partner in West Africa with a history of democratic pluralism, development, and political stability. However, due to its strategic location, with a large port and substantial transportation links to Nigeria, Benin is susceptible to drug trafficking and other forms of transnational organized crime. Benin’s lack of law enforcement capabilities, along with a heavily cash-based economy, makes it difficult to track the sources of financial resources and facilitates corruption, money laundering, and other illicit economic activities. Weaknesses in the justice sector and rule of law remain, particularly the backlog of criminal cases, as well as the need for more effective cooperation between national and regional actors to address transnational organized crime and corruption.
Goals: The U.S. government in 2011 developed the West Africa Cooperative Security Initiative (WACSI), an interagency initiative to address the threat of transnational organized crime in West Africa. In Benin, INL works closely with Embassy Cotonou to operationalize the WACSI strategy in several ways. INL programs are intended to build the Government of Benin’s capacity to investigate and fairly adjudicate cases that impact transnational organized crime and to bolster accountability and transparency in the criminal justice sector. Another goal of INL programs is to promote regional cooperation – through participation in multilateral peacekeeping operations in Africa, by working collaboratively with Gulf of Guinea neighbors, and by sharing information.
In 2013, INL successes included the following:
- INL funded a regional anti-corruption workshop in Benin for 40 West African officials. The workshop was led by experienced U.S. prosecutors from the Department of Justice, and featured experts from INL, INTERPOL, and l’Ecole Régionale Superieure de la Magistrature (the Higher Regional School of Magistracy), a Benin-based, regionally focused judicial institute that provides anti-crime/corruption training and education to judges from 17 mainly West African countries.
- INL signed a Letter of Agreement with the Government of Benin to establish programs to enhance Benin’s capability to fight transnational organized crime and corruption.
- INL launched the Africa Regional Anti-Corruption Training Program in partnership with DOJ, focused on supporting anti-corruption capacity-building activities for criminal justice officials in Francophone West Africa, including Benin, Niger, Senegal, Burkina Faso, and Togo. Activities have included intermittent in-country advisory mentoring sessionsto help criminal justice sector officials address specific, technical challenges in complex corruption cases, including stolen asset recovery, and a regional five-day workshop that benefited officials charged with fighting corruption.
- INL initiated a UN Office on Drugs and Crime-World Health Organization program to address gaps in the substance use treatment system. In 2014, as a follow-up to the U.S.-EU Trans-Atlantic Symposium on Dismantling Transnational Illicit Networks, INL plans to sponsor a maritime criminal justice workshop in Benin for ECOWAS Zone E countries that is designed to bolster their maritime criminal justice capacities.
In 2014 and 2015, INL successes have included the following:
- In partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), INL is providing training, mentorship, and material support to civilian law enforcement entities so they have the skills and tools to carry out their mandates. Our Senior Law Enforcement Advisor provides daily mentoring to the National Police, and INL has provided numerous specific training sessions to senior law enforcement officials at the International Law Enforcement Academy in Botswana, at the West Africa Regional Training Center in Ghana, and in tailored training sessions in Benin and elsewhere.
- Partnering with DOJ, INL has improved the Government of Benin’s capacity to fairly adjudicate cases that impact transnational organized crime and corruption. Our Resident Legal Advisor has provided daily mentoring to Beninese magistrates and judicial officials, also facilitating their collaboration with Togolese magistrates to improve cross-border collaboration.
- In coordination with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), INL has supported both the Government of Benin’s National Authority for the Fight against Corruption and a civil society network to bolster transparency and accountability in the criminal justice sector.
- In collaboration with the Beninese government and civil society, INL is helping to develop the substance use prevention and treatment system in Benin.
- Twice per year, INL has provided standardized pre-deployment training to Beninese Formed Police Units headed to UN peacekeeping operations. Finally, INL is working with other U.S. agencies and international organizations to improve regional maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea and security at the Port of Cotonou.