Press Releases

    For information only - not an official document

    1 July 2016

    John Brandolino, Director, Division for Treaty Affairs, UN Office on Drugs and Crime:

    Lessons from the Madrid Special meeting of the Counter-Terrorism Committee and the Madrid Guiding principles

    Side Event at the 2016 review of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy on criminal justice aspects of prosecution, rehabilitation and reintegration

    VIENNA/NEW YORK, 1 July (UN Information Service) - Many thanks to Ambassador Marchesi [PR Spain Mission in NY] and Jean Paul for their kind invitation to attend this important meeting.

    A key focus of the Madrid Guiding Principles involves criminal justice approaches, including criminalization, prosecution (including prosecution strategies for returnees), international cooperation; and the rehabilitation and reintegration of returnees.

    I would like to focus my remarks today on the issue of rehabilitation and reintegration of returnees - and more particularly with regard to alternatives to pre-trial detention and post-conviction imprisonment.

    The issue of alternatives to incarceration is a bit counterintuitive for most people. Particularly given the horrific events in Istanbul, Brussels and elsewhere, the average citizen would likely equate effective law enforcement with removing potential violent actors from the streets.

    But I must say that those involved in the practice of criminal justice are probably most likely not to find this counterintuitive.

    It is a fact that alternatives to incarceration are currently being studied and tested in many criminal justice contexts around the world today. It is not a new issue for UNODC and it is an area of growing expertise.

    In March, for example, I participated in a panel on this issue in the context of drug-related crimes, where there were many differing examples of how this concept was being applied. The U.S. sponsored a similar panel in May at the UN Crime Commission, but this time targeted to FTFs (Foreign Terrorist Fighters) and terrorism.

    UNODC has also had the opportunity via our five-year Programme [1] on Strengthening the Legal Regime Against Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTFs) in the Middle East, North African and Balkan Regions to conduct multiple events last year, at which Member States discussed the issue of rehabilitation and reintegration in the criminal justice context, including alternatives to incarceration.

    Participants at these various events have shed light on common benefits to and principles for applying alternatives to incarceration.

    Let me share a few with you:

    • First, rehabilitation measures should be included as part of integrated national strategies to counter terrorism and violent extremism, as is the case already in some Member States [Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Morocco].
    • Second, rehabilitation responses need to be adapted to specific situations given the diverse profiles of radicalized individuals. In fact, reducing reliance on imprisonment at the different stages of the criminal justice process generally allows us to treat each offender as unique and anticipate the timing for social reintegration, including treating the mentally ill when necessary. This is viewed as critical to addressing FTFs generally and effectively within the criminal justice system.
    • Third, developing successful alternatives to incarceration forces us to build coalitions that may have more general preventive application. For example, rehabilitation programs in several countries integrate family into the rehabilitation process - and also community leaders and others. Even judicial and law enforcement officials can be trained to actively participate in and apply these strategies.
    • Fourth, rehabilitation programmes in some countries show that chances of success are significantly increased when individuals take responsibility for their acts by avoiding confusion or shifting of the roles from perpetrators to victims;
    • Fifth, reducing overreliance on imprisonment serves to reduce the prison populations. Consequential benefits can include decreased costs for the State, and prisons that are less overcrowded.
    • Sixth, alternatives to incarceration can offer a further preventive advantage by helping returnees and others avoid exposure to radical elements that may exist within some prisons. 
    • Finally, reducing overreliance on imprisonment can even serve to help States more effectively implement at least one specific human rights provision. Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights demands that "the penitentiary system shall comprise treatment of prisoners the essential aim of which shall be their reformation and social rehabilitation." Considering sanctions that do not involve incarceration, can often be more effective in terms of reformation and social rehabilitation, thus being consistent with Article 10.

    UNODC is trying to use its experience with these issues to develop technical tools and provide technical assistance and capacity building to Member States in this area.

    Of course, because of the seriousness of terrorist offences and the dangerous nature of many terrorism suspects, pre-trial detention may - more often than not - be justified. However, effective alternatives must not be discarded from the start on the basis that the offence charged is terrorism. That is what we promote in our training.

    Even when imprisonment is contemplated, stronger attention could be directed into strengthening the prison environment as a place for positive change.

    In line with the Madrid Principles and the Good Practice 19 of the Hague-Marrakech Memorandum ( Develop comprehensive reintegration programmes for returning FTFs), UNODC's programme on FTFs has also a strong focus on preventing and countering violence and radicalization in prisons - and we plan to do more on these topics.

    One final word on children and the criminal justice system: Alternatives to detention of course play a major role in UNODC's work on children associated with violent extremist groups, including terrorist groups.

    As a matter of international law, States are required to consider alternatives to detention for children, including the possibility of diversion at all stages of proceedings.

    UNODC has recently organized sub-regional workshops on the treatment of children allegedly involved with Boko Haram as alleged offenders, victims and witnesses of crime for five Sahel countries in Dakar last October and this June, in close cooperation with OHCHR, UNICEF and the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children in Armed Conflict.

    We have designed a project proposal that envisages:

    (a) development of guidelines and tools on key issues such as treatment, rehabilitation and social integration strategies related to children associated with violent extremist groups, including terrorist groups;

    (b) providing capacity building to relevant actors,

    (c) and development of pilot programmes for the rehabilitation and social reintegration of children associated with violent extremist groups.

    Many thanks for your attention and I look forward to further discussion on these important issues.

    * *** *

    For further information, please contact:

    David Dadge
    Spokesperson, UNODC
    Telephone: (+43 1) 26060-5629
    Mobile: (+43-699) 1459-5629
    Email: david.dadge[at]

    [1] This programme is being implemented in cooperation with relevant partners such as CTED, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean the League of Arab States and the International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law, in Malta.