Between 30 May and 1 June 2011, Australia and Thailand Co-hosted Technical Expert Workshop on Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) and Law Enforcement Cooperation held in Bangkok, Thailand.
In attendance were representatives from Australia, Bhutan, Cambodia, Canada, China, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Maldives, Mongolia, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, as well as the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
The workshop focused on the importance of Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) to combat transnational organized crime, particularly trafficking in persons and people smuggling, and the importance of strengthening cooperation among the Bali Process countries on such matters. The objective of the workshop was that the exchanges and discussions will generate momentum, build partnerships, and increase the standard of MLA and extradition requests and assistance.
Emphasis was placed on the importance of adopting a people-centered approach in respect of the victims of trafficking in persons, with care taken to avoid re-victimization, and to provide them protection under international refugee law in the area of improving prevention and prosecution activities.
Thailand presented an overview on the concept of MLA as an essential tool to prevent and suppress criminal activities related to trafficking in persons and people smuggling, as well as dismantle illicit networks behind recent irregular population movements. The presentation touched upon principles and conditions including double criminality, double jeopardy, reciprocity, and the linkages between domestic, regional and international legal frameworks, drawing on Thailand’s experience.
Thailand shared its experience and challenges faced in relation to international legal cooperation, particularly, the use of existing legal arrangements and non-treaty based instruments with other countries.
The Ambassador of Thailand to Australia at the time delivered a special presentation on international legal cooperation on transnational organized crime. He urged participants to consider building on the work of the Bali Process on Counter Terrorism, which discussed issues relating to MLA and international legal cooperation but focusing on the different offence of terrorism.
Participants shared information about developments in their domestic laws to combat trafficking in persons, people smuggling and other transnational organized crime as well as national provisions on MLA and extradition. Participants shared details about bilateral MLA and extradition arrangements, including statistics on trafficking and smuggling cases.
Participants also exchanged views on developments in regional and international cooperation on MLA and law enforcement such as in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and in implementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) and the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC).
UNODC delivered presentations on the linkage between international and regional principles on MLA, particularly the application of the UNTOC provisions regarding MLA and extradition, the ASEAN MLAT and the ASEAN Convention on Counter-Terrorism.
UNHCR pointed out that victims of trafficking may meet the criteria for obtaining refugee status under the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.
Australia shared its experience of mutual legal assistance in trafficking in persons and people smuggling investigations.
Participants engaged in a working group exercise set up involving a trafficking in persons scenario. This prompted discussion on the challenges in making and responding to requests for international crime cooperation and their positions and perspectives as countries of origin, transit and destination in the context of the scenario.
Participants noted the value of having further opportunities to update each other on developments regarding domestic frameworks on trafficking in persons and people smuggling as well as on arrangements for MLA, extradition and related issues.