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A Prosecutor’s Guide to Radiological and Nuclear Crimes

NEW! A Prosecutor’s Guide to Radiological and Nuclear Crimes


Organised crime groups, terrorists and non-state actors seek maximum visibility for their raison d'être and intend to cause extreme levels of panic among the population. They are known to be attracted to RN materials to achieve these goals. Radioactive and nuclear materials can facilitate many schemes, ranging from targeted exposure operations causing radiation sickness in one or more victims to the creation of devices designed to kill or cause serious injury. Ultimately, these activities can induce fear, panic and mass disruption.

Despite the multitude of stringent regulatory control regimes enforced by States, the access to RN materials for malicious purposes remains a significant risk. This persistent threat is due to the widespread presence of RN materials in society and is exacerbated by negative factors such as the growing nexus between crime and terrorism, regional instabilities, uncontrolled territories, and the abundance of materials rooted in some States’ historical heritage. Ongoing regional conflicts and wars have revived old terminologies such as 'nuclear blackmail’, which had faded from public awareness for a period.

Once RN material is illegally taken from regulatory control and transported to its final destination to be used for malicious purposes, it becomes subject to interdiction. Nowadays, countries invest millions of dollars to enhance their national security capabilities by purchasing costly chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) detection and forensics equipment. States spend huge amounts of their tax- payers’ money on building and maintaining robust national security architectures with the goal of frustrating any such illegal scheme. That said, traffickers may still be successful in illegally crossing national frontiers undetected.

This Guide exists to support state authorities in prevention-oriented investigations and lawful prosecutions of those who would attempt such schemes. As these crimes have a low probability of occurring (while presenting a potentially high impact), an individual prosecutor’s next RN case may be their first. This Guide is specifically designed to support every step of the investigation and prosecution process. Prosecutors need to build a very strong case in court to convince judicial authorities of the deliberate nature of such a crime, and this requires impeccable evidence. These cases are complex and rare, and therefore the Guide is designed to support a prosecutor facing relevant challenges, even as it may take many years to progress from the crime scene to adjudication in court.

Ultimately, criminals and terrorists will be defended by competent counsel. State authorities can expect to be questioned about each step. Forensics experts, investigators, field technicians and scientists can anticipate scrutiny of every action and every conclusion. Any perceived or actual gap could jeopardise the case, leading to the acquittal of otherwise guilty perpetrators. This Guide is designed to be a comprehensive resource for prosecutors to achieve predictable and successful outcomes in cases involving radiological and nuclear crimes.

A Prosecutor’s Guide to Radiological and Nuclear Crimes includes practical tips, lessons learned, and best practices derived from real criminal case examples, serving as useful precedents. Step-by-step recommendations for the successful investigation and prosecution of RN crimes are integral parts of the Guide.

A comprehensive capacity-building and training package was developed by UNICRI to integrate the provisions of the Guide into the available training catalogue. Components of the training package include tabletop exercises, modules such as 'Building a Case for the Prosecution of CBRN crimes, CBRN Criminalisation workshop, Mock Trials and Train-The-Trainer evolutions.

The training package enables participants to learn about the entire process of investigating a case, starting from the crime scene contaminated with CBRN materials to the eventual prosecution and adjudication of the crime in the courtroom. While the training is primarily intended for prosecutors, it is also available to judicial and investigative professionals due to the crosscutting nature of prosecutorial work. This includes relevant law enforcement authorities, who often lead the investigation from the crime scene to the courtroom.

The long-term goal of this initiative is to integrate both this Guide and the relevant training package into the curricula of national training institutions and academies for prosecutors and law enforcement agencies. Training institutions will be solicited for their involvement in this initiative from the outset. Courses have been designed to be easily conducted at the regional or national level to meet the requirements of the involved entities and promote the exchange of good practices and expertise. Ultimately, this initiative aims to stimulate dialogue and cooperation, significantly enhancing the safety and security of the global family of nations.

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