14 November 2015

Conference Report: CITES Enforcement and Wildlife Crime

A good number of people attended this event last Wednesday co-hosted by two MEPs of the MEPs for Wildlife Group and chaired by Daniel Turner from the Born Free Foundation.

Very positive to see an audience not only from the NGO world but also representing actual wildlife traders such as the International Falconry Association and the European Pet Organisation who are concerned about illegal trafficking and wish to know more.

The speakers were all good and knew their part of the deal. Sadly the time allocated to such an interesting event was only two hours. When all the presentations were finished there was time for only two questions from the audience, which, in my opinion, were unfortunately wasted. But that is another story. There were many things to ask afterwards, and hopefully next time the event will take longer to allow for the necessary discussions.

With the intention to help defining the EU Action Plan that the European Commission is drafting, most speakers presented the same list of problematic issues when talking about enforcement in the EU:

1.- Legislation at the level of Member States (MS) differs: wildlife trafficking is defined and sanctioned differently in every country. Being a Customs Union this creates inmense loopholes, and as representatives from the three MS confirmed, organised crime chooses the weakest points in the Schengen area to introduce their specimens illegally because once they are inside the European Union they are able to circulate freely (a little deviation in the subject to say that a wildlife trader from the Netherlands told me that he had to inform the CITES Management Authorities when he wanted to travel to another country. An issue for me to research further).

Many speakers called for option 3 in the Roadmap: develop legislation to harmonise penalties and create a level playing field to avoid loopholes;

2.- Lack of coordination among the national authorities involved: At national level, CITES Management Authorities (M.A), Customs and Police they are all pieces of the enforcement chain. In addition, there are public prosecutors and judges who play a roll. In some MS these authorities are disconnected, do not share information and have no strategy plan whatsoever. As one speaker put it: 'CITES M.A has the knowledge but not the power, police and Customs have the power but not the knowledge'. This favours organised crime, since information is not timely and appropriate shared. Interagency cooperation at national level was underlined as a solution to this issue.

3.- Lack of a central data base/Need to share data: This is a recurrent problem that almost every speaker mentioned. MS are in need of sharing information with other enforcement authorities. Improving cooperation is key, again, because organised crime chooses the weakest link in the chain. Nowadays there is EU TWIX, WCO, collection of data from national Customs authorities but no central data base on which any enforcement authority within the EU could rely. Official channels seem to take too long for investigations. Bilateral and regional cooperation is regarded as essential.

4.- Capacity building: In some EU MS, Customs and Police officials deal with all sort of trafficking: drugs, counterfeiting and wildlife. Many of them lack the technical knowledge to pursue wildlife trafficking, and have received no training whatsoever. These hampers not only the possibility of controlling shipments but also the development of the investigation and the subsequent prosecution.

5.- Political will: Wildlife crime is not a priority for the majority of MS. Consequently the necessary resources do not flow at the pace they need to. It was suggested that MS need obligatory instruments to create a level playing field in terms of sanctions. 

6.- Financial and administrative limits: Some speakers talked about the financial constraints not only at the level of staff and material, but also in relation to the expenses of an investigation/prosecution. The Cezch representative explained that for the Rhino Horn case EUR 150 000 were spent in only translation from Cezch to Vietnamese. Also, forensic methods are not mutually recognised between MS.

Equally, it is impossible to monitor all shipments, and the current staff capacity limits control very much. Certainly wildlife trafficking goes unnoticed.

Moreover, some of these cases are complex, the sanctions foreseen are low and therefore investigation possibilities are scarce.

The last presentation was made by Pauline Verheij from the Wildlife Justice Commission, an accountability mechanism designed by wildlife crime experts to address the impunity of key perpetrators. This issue will be dealt with in a separate post as an example of how things can move further. 

The representative of the European Commission announced their intention to public the Action Plan on 3 March 2016, the World Wildlife Day. In principle, it is intented to be based on three pillars: preventing and addressing causes, strengthening the existing rules and creating a global partnership versus wildlife trafficking.

For those who still wish to provide their input and share their ideas with the Commission it is still possible following this link: 

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