Strengthening laws to tackle wildlife crime in Central, West and Southern Africa

Illegal wildlife trade poses a serious threat to certain species of animals and plants across many parts of the world. In a number of high-level regional political declarations, governments across Africa have committed to redouble their efforts to prevent, detect and penalize wildlife crimes. They will do this by strengthening their legal frameworks, stepping up national and regional cooperation, raising awareness of the drivers and impacts of wildlife crime, and working with local communities to prevent and address the illegal harvest and trade of wildlife and forest products.

Adequate penalties are important deterrents to crimes, and especially for those that are transboundary in nature. A new survey issued in advance of the Symposium on Strengthening Legal Frameworks to Combat Wildlife Crime in Central and West Africa has revealed that countries in these subregions apply lax penalties for wildlife crime, with an average minimum prison term of two months and an average maximum prison term of five years. Many countries across East Africa and Asia apply tougher penalties, both monetarily and in terms of prison time.

One of the participants, Albertina Nzuzi, of the National Directorate of Biodiversity, Ministry of Environment of Angola (and representing the Management Authority of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) observed: “We have noted the need to increase penalties for wildlife crime in West and Central Africa. Angola has much lower penalties than its neighbouring countries and has to address the discrepancy.”

The symposium, which was held from 11 to 12 September 2018 in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, was organized by five UN entities to strengthen the legal frameworks to better control legal trade and fight illegal trade.

Participants came from 19 francophone and lusophone African countries and represented national wildlife management authorities and criminal justice authorities, such as public prosecutors, judges, and officials from ministries of justice. The mix of participants from different backgrounds underscored the complexity of the issues and the need for a wide range of actors to understand these, as well as the breadth of instruments and tools available to address them.

The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs presented the United Nations Forest Instrument and the United Nations Strategic Plan for Forests, which deals with the illegal harvest and trade of wildlife and forest products, the importance of sustainably managing natural resources in preventing and combatting those activities, and the role of local communities working jointly with governments to deal with the problem.

UN Environment shared the findings and recommendations of the analysis it had undertaken for an upcoming report on the current status and gaps in regulating legal trade and combatting illegal trade in wildlife and forest products. Key gaps included lack of legal provisions for dealing with corporations and organized crime, while recommendations included maintaining flexibility in revising laws and regulations to keep pace with the developments of international agreements.

The Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora highlighted that 15 of the 19 countries were still to take measures to effectively implement and enforce the Convention, the only international legally binding instrument that provides an agreed definition of illegal trade in wild fauna and flora. She explained what constituted the minimum requirements to national legal frameworks for controlling trade in specimens of the 37,000 species of fauna and flora covered by the Convention.

Delegates from the United Nations Development Programme explained some of their in-country support in Angola and Mali and highlighted the complexity of addressing wildlife crime in the broader context of instability in some countries of the region. They also highlighted opportunities for countries to obtain international funding for strengthening their legal frameworks and for implementing conservation programmes through the Global Environment Facility.

Representatives from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime introduced the upcoming Guide on drafting legislation to combat wildlife crime, which will be officially launched on 17 October 2018 during the Conference of Parties of the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, and presented a project in Central Africa that will seek to strengthen the criminal justice response to wildlife and forest crime in the subregion.

The participants generally found the symposium useful in raising their awareness and understanding of the legal frameworks needed to control trade in wildlife and combat illegal trade. Many participants noted that national parliamentarians and other actors also needed to be sensitized and mobilized for change to happen. The organizers of the event took note of the expressed needs for further assistance which will be considered in the planning of future activities.

Participating countries included: Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cabo Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Republic of the Congo and Togo.

Source: UN Environment

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