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Africa and Asia Pacific ‘justice league’ moves for stronger action on wildlife crime

Legal and justice officials from 22 countries spanning Africa and Asia-Pacific today advanced their common understanding of the key elements and provisions needed for effective legal frameworks and coordinated efforts to tackle the multi-billion-dollar illegal trade in wildlife and forest products.

Over 90 participants held two days of deliberations in Thailand at the Africa-Asia Pacific Symposium on Strengthening Legal Frameworks to Combat Wildlife Crime. It was organized by the United Nations and its partners.

Participants at the symposium included senior ministry officials, prosecutors, attorneys general and parliamentarians.

The event featured exchanges in developing, enacting and enforcing effective national laws to combat wildlife crime, including illegal trade in timber and other forest products. It also discussed and advanced practical mechanisms for strengthening inter-regional coordination between Africa and Asia Pacific.

The participants identified and recommended key elements that should be included in national legal frameworks relevant to combating to wildlife crime. This includes, amongst others, provisions on the penalization of illegal trade, confiscation of illegally traded specimens, and mechanisms for inter-regional cooperation.

Wildlife crime transcends national borders, with Africa and Asia being especially linked by consumer demand for illegal products such as African elephant ivory, rhino horn, pangolin and rosewood. These devastating crimes have driven some iconic species to near-extinction, undermine national security and development efforts, threaten the livelihoods of rural communities, impact upon food security, and put entire ecosystems at risk.

Organized crime networks operating within and across these two regions routinely exploit gaps and discrepancies in national wildlife, forestry, criminal and other laws. The United Nations estimates that the illegal trade in wildlife is now the world’s fourth most lucrative crime after trafficking in drugs, people, and arms.

“Wildlife crime is a development issue, fueling corruption, disrupting rule of law and deepening poverty and inequality. Strong national laws and criminal justice systems are an essential foundation of efforts to combat wildlife and forest crimes,” said Caitlin Wiesen, Chief of UNDP’s Regional Policy and Programme Support for Asia and the Pacific.

The symposium offered an important opportunity for collaboration between the two regions, to strengthen legal frameworks and cooperation to address the illicit trade in wildlife and forest products.

Dechen Tsering, Regional Director, UN Environment Asia Pacific Office emphasized the need to step up the fight against wildlife crime. “We need strong laws and regulations are critical if we are to stop organized criminal networks that operate in these two regions. We also need to talk more with each other, network and share what we are doing across borders and regions and this symposium is a step forward in that process,” she added.

Importantly, countries in Africa and Asia are committed to strengthening national legislation to effectively address wildlife crime.

“The topic of the Symposium is very important… We want to know how to harmonize the different laws of the participating countries so we could have uniform penalties and fines for those who are going to abuse our wildlife resources,” said Alejandro Daguiso, Assistant State Prosecutor of the Department of Justice as well as Member of the Environmental Task Force of the Philippines.

The symposium was convened by the United Nations Inter-Agency Task Force on Illicit Trade in Wildlife and Forest Products, in partnership with the World Bank-led, Global Environment Facility-financed Global Wildlife Program, and USAID. It is being sponsored by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other partners.

“The enforcement of the law is critical to tackle Illegal Wildlife Trade, and the UN Task Force, a vital instrument for implementation. The GEF is proud to partner with the Task Force in this endeavor,” said Dr. Jaime Cavelier, Senior Biodiversity Specialist, Global Environment Facility

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