• November 15th, 2019

Opinion: Wildlife, forest and fisheries crimes


Lizazi Eugene Libebe

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), each year countless species is driven closer to extinction, while criminals make billions from the sale of protected wildlife and forest products. These crimes have a devastating impact on biodiversity; they undermine national, regional political and economic security; weaken the rule of law, and threaten global efforts to responsibly and sustainably manage natural resources in the service of development for all. Like other areas of transnational organised crime, wildlife, forest and fisheries crimes are rooted in opportunities for profit. Through the UNODC’s Education for Justice Initiative (E4J) – a global programme for the implementation of the Doha Declaration to prevent crime and promote a culture of lawfulness – an international high-level conference on ‘education for the rule of law’ was held from 7-9 October 2019 in Vienna, Austria. One of the sessions or themes of the conference was around wildlife, forest and fisheries crimes. Some of the questions raised were: Who is involved in these crimes? Where are they happening? How big are the flows? What is being done to stop them? What can be done to stop them?

There is no single definition of ‘wildlife trafficking’, ‘wildlife and forest crimes’ or ‘illegal trade in wildlife, timber and fish’. Neither is there a global instrument setting out a universally accepted definition, but national laws employ different terminologies, depending on their legal system and the specific wildlife, forest and fisheries crimes they encounter. Other terms used include trafficking in fauna and flora or trafficking of wildlife contraband. In criminology, wildlife trafficking is referred to as ‘green crime’ (crime against the environment), which involves the illegal trade, smuggling, poaching, capture, obtaining and collection of endangered species and protected wildlife, including animals and plants that are harvested with permits and quotas. The UNODC and INTERPOL describe wildlife and forest crime as the taking, trading (supplying, selling or trafficking), importing, exporting, processing, obtaining and consumption of wild fauna and flora, including timber and other forest products, in contravention of national and international law. 

Under international law, we have the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which is the oldest international conservation organisation established in 1948. IUCN played a central part in the drafting and implementation of a number of international legal instruments, including the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. The most significant product of IUCN is the ‘Red List of Threatened Species’, which assesses species and indicates those that are threatened with extinction. In 2019, the Red List contains over 96, 500 species, more than 26, 500 of which have been classified as threatened with extinction (UNODC, 2019). CITES provides a framework for international trade in certain species, and it aims to protect certain species against over-exploitation through international trade. The Convention does not address all aspects of wildlife crimes, but it provides a useful approach to perplexities of this topic. CITES is not an international criminal law treaty, but it identifies illicit trade is a criminal threat to wildlife. In addition, the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime and the Protocol thereto promote cooperation to prevent and combat transnational organised crime more effectively. This treaty and its protocol, however, only provides for trafficking in persons and does not define, nor include wildlife trafficking. Other relevant international instruments affected by wildlife trafficking include the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals; Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, and UN Convention against Corruption. 

In Namibia, there are various legal instruments on wildlife, forests and fisheries related activities. Article 95(l) of the Constitution is aimed at the promotion of the welfare of the people through promotion and adoption of policies aimed at the maintenance of ecosystems, essential ecological processes and biological diversity of Namibia and utilisation of living natural resources on a sustainable basis for the benefit of all Namibians, both present and future. Other relevant laws include: the Nature Conservation Ordinance 1975 and the Nature Conservation Amendment Act 3 of 2017; Environmental Management Act 7 of 2007; Forest Act 13 of 2005; Marine Resources Act 27 of 2000; Immigration Control Act 7 of 1993; Prevention of Organised Crime Act 29 of 2004. Despite numerous international and national legal frameworks, the wicked problems of wildlife trafficking persists all over the world and in Namibia.

Some key issues or drivers of wildlife crimes include demand and consumption. For example, wildlife products are used for medicinal use and health care, food, cosmetics and fragrance, curios and collections, fashion (clothing, shoes and handbags), furniture and construction, pets and zoos, ornamental plants and gardens, science and medical testing, sports, religion and cultural tradition or belief use. Furthermore, information and statistics or data collection about patterns and levels of these crimes are essential to inform countermeasures such as policy, legislation and other environmental programs. For various reasons, it is, however, difficult to quantify these crimes. The other key issue is that of demand and supply of wildlife products, illegal markets and perpetrators’ networks.

Trafficking in wildlife and plants has far-reaching implications for the species involved, human livelihoods, biodiversity and governance. These include endangering species, ecological costs, animal cruelty, threats to other species, threats and violence, depleting natural resources and threatening livelihoods, governance and conflict. A typology of offenders or key actors indicates that wildlife plays out at three levels, namely: Harvesters (either subsistence, commercial/specialist and local guide); Intermediaries (specialist trafficker, government colluder, third party, processer, launderer, vendor and gift), and Consumers (for food, cultural, medicinal, construction etc.).

The key actors and agencies that can play a significant role in combating these crimes include: natural resources sectors, agriculture, fisheries, forestry, national parks, and environmental departments. Others include communal conservancies, police, customs, coast guards, prosecution and judicial authorities, private sector involvement, civil society and community policing, and educational institutions.

The way forward is inter alia embedding and promoting a culture of lawfulness through educational activities in primary, secondary and tertiary education levels. Educators can teach the present and next generation to better understand and address problems that can undermine the rule of law or relating to green criminology. This is in alignment with Goal 4, 15, 16 and 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals. Further, a multi-disciplinary or holistic approach involving all relevant stakeholders to strengthen policy implementation and law enforcement to combat corruption in wildlife trafficking is essential. Corruption is said to be an enabler of wildlife trafficking in various ways. There is also consensus that law enforcement is not the only remedy to this conundrum. In addition, research suggests wildlife farming (commercial breeding) as a possible conservation tool to take pressure off wildlife populations. Other options include the use of satellite technology, forensic science or techniques, demystifying beliefs or superstitions around wildlife products, intelligence gathering, strengthen customs/immigration, utilising methods in wildlife DNA analysis, effective prosecution and independent judiciary.

Lizazi Eugene Libebe is a lecturer in the Faculty of Law at UNAM. He writes in his personal capacity.


Staff Reporter
2019-11-08 09:12:07 | 6 days ago

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