Building anti-corruption measures into IWT interventions: Event at the UN HQ

#WorldWildlifeDay: High-level convening at UN Headquarters

Wildlife crime is an urgent issue; it requires strengthening cooperation between different agencies and maintaining the momentum, ensuring the allocation of resources to effectively deter this transnational organised crime.” Her Royal Highness (HRH) Princess Laurentien summarises the main conclusions from the interventions during the session.

We organised a high-level convening at the UN Headquarters on 4 March, where experts discussed concrete anti-corruption measures to effectively deter it.

Her Royal Highness (HRH) Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands facilitated the session and the dialogue between the panel members and a very proactive audience, which engaged in the conversation with the speakers, who discussed effective ways to address and deter wildlife crime and the corruption that enables it.

Ivonne Higuero, Secretary-General of CITES, stressed the urgency of establishing concrete actions to address wildlife crime, for the present and the future generations: “Currently human existence makes extinctions happen at 1,000 times faster; wildlife trafficking is indeed an immediate threat.” Ms Higuero highlighted that cooperation between entities with different mandates is paramount to deter wildlife crime. She also remarked that more attention should be paid to those species that are not that ‘iconic’ but to which major damage is being done by trafficking, such as the totoaba fish and glass eels, as the illegal trade of them is also a multi-million-dollar criminal business.

Jorge Ríos, Chief of the Global Programme for Combating Wildlife and Forest Crime at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), explained the efforts made by the United Nations to address this crime and stressed that “wildlife crime is a global issue, not just a regional one, and it is transnational organised crime but currently not regarded as such.” Mr Ríos highlighted that to the tools and resources applied to deter other type of transnational crimes, such as cybercrime or drug trafficking, should also be used to effectively address wildlife crime.

Anti corruption measures - wildlife crime - UN
Jorge Ríos from UNODC speaks about the need to apply tools used in other organised crime investigations into wildlife crime interventions.

Olivia Swaak-Goldman, Executive Director of the Wildlife Justice Commission, highlighted how corruption enables wildlife trafficking along the supply chain in source, transit and destination countries. She remarked the urgency for financial investigations to address wildlife crime and provided the audience with examples of where WJC investigations have gathered concrete evidence of how corruption facilitates the trafficking of endangered species, such in the case of the WJC’s Operation Dragon.

Vanda Felbab-Brown, Senior Fellow – Foreign Policy, Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence at Brookings Institution traced the connections from rural households and livelihoods to strong wildlife protection laws that people support, to high-quality investigations, and more prevalent prosecutions and punishment. “It is crucial to expand the conversation with local communities and discuss with them what incentives and motivations they have to participate into law enforcement efforts to tackle wildlife crime.”

For Tim Steele, Global Anti-Corruption Adviser at UNODC, corruption is “a key enabler of transnational organised wildlife crime and financial investigations can play a critical on going after those organising the illegal trade.” Steele affirmed that a good strategy to address corruption is needed and it requires “communication to the right people, which is crucial, as well as addressing the right skills where they are most needed” in order to be effective.

Law enforcement needs a coordinated response to address transnational organised wildlife crime through effective intelligence sharing systems and access to resources,” said Stephen Carmody, Chief of Investigations at the WJC, when talking about the challenges that law enforcement agencies are currently facing when tackling wildlife crime. “There is no need to reinvent the wheel on methodologies to investigate wildlife trafficking: law enforcement needs the mandate to utilize the full range of special investigative tools to address this organised crime.”

Adam Maltz, Assistant District Attorney, New York County District Attorney’s Office, highlighted that financial investigations as well as international cooperation are needed to tackle wildlife crime cases. He stressed the urgency to “utilise tools and techniques used to prosecute other forms of organised crime for the prosecution of transnational organised wildlife crime.

Anti corruption measures - wildlife crime - UN
Adam Maltz, from the New York County District Attorney’s Office, during his intervention at the event.

There is already much being done to address wildlife crime, from conservation initiatives to community engagement and to demand reduction measures. But there is room for improvement in the area of crime fighting against wildlife trafficking. “Political will is crucial to address wildlife trafficking as what it really is, serious transnational organised crime,” said Olivia Swaak-Goldman on the closing of the event. “Relevant law enforcement agencies must be equipped with the mandate, resources and tools to act upon it and governments must ensure effective international cooperation between agencies, as a standard practice similar to that is happening with other forms of organised crime.”