The Hague, 17 November 2016: An independent panel has confirmed the findings of a year-long investigation into wildlife trafficking hub, Nhi Khe, Viet Nam, and confirms that immediate action by the Vietnamese government is required. In doing so, the panel reminds the Vietnamese government to fulfil its obligations under the relevant international conventions.
The recommendations follow a two day Public Hearing on the Wildlife Justice Commission’s investigation into wildlife trafficking hub Nhi Khe, Viet Nam (just 20km from Hanoi). The Panel were presented with findings on 51 individuals, including undercover footage, financial flows and bank accounts, operating transnationally and with impunity, in rhino, elephant, tiger and other endangered species both via shops and social media.
Findings were presented to Vietnamese authorities in January 2016 and supplementary information, after ongoing monitoring, in August 2016. Despite extensive diplomatic effort, very little action was taken, with only one known recent arrest as a consequence of the findings presented.
The esteemed independent panel consisted of international criminal justice and corruption experts. The Vietnamese government chose not to participate in the Public Hearing opting only to send a non-participating observer. Over 300 people attended the Public Hearing in person, plus a large global audience followed via Livestream in Vietnamese and English (including significant numbers in Viet Nam) and through live social media updates.
The panel unanimously validated the investigation findings and issued concrete recommendations for the Vietnamese government.
Governments gathering today in Hanoi for the Illegal Wildlife Trade conference, are being asked by the Wildlife Justice Commission to act on these recommendations.
Wildlife Justice Commission Executive Director, Olivia Swaak-Goldman, says, “Some of the most respected voices in tackling international crime have spoken. Their package of recommendations is comprehensive, and it includes what we have long asked for: That the international community support Vietnamese authorities to institute criminal proceedings of a scale consistent with the massive volume of trade in illicit wildlife products in Nhi Khe – and the consequent slaughter of iconic species taking place in Africa to fuel these traffickers’ activities and line their pockets. There is no better time to act than now, with all eyes on Hanoi.”
Designated Independent Review Panel
- Professor Edgardo Buscaglia: Senior Scholar in Law and Economics at Columbia University, Economic Analysis of Complex Crimes Expert
- Diego García-Sayán: the former President of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and former Minister of Justice of Peru
- Misha Glenny: award-winning journalist and historian
- Justice Philippe Kirsch: former President of the International Criminal Court
- Justice Isaac Lenaola: Justice of the Supreme Court of Kenya and Deputy Principal Judge of the East Africa Court of Justice
Validation of findings
The panel validated the findings in the information provided by the Wildlife Justice Commission to the government of Viet Nam in January 2016, and in August 2016, describing the presentation as a fair and neutral description of the facts. They determined that Nhi Khe is, and continues to be, a major hub for wildlife crime in protected species.
Positive steps already taken by Viet Nam
The panel acknowledged the positive steps taken by Viet Nam, including the government’s pledge during the visit of President Obama in May 2016 and Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc decree in September 2016; together with recent seizures of large quantities of ivory and rhino horn over the past 12 months, the police inspection of the village of Nhi Khe in June this year and the reported arrest of 4 individuals linked to Nhi Khe village on 12 November 2016.
Deficiencies and recommendations
The Panel also noted deficiencies and on this basis recommended that Viet Nam takes specific actions in compliance with their international legal obligations. Amongst others, that the General Inspectorate Police use the information in the Case File and its update to conduct an investigation targeting individuals and networks identified.
They also made recommendations to other branches of the Vietnamese government including:
- The establishment of a joint taskforce directed by the Office of Supreme Peoples’ Procuracy.
- That the Government Inspectorate Authority undertake a review of vulnerable posts and trafficking routes to devise realistic and effective mechanisms to counter and prevent corrupt practices linked to organised crime.
Of the 16 recommendations made, other highlights include:
- To establish a witness protection program and procedures to protect whistleblowers in cases of corruption and organised crime.
- To allocate law enforcement resources to detect illegal wildlife trade on social media networks such as Facebook and WeChat and sanctions individuals conducting such trade
- To use the information contained in the Map of Facts and its update to support intelligence gathering on syndicates involved in facilitating the illegal wildlife trade in, and from, Viet Nam.
- To liaise with the relevant Chinese law enforcement counterparts to co-ordinate the exchange of intelligence and information in relation to the identified criminal networks, including the use of Chinese bank accounts and other methods used to facilitate money laundering.
- That Viet Nam co-operate with international stakeholders and engage civil society networks as mandated by relevant international treaties to which Viet Nam is a party.
- That CITES Standing Committee consider the suspension of trade in protected species as a sanction for non-compliance of previous CITES decisions.
Finally, the Panel recommended that all parties to the relevant international treaties take appropriate measures in support of Viet Nam to combat and prevent transnational organized wildlife crime in compliance with their obligations.
What happens next
For the Wildlife Justice Commission, this is not the end of the process. We will continue to work to achieve law enforcement action on this investigation with the help of these concrete recommendations. We will continue to monitor progress.
We look forward to co-operating with the Vietnamese government.
Olivia Swaak-Goldman, Executive Director, said: “We sincerely hope that Viet Nam will initiate serious investigation into the 51 individuals and networks identified through our investigation. With the sheer scale of wildlife trafficking, and extensive criminality involved we cannot afford any more delay. It’s encouraging that we received notice from the Vietnamese CITES management authority that one of these individuals was arrested last week. So much more can be done, as outlined in these recommendations. We encourage Viet Nam and the international community to accelerate serious and tangible actions to implement these recommendations immediately and stand near to assist the Vietnamese if required.”
The Wildlife Justice Commission operates globally: ten further investigations are underway and others are in review. A recent investigation in co-operation with Malaysian wildlife authorities, Perhilitan, led to the arrests of 17 traffickers across three transnational networks.
Wildlife Justice Commission:
- An international not-for-profit organisation based in The Hague, NL, and operating globally to disrupt and help dismantle transnational, organised wildlife crime.
- The objective of our investigations is to activate justice. Sometimes this happens immediately while other investigations take longer if they require extensive national dialogue. If cooperation and dialogue do not effect a response, a Public Hearing is convened.
- Through leveraging the rule of law and solid investigations, to expose criminal networks and the corruption that enables them to flourish; helping to ensure governments effectively enforce their laws.
- Our scope encompasses illegal trade by organised transnational criminal networks in endangered wildlife species, timber and fisheries