Prioritising wildlife crime at the 14th UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice

At the 14th United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, the Wildlife Justice Commission highlights the urgency to tackle wildlife trafficking as what it is: transnational organised crime. By strengthening policy efforts to fight this crime; by researching and capitalising on crime convergence; and by utilising specialised investigative techniques, the world has a chance to effectively tackle wildlife trafficking, a serious crime that’s plundering our wildlife and putting international security and public health at risk.

The UN Crime Congress

Taking place in Kyoto from 7 – 12 March 2021, the UN Crime Congress is the world’s largest meeting of governments, civil society, academia and experts in crime prevention and criminal justice crime. Normally held once every five years, this year’s Congress represents an important resumption of the international policy and decision-making cycle in a world living with COVID-19.

Wildlife crime was given special attention in 2015 as an emerging crime during the UN Crime Congress in Doha, but since then, the situation has not improved. The crime has been significantly displaced to avoid successful law enforcement efforts, with Cambodia becoming a significant commercial hub for ivory carving and manufacturing, and trafficking routes shifting from East to West Africa. Criminal networks are also turning to new commodities to adapt to the evolving landscape: the street value of raw ivory is decreasing, while pangolin scale trafficking is reaching industrial levels.  The Wildlife Justice Commission hopes that this Congress will help to facilitate implementation of solutions, while there is still time.


The necessity of specialised investigative techniques 

Wildlife crime is organised and transnational. Nevertheless, the existing law enforcement tools to tackle these aspects of the problem have rarely been used. These involve the implementation of methods such as controlled deliveries. These tools have been widely and successfully used to tackle other forms of organised crime. Given the transnational nature of wildlife crime, specialised investigative techniques are essential.

Building a better understanding of crime convergence 

In October 2020, the Wildlife Justice Commission published a briefing paper to highlight how intelligence analysis can lead to a greater understanding of crime convergence. At this year’s UN Crime Congress, the Wildlife Justice Commission’s Executive Director, Olivia Swaak-Goldman, will discuss recent examples of such convergence that demonstrate the convergence of wildlife trafficking with other forms of serious crimes, and the need for multi-agency coordination to address it.

More research is needed into this phenomenon. The Wildlife Justice Commission will soon publish a detailed report on the convergence of wildlife crime with other types of organised crime, and how the pervasive nature of corruption facilitates such criminality.

A perfect storm: crime convergence and corruption

Corruption is a major facilitator of wildlife crime, allowing for the high-volume transportation, processing, and sale of commodities at every step of the supply chain. And of course, corrupt officials can hinder investigative efforts.

The Wildlife Justice Commission documented this corruption during Operation Dragon, which addressed the trafficking of protected species of turtles and tortoises across five Asian countries. Beyond helping seizing over 6,000 live animals and dismantling eight criminal networks, the investigation exposed corruption at strategic transport hubs across South and Southeast Asia. Every trafficker the Wildlife Justice Commission engaged with spoke of corruption aiding and abetting their criminality.

Addressing corruption as a driver to wildlife crime 

The Wildlife Justice Commission believes solutions to address corruption as a driver to wildlife crime should focus on:

  • the use of intelligence analysis to better understand the convergence of wildlife crime with other forms of organised crime;
  • the need for a more coordinated global law enforcement response to address thesecrimes;
  • the use of special investigative techniques which can assist in targeting both corruption and the underlying crime itfacilitates;
  • the creation of anti-corruption bodies that can deal with the capacity to deal with corruption linked to wildlife trafficking.

These measures are not novel; in fact, many are already embedded in the UN Convention Against Corruption, which has 187 Member States. The question remains: how do we ensure that these measures are actually implemented? This UN Crime Congress and the upcoming United Nations General Assembly Special Session on corruption must offer opportunities for collaborative solutions to this problem.

Update: Watch the events we participated in at the UN Crime Congress 

The Side Event  Filling the gaps in international wildlife law – the need for a global agreement on illicit wildlife trafficking, hosted by Born Free Foundation on behalf of the End Wildlife Crime Initiative, took place on 7 March and featured experts in the fields of public policy, criminology, and environmental protection to explain the rationale for a global agreement on illicit wildlife trafficking, and to outline the process by which it can be realised.

Watch it here:

The Special Event The Nature of Corruption: Addressing Corruption Linked to Wildlife, Forest and Fisheries Crime, hosted by the UNODC DO/DTA/DPA, took place on 8 March.

Watch it here: