Public Hearing: Viet Nam Investigation 14-15 November 2016

Recommendations from the Designated Independent Review Panel are available in English here and in Vietnamese available here

Download the IISD report here: Wildlife Justice Commission (WJC) Public Hearing: Viet Nam Investigation.


Following a year-long investigation into wildlife trafficking hub Nhi Khe, Viet Nam, the Wildlife Justice Commission will hold its first-ever Public Hearing on:

14 and 15 November 2016 at the Peace Palace in The Hague, the Netherlands

Despite the overwhelming body of evidence, prepared by former law enforcement professionals for Vietnamese law enforcement authorities, an extensive diplomatic outreach and engagement of international stakeholders, the Vietnamese government has failed to take decisive action to close down this criminal network. 

More details on the case, including undercover footage and photos can be found here.


Designated Independent Review Panel Members

The Designated Independent Review Panel is made up of high-level individuals who have no direct connection to the Wildlife Justice Commission – they do not receive payment for their work (beyond reimbursement of expenses incurred while attending the Public Hearing). They will be asked to examine the evidence (Case File) with a critical eye, and to form their opinions based solely on the facts that have been presented to them. The members who will be sitting on the panel for the Viet Nam Public Hearing are:



Prof. Edgardo BuscagliaArgentina/United States – Senior Scholar in Law and Economics at Columbia University, and President of the “Instituto de Acción Ciudadana para la Justicia y Democracia” in Mexico.  Economic Analysis of Complex Crimes Expert.





Misha Glenny – United Kingdom – Award-winning journalist, historian and author.





Justice Philippe Kirsch – Canada – Former President of the International Criminal Court in The Hague.





Justice Isaac Lenaola – Kenya – Presiding Judge of the Constitution and Human Rights Division of the High Court of Kenya and Deputy Judge of the East Africa Court of Justice.





Diego García-Sayán – Peru – Former President of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and former Minister of Justice of Peru.



For more information about the Designated Independent Review Panel members please click here.

Vietnam Public Hearing Agenda for 14-15 November 2016 available here.


Updates DAY 1 – 14 November 2016

Opening Statement by our Executive Director, Olivia Swaak-Goldman:

“Occasional seizures alone are not enough to shut down the Nhi Khe hub or to deter others.”

“Evidence will show the massive scale of illegal and cross-border trade in Nhe Khe, traders operate with impunity.”

“These criminal networks abuse legitimate systems: international banking, transport & social networks for huge profits.”

“Unfortunately, we had little reaction from the Vietnamese authorities other than empty assurances.”

“A month ago, our undercover operatives were offered two tons of ivory by traffickers in Hanoi, and physically saw 880 kgs.”

“We have provisions in international law and national legal systems to stop wildlife crime.”


Ghida Fakhry takes the stage as Director of Proceedings:

“Tackling wildlife crime at the higher levels is very much dependent on political will; the Wildlife Justice Commission is taking an innovative approach to encourage institutions to take action. Regardless of the painful outreach process involved, such political will must come from the government itself.”

“Wildlife crime is one of the most outstanding crimes in terms of illegal profits, corruption, and money laundering – there is a culture of impunity that needs to be addressed.”


Judge Motoo Noguchi on the need to fight culture of impunity in tackling wildlife crime compared to other crimes:

“What is most lacking is enforcement based on the absence of political will.”

“It is important to fight wildlife crime in order to prevent the funding of jihadist groups.”

“In Africa it is necessary to educate people; Africa puts a lot of priority on people in terms of education and medical care, but there needs to also be an investment of energy into fighting wildlife crime, which will be difficult.”


Judge Fatoumatah Diarra, former VP of the International Criminal Court, Designated Independent Review Panel member from Mali joins Ghida on stage.

Judge Fatoumatah Diarra, asked by Ghida Fakhry on issues of corruption and wildlife crime for governments in source countries:

“I spoke at schools, universities, colleges, and when I spoke to them about elephants and rhinos they did not know that these animals were dying for ivory and rhino horns to be obtained.”

“Last year I went to Viet Nam to help educate the people on the poaching phenomenon. People did not know about rhinos or elephants; they only knew of their horns and tusks.”

“One of the reasons many people visit Africa is due to its wide range of animals.”

“At eight years old I went to Kruger National Park and learned the importance of wildlife, Africa’s natural heritage, and preserving that heritage.”


Nadav Ossendryver from African Youth Involvement, a Rhino Youth Ambassador takes stage.

“On visit to Viet Nam – found people did not really know what rhinos or elephants were ‘as animals’ but just as products”


Marcus Asner  will present the Case File on behalf of the Chief of Investigations:

“The most devastating evidence you will see today comes from the traffickers themselves, taken by undercover investigators.”

Pauline Verheij, Senior legal investigator with the Wildlife Justice Commission will go through the investigation evidence with Marcus Asner.

“We visited 20 shops on our first undercover visit in Nhi Khe and identified five major premises for further investigation. We chose to focus on bigger premises due to the limited time you can remain undercover without arousing suspicion.”


Nhi Khe trades in action filmed by our undercover investigators: Uncle Rhino Horn – nickname of one of the biggest traders in Nhi Khe.


Chinese buyers inspecting rhino horns.


Ivory products shown and  offered for sale to our undercover investigators in Nhi Khe.


Discussion with one Chinese Buyer who explains that Chinese come to Viet Nam now because controls are very strict in China. She says she can deliver anything to customers in China, shows a few ivory items she has in her shop. She also explains how to cross the river illegally by boat.



Dr. Barbara Gravendeel, species expert from Naturalis Biodiversity Centre talks  about how they identify tiger bones:


“These bones contain a lot of fluid, they are not dried out and contain marrow and flesh – they are fresh tiger bones.”


“Strength of the visual evidence, we are assured of the validity of these ‘products’.”




Tom Milliken from TRAFFIC on ETIS, a pioneering elephant trade information system, largest data model of its type:

“Viet Nam has been the biggest driver of the rhino horn trade which, up until the mid 2000s, had decreased tremendously; during this pre-2000s era rhino horn populations were steadily on the rise.”

“Viet Nam is a gift-giving culture, where rhino horns are given as a sign of ultimate respect to an elder or higher ranking individual; government officials have often been suspected to receive such gifts.”

“Vietnamese-run criminal syndicates have been found to be the financiers of criminal gangs poaching rhino populations in South Africa, where the country’s legal rhino-hunting industry has been exploited as an avenue to obtain and smuggle rhino horns. During 2007-2011 Vietnamese nationals were found to be the leading nationality for registered sport-hunting permits in South Africa.”

“In group-oriented societies such as those found in South-East Asia, the alpha males of such groups often seek to reaffirm social status. The possession of rare wildlife products such as rhino horn reinforces this social status, as these individuals will use those products to show strength, virility, and as party cures for hangovers.”

“We have seen historically that the threat of international sanctions on primary consumer countries including Taiwan, South Korea and Japan, led to these countries outlawing and criminalising the possession, trade and sale of illicit wildlife products.”


Returning to present evidence from the investigation Pauline Verheij on how the trade moved from open to closed doors:

“Evidence includes bank details of the ICBC accounts used by the network for these illegal transnational transactions.”


Video showing 440 kg ivory offered to our investigators.


One of the biggest traders posts extraordinary amounts of rhino horn daily on WeChat, offering 11 horns in just one image.


Pieter Mohr, Director Strategic Partnerships at the Wildlife Justice Commission takes stage to talk about the diplomatic effort and national dialogue:

“China was receptive to the Case File (shared due to the transnational trade) and started a preliminary investigation.”

“Unfortunately, we did not hear back from the Vietnamese authorities after the delivery of the Case File.”

“The counsellor of the Vietnamese embassy asked us to cancel the Public Hearing.”

“There has been about three arrests in the past few months.”

Today we received info from Viet Nam embassy that one person of interest in our investigation has just been arrested.


Updates Day 2 – 15 November 2016

We will hear the views of expert participants to add context to the evidence we represented yesterday.

Ghida Fakhry introduces Lawrence Munro from African Parks who has joined us from his current role as Field Operations Manager in Malawi:

“There is no peace in the Parks, rangers battle with poachers. It’s taking its toll on rangers.”

Munro shows a horrific video: Poachers had broken a female rhino’s back and she was fully conscious when her horn was hacked off.

“The price rangers pay: Rangers live in the battlefield. Unlike war where you are pulled out periodically.”

“For sure the conflict is escalating. It is why I came here. The Wildlife Justice Commission’s work gives those in the field a little hope.”

“I have come to learn that poachers are desperate and they see rhinos as an opportunity.”

“Militarisation is a problematic term in relation to rangers. It denotes exactly what they are not, and I would argue that what is really necessary to aid rangers is professionalisation.”

“Poaching is a socioeconomic issue inextricably linked to park borders; across a park fence lies a monetary opportunity for people from bordering countries [with South Africa], and therein lies the temptation.”

“Rangers need politicians to step in and tackle the transnational roots of wildlife crime and poaching.”

Steve Broad, Executive Director, TRAFFIC International and Debbie Banks Tiger Campaign Leader, Environmental Investigation Agency to provide more info on illegal trade and demand reduction.

“In Viet Nam we focus on the consumers of rhino horn and demand reduction through our inner-chi program.” Steven Broad

“Sheer volume and accessibility of tiger parts uncovered by the Wildlife Justice Commission confirms our fears.” Debbie Banks

Sharon Kwok, Executive Director, Aquameridien Conservation & Education Foundation.

“Demand for tiger products is for prestige, status, and to win contracts or promotions in work.” Debbie Banks

“Parallel legal tiger farm market in Viet Nam perpetuates the illegal trade. This needs to change urgently.” Debbie Banks

“Supply and demand issues – the role of communities is incredibly important.” Steven Broad

Avinash Basker, Head of Legal Program, Wildlife Protection Society of India.

“This case shows the off-shoring of markets, eg: as China buyers go to Viet Nam, Laos and others.” Steven Broad

Rikkert Reijnan, Senior Project Lead Wildlife Trade, International Fund for Animal Welfare and Annette Hubschle Postdoctoral Researcher, University Cape Town, Senior Advisor, Global Initiative against Transnational  organised Crime join Ghida Fakhry talking about the livelihood drivers for trafficking.

“Is of great importance to work with communities in countering poaching.” Rikkert Reijnen

“Intelligence building is critical; rather than simply arresting low-level criminals in the supply chain and locking them up, we need to exploit their knowledge of the networks they support to identify those networks.” Rikkert Reijnen

“On how marginalisation can occur within conservation efforts -incentives and alternative livelihoods.” Annette Hubschles

Prof. Sarath Kotogama on Sri Lanka’s position in criminal shipping routes from African continent to Asia.


“A multi-levelled response is needed, from the international community and across the supply chain.” Annette Hubschle

“If you look at Kruger National Park- 2.3 million people are situated around it; there were about 2,500 poaching incursions from neighbouring countries in 2015 alone. Frankly, I’m surprised that there are not more of those 2.3 million people involved in such poaching incursions.”  Annette Hubschle

“We definitely need to address the transportation industry and cases of corruption found within the illegal trade and shipment of wildlife products in that industry.” Annette Hubschle

Designated Independent Review Panel Member -Isaac Lenaola asks for examples of community initiatives across Africa which were successful, Rikkert Reijnen references Masai communities.

Designated Independent Review Panel member – Edgardo Buscaglia: “Identifying transport infrastructure is central to destroying criminal networks.”

Mary Rice, Executive Director, Environmental Agency and Leif Gorts, National Member of Sweden, Eurojust join Ghida Fakhry on stage.

“Nobody can act in isolation and action must be taken across the supply chain.” Mary Rice

“If we cannot get governments  to take action what hope is there for all the species. We must put huge pressure on governments like Viet Nam.” Mary Rice

“Globally, those in power, that decide, they do not feel that environmental crime is a priority. It is a political issue.” Leif Gorts

Philip Muruthi, Senior Director Conservation, African Wildlife Foundation.

Mary Rice cites efforts of Kenyan government as an example of using political will to implement ways to tackle and gives example of displacement of traffickers activity from Tanzania to Mozambique.


Prof. Dr. Samuel Wasser, Center for Conservation Biology, University of Washington.

“Ivory should be DNA tested in seizures / criminal investigations as standard procedure before being destroyed.” Leif Gorts

Rob Parry-Jones, Lead, Global Policy, Wildlife Crime Initiative, WWF International, and Gillian Dell, Head of Conventions Unit, Transparency International:

“There is an enormous importance that needs to be attached to shaping the behavioural attitudes of the next generations.” Parry-Jones

“We need to be cognisant of where cultural identity sits, and how cultural medicines are linked to identity.” Parry-Jones

“It looks like the government of Viet Nam is motivated to make improvements and improve its reputation.”Gillian Dell

“The status of civil society in Viet Nam is at best ambiguous.” Gillian Dell

“Corruption is a huge problem in Viet Nam, particularly the police service and the judiciary. In recent years there’s been a huge increase in Foreign Direct Investment in Viet Nam; the lack of reliable law enforcement judiciary is a serious problem that can potentially be very motivating for the government, which wants to see economic growth continue.” Gillian Dell

“This is about getting to the fundamental issues, financial flows, transit and root causes.” Parry-Jones

Daniel Turner, Associate Director, Born Free Foundation and Polly Higgins, Ecocide Law Expert, Earth Community Trust.

“The Gulf States are a largely ‘uninvestigated’ region of the world as a transit hub for wildlife trafficking.” Daniel Turner

“The EU Action plan on wildlife trafficking is a nice blueprint that could be implemented in other regions of the world, where we have identified multiple stakeholders interested in tackling wildlife crime, and such a plan could be implemented in other regions.” Daniel Turner

Mr. Vivek Menon, Executive Director and CEO of the Wildlife Trust of India.

“What I’m advocating [ecocide] is the criminalisation of the destruction of natural ecosystems.” Polly Higgins

“One of the problems is that Viet Nam actually has ecocide in its penal code; this problematises the issue of the transnational wildlife trade as the prosecutions would then extend passed Viet Nam’s national remit.” Polly Higgins

“We have already got the solutions, we have just got to enhance and implement them better.” Daniel Turner

“Entities exist, we need greater international dialogue to enable these entities.” Daniel Turner

Dr. Cosma Wilungula, Director General of the Congolese Wildlife Society, DRC.


Olivia Swaak-Goldman, closing statement:

“You need to create political will, but also look very closely at the tangible steps that need to be taken. To be productive.”

“We currently have 10 investigations in play, and we consider case proposals from all countries.”

“We need to make it harder for these criminals to get away with it.”

Justice Philippe Kirsch : “Designated Independent Review Panel members have unanimously decided to validate the Case File in the Wildlife Justice Commission investigation in Nhi Khe, Viet Nam.”

Edgardo Buscaglia presents the Designated Independent Review Panel’s recommendations on the Case File regarding the illegal trade in wildlife products in Nhi Khe, Viet Nam.

Recommendation from the Designated Independent Review Panel are available in English here and in Vietnamese available here


Watch the Public Hearing here:

Day 1 / Part 1

Day 1 / Part 2

Day 2 /Part 1


Day 2 /Part 2


Day 2 /Part 3