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Viet Nam and Wildlife Crime: Good initiatives only matter if they are fully implemented
20 September 2016, The Hague | News

Executive Director, Wildlife Justice Commission, Olivia Swaak-Goldman writes in The Huffington Post

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc of Viet Nam issued a new directive on 17 September 2016, instructing authorities and law enforcement agencies across the country to take urgent measures to prevent and combat illegal wildlife trade.

This is excellent news, coming just two days after the Wildlife Justice Commission announced we would hold a Public Hearing 14 & 15 November 2016 in The Hague, the Netherlands on the results of our year-long investigation into the wildlife trafficking hub operating out of the Vietnamese village of Nhi Khe.

However, a similar directive was issued in February 2014, and stricter wildlife crime amendments to the penal code due to be implemented in July 2016 were delayed for at least a year.

In the meantime, the detailed evidence collected during the course of our investigation (Case File) was presented to Vietnamese authorities more than eight months ago. It contains overwhelming evidence of crimes backed up by over 5,000 pages of documentation. Vast volumes of endangered species are being traded. Our investigators directly observed horn from up to 579 rhinos, equivalent to almost half the number of rhinos poached in South Africa in 2015. This does not include the trade we did not see. So to say removal of this criminal network would have a significant impact on the rhino horn trade is an understatement. Yet despite extensive behind the scenes efforts to encourage the Vietnamese authorities to act, we have not been able to document any action to date against the 51 individuals detailed in our investigation.

And we’re not alone: WWF recently called on Viet Nam to take concrete steps to tackle illegal rhino horn trade or face trade sanctions under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

The Vietnamese government has been vocal about its intention to take action against wildlife crime – consider for the commitment made with the United States of America to mark President Obama’s visit in May 2016.

It’s time for the government to put words into action.

The Wildlife Justice Commission endeavours to work in a spirit of co-operation, and we continue to offer the Vietnamese authorities help to bring these criminals to justice. The Prime Minister’s announcement is a perfect opportunity to demonstrate the Vietnamese government’s seriousness, beginning with shutting down the criminal network in Nhi Khe, and prosecuting its perpetrators.

It is one thing to know that there is a rhino crisis and that traders in Viet Nam play a pivotal role in this illegal trade. It is quite another to show that on a specific day a specific individual traded 12 rhino horns and to provide concrete evidence of this: images of the transaction, identifying information of the trader and more. For the Vietnamese government to continue to ignore this would undermine both the spirit and letter of its new directive.

Good initiatives on paper are only valid if they are actually put into practice. Our offer to co-operate with Vietnamese authorities remains.

Notes to editors:

The Prime Minister’s directive is timely on many levels, as pressure on Vietnamese continues to mount. Next week, 181 nations will meet at the 17th Conference of the Parties (CoP17) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in South Africa. Vietnam’s lack of progress on tackling wildlife trafficking will certainly be front and centre in global efforts to tackle wildlife crime.

The Public Hearing on our investigation will take place on 14 & 15 November 2016in The Hague, the Netherlands, two days before the wildlife conference being hosted by the Vietnamese in Hanoi.