Phnom Penh, Cambodia (23 June 2017) –A first-ever milestone event brought together Cambodian officials and others today to discuss law enforcement options and responses to wildlife trafficking –an increasing threat to the world’s wildlife species.
In attendance at the meeting were representatives from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Ministry of Interior, Military Police, Anti-Corruption Unit, the diplomatic sector, and conservation NGOs.
“This is the first time that all of the relevant ministries have met to discuss this important issue,” said Sarah Brook, Technical Advisor for Counter Wildlife Trafficking for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). “We are pleased with the results of the meeting, a number of important recommendations were made by the participants on how to strengthen law enforcement and on the legal and regulatory issues around wildlife crime. We hope that the results of the meeting will be taken up by the respective ministries and we are committed to continue working with the government on this issue” Brook said.
Thought to be the fourth most lucrative global criminal activity after trafficking in drugs, people and arms, wildlife trafficking is said to generate an estimated US$7-23 billion per year.
The event—hosted at the Cambodiana Hotel, by the Ministry of Justice and supported by WCS, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the US embassy—was held to raise awareness among the relevant ministries about the seriousness of these crimes and the impact they are having. In addition, the meeting was conducted to break down barriers to collaborative effort and develop solutions to strengthen the national enforcement and judicial response to wildlife trafficking.
US Ambassador William Heidt who provided opening remarks for the meeting, highlighted that wildlife trafficking is increasingly a problem for Cambodia as evidenced by the recent large scale seizures of ivory and rhino horn. He commended the authorities on these recent seizures but recommended that the Cambodian government re-double its efforts to combat wildlife trafficking and ensure it adheres to its obligations under CITES. Wildlife trafficking not only threatens the survival of species but also threatens security and stability, and can have devastating economic and social consequences for affected communities.
Ambassador George Edgar from the European Union Delegation highlighted that this crime is a profitable undertaking “Wildlife crime is an attractive option for criminal networks because the fight against is still regarded as a low priority for many Governments worldwide”. Along the same line Giovanni Broussard, UNODC’s Regional Coordinator for the Global Programme on Combating Wildlife and Forest Crime stressed that “It is important that the Government of Cambodia acknowledges its role as a player at the regional and inter-regional levels. It is crucial that the relevant authorities here are prepared to cooperate with their counterparts in other countries to dismantle these transnational networks. This requires better laws and better enforcement capacity.”
Following in-depth discussions on key legislative and law enforcement issues, the meeting participants recommended that the legal framework for wildlife crimes needed clearer definitions and provisions and harmonization of the relevant laws, to ensure the laws are applied consistently, and that penalties need to be increased to deter illegal activities. If implemented both of these recommendations would probably result in increased prosecutions of wildlife criminals. An additional recommendation to enhance prosecution and conviction rates, was for specialized Judges to deal with environmental cases. Higher specialization in criminal investigations was also identified as a need by most law enforcement agencies to enable them to detect and respond to wildlife crimes more effectively.
The Under-Secretary of State of the Ministry of Justice, His Excellency Kim Santapheap, strongly recommended that law enforcement agencies work together to strengthen their collective ability to tackle wildlife trafficking. He noted that mutual legal assistance treaties are an appropriate mechanism for collaboration with neighboring countries on issues such as wildlife trafficking; the Ministry of Justice is the designated authority for mutual legal assistance treaties and can facilitate requests for collaboration with other countries on transboundary crimes. His Excellency closed the meeting by noting that the Ministry of Justice is committed to continue to collaborate with relevant agencies and organizations to prevent wildlife trafficking in Cambodia.
Funding to WCS was provided by the United States Department of State.