Making the Case for Wildlife: New Program Takes Fight Against Poachers and Traffickers to Court

ASEAN, UN, United States, Academics and NGOs Developing Legal Tools to curb Wildlife Crime

Law enforcement officials, parliamentarians, judges, prosecutors, and legal experts from all 10 ASEAN countries and the United States convened in Singapore recently to build a new program designed to reduce the poaching and trafficking of wild animals and plants in Southeast Asia. The new “ASEAN Legal Task Force for Wildlife” will develop a legal handbook, toolkit and training course for government officers in ASEAN to make them aware of the many legal avenues that can be used against poachers and traffickers, besides just wildlife laws.

Minister of State for National Development, Desmond Lee said: “Increasingly, wildlife crime is recognized as one of the largest transnational organized crimes, alongside drugs, arms and human trafficking. Singapore, as a member of the ASEAN-WEN, remains committed to work with our ASEAN counterparts and key partner organizations to curb illicit wildlife trade. I am heartened to know that a new legal capacity building project to support Southeast Asia’s efforts under ASEAN-WEN is being developed to combat transnational and organized wildlife crime. We will continue to monitor the wildlife trade through Singapore vigilantly and work with ASEAN Member States collectively to protect our unique natural heritage and combat illicit wildlife activities.”

“ASEAN countries are rich in biodiversity and home to many endangered species of wild fauna and flora,” said Do Quang Tung, Chairman of ASEAN’s Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN) and Chief of the CITES Management Authority of Vietnam. “Unfortunately, the region is also a hotspot in the global illegal wildlife trade. Sharing information and technical expertise within ASEAN with a view to increasing the capacity of ASEAN as a whole is important”. He added that “this toolkit is vital in ensuring that criminals cannot maneuver in this region. There should be no safe haven for them anywhere in ASEAN”.

“Wildlife enforcement efforts have risen substantially across ASEAN since 2006, but we still see a lot of poaching and trafficking in this region,” said Steven Galster, Director of Freeland. “This new program will help convert enforcement efforts to better results by making sure officers are using the right legal tools to seize serious assets from poachers and traffickers and put them behind bars.”

Global wildlife trafficking is estimated to be worth billions of US dollars per year, with increasing evidence of organized crime involvement. Southeast Asia is being hit particularly hard, partly due to its proximity to consumer markets. In response, ASEAN officials, with support from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC); US Agency for International Development (USAID); US Fish and Wildlife Service (US FWS); Freeland, and the Asia Pacific Centre for Environmental Law (APCEL), teamed up last year to plot strategic legal responses to counter this emerging threat. Recently, the 2014 East Asia Summit (EAS), composed of heads of states and governments of ASEAN, Australia, China, India, Korea, Japan, Russia and the US, issued a declaration directing more attention to combating wildlife crime, including stronger prosecutions, cooperation on transnational wildlife investigations, legislation reforms and the sustainability of the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN), while also requesting ASEAN Ministers responsible for fighting transnational crime issues to make environmental crime priori