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Challenges for Law Enforcement


The effective enforcement of wildlife and forest offences faces a myriad of challenges and obstacles.

Combating wildlife trafficking is not considered to be a priority in many countries (Bennett, 2011; DLA Piper, 2014; Nurse, 2015; Nurse, 2013; UNODC, 2012; Wyatt, 2013; Wellsmith, 2011; WWF, 2015). Policymakers, police, prosecutors, and the judiciary often do not consider wildlife- and forest-related offences as serious crimes warranting special consideration and prioritization (Sundari Akella & Allan, 2012; Wellsmith, 2011). This issue is not limited to developing countries but has also been reported in countries such as Norway (Runhovde, 2016) and the United Kingdom (INTERPOL & UNEP, 2016). While there are some signs that the 'status' of wildlife trafficking is rising in some countries (INTERPOL & UNEP, 2016), many countries still pay minimal attention to this crime type.

In many jurisdictions, laws and regulations pertaining to wildlife trafficking and to other aspects of the wildlife and forest sector remain poorly developed and frequently suffer from significant gaps. Elements of criminal offences are sometimes not clearly articulated and defined. This often hinders effective investigation and prosecution. In some jurisdictions, relevant offences, if they do exist, are poorly drafted, leaving ambiguities and uncertainties that can obstruct prosecutions and that can be exploited by defence counsel (UNODC, 2012; Biegus & Bueger, 2017; Nurse, 2015). Where state officials are involved in wildlife trafficking, diplomatic immunity can hinder their prosecution and conviction. Furthermore, in some jurisdictions, the authorities and officers in charge to enforce wildlife trafficking offences lack the necessary enforcement powers.

Enforcement of offences relating to wildlife trafficking is often hampered by a lack of proper resourcing and training (Bennett, 2011; Nurse, 2015; see also, Sundari Akella & Allan, 2012). In many countries, this is a problem relating to budgeting rather than a lack of resources. General law enforcement authorities often have little experience and competence in dealing with wildlife trafficking (Runhovde, 2016). Specialized agencies are often under-staffed, poorly trained, and under-funded. Furthermore, poor prosecutorial and judicial practices hinder a proper response to wildlife trafficking (UNODC, 2012). This often leads to environments in which poachers, traffickers and others involved in wildlife trafficking can operate with relative impunity (Biegus & Bueger, 2017). A lack of integrity of involved authorities and officials, which enables corruption, further exacerbates this problem.

While national coordination and international cooperation are crucial in combating wildlife trafficking, individual officials and some enforcement agencies are unable or unwilling to work together with other agencies, share relevant information, use available resources and know-how, or cooperate across borders (Sundary Akella & Allan, 2012; see also EIA, 2016).

Example: Challenges for law enforcement in the European Union

A 2016 study revealed different challenges for the enforcement of laws relating to wildlife crime in EU Member States. Existing legislation in Member States demonstrated an insufficient and uneven level of enforcement. Further, only a minority of Member States had national action plans on wildlife crime (as recommended by CITES).

Implementation and enforcement of wildlife crime-related laws were found to be mainly hindered by (1) a lack of sufficient staff and monetary resources, which translates into a low number of controls, and a lack of willingness to undertake costly enforcement measures and little time for cooperation and data sharing, (2) a lack of specialized knowledge on wildlife crime in administrative, enforcement and judicial bodies as well as a lack of specialized institutions, (3) a low level of sanctions applied, with the level of sanction not reflecting the severity of the crimes, and (4) a failure to use criminal sanctions and preference for administrative sanctions, often due to insufficient evidence.

(European Parliament, Directorate General for Internal Policies, Policy Department A: Economic and Scientific Policy, 2016)
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