Cambodia amends legal loophole for wildlife trafficking, but still facing law enforcement obstacles

Phnom Penh (Cambodia), 13 July 2018
- Cambodia has issued a new regulation which adds 12 non-native species that are heavily affected by illegal wildlife trade to its list of protected species. This is an important change which will help to provide greater protection to elephants, rhinos and pangolins, and close a key gap in Cambodia's wildlife legal framework.

The new Praka No. 240 was issued by the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries last month to officially include African elephants, seven species of pangolins, and four species of rhinoceros in the list of protected species. This means that according to Cambodia's Forestry Law, the illegal trade of these species can now attract a punishment of up to five years imprisonment and a fine of 100 million Riel (equivalent to approximately US$24,500).

This improvement is consistent with recent movements among several countries in the Southeast Asian region to extend protection in their domestic legislation to include non-native CITES-listed species that are frequently found in illegal trade, such as Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam.

UNODC's latest assessment found that the major obstacle in Cambodia's criminal justice response to wildlife crime continues to be the lack of use of advanced investigation techniques to tackle the most sophisticated forms of transnational organized crime. These include digital forensics, communication surveillance, financial investigation and controlled deliveries.

The limitation is compounded by the fact that the lead investigators are judicial police officers under the Forestry Administration, while the police authorities do not play any active role in the investigation of wildlife crimes. International cooperation on law enforcement matters is also constrained because the Forestry Administration is not formally linked to INTERPOL or World Customs Organization channels, and has never made use of mutual legal assistance treaties.

To help provide capacity building opportunities for investigators in the Forestry Administration, Customs and Police, UNODC is organizing two training courses in 2018. The first one was held in Phnom Penh in June and covered crime scene management, covert electronic surveillance and controlled delivery techniques. The second course will be held in August on risk profiling to enhance the detection of illegal wildlife trade. Both courses are conducted in cooperation with the United States Agency for International Development's (USAID) Wildlife Asia Activity.

"From our perspective, Cambodia would benefit from the creation of a multi-agency investigation unit to focus on high-profile cases of wildlife trafficking" said Giovanni Broussard, from the UNODC Global Programme for Combating Wildlife and Forest Crimes. "Based on the comparative advantage of each agency, the unit should be led by the Forestry Administration and it should involve officials from Customs, Police and a Prosecutor". UNODC will explore the possibility of supporting the establishment of such a unit with the Government.

Click here to learn more about UNODC's work on wildlife and forest crime in the region.