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Countering environmental crimes in South-East Asia

The Asian Regional Partners Forum on Combating Environmental Crime (ARPEC) includes several organizations that have made the fight against environmental crimes a top priority.

Illegal international trade in commodities such as endangered wild fauna and flora, ozone depleting substances, toxic chemicals and hazardous waste can seriously undermine the effectiveness of multilateral environmental agreements and endanger human and environmental security.

ARPEC was set up in August 2005 at a meeting in Bangkok on cooperation among regional offices to combat environmental crime in Asia. The objective of the meeting was to create a forum to facilitate consultation, exchange of information, technical cooperation and coordination activities among international and non-governmental organizations operating to counter the alarming growth of environmental crime in the region.

Since then, ARPEC has enabled partners to design joint initiatives and brainstorm on emerging issues. This forum has created numerous opportunities for partners to cooperate in capacity-building, training and workshops and to share information in their respective fields. It has also crystallized regional enforcement operations such as Project Sky Hole Patching (an enforcement operation on combating the illegal trade in ozone depleting substances and hazardous waste in Asia and the Pacific) and PATROL - Partnership against Transnational Crime through Regional Organized Law Enforcement.

ARPEC members gather twice a year thanks to the overall coordination of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) -,, which acts as the ARPEC Secretariat.

ARPEC partners include: the World Customs Organization Regional Office (WCO) for Capacity-Building; the liaison office of the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL); UNODC; UNEP; the WCO Regional Intelligence Liaison Office for Asia and the Pacific; the Environmental Investigation Agency; WWF; the FREELAND Foundation for Human Rights and Wildlife; the International Union for Conservation of Nature; TRAFFIC; the Wildlife Conservation Society; the Wildlife Enforcement Network of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations; the Asian Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Network; the World Bank; the Asian Development Bank; the Office of the Inspector-General of the Netherlands; IMPEL-TFS; TVE/Earth Report; the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and Wild fauna and Flora; the Customs Department of Thailand; the Royal Thai Police; the Ministry of Industry of Thailand; and the National Academy of Customs, Excise and Narcotics of India. The Forum is informal and membership is open to other organizations.

Recent events

Bangkok (Thailand), 20 July 2011
- National governments, international organizations and non-governmental organizations met to discuss critical issues related to the illicit trade of commodities such as wildlife, timber, fish and waste at the 11th Asian Regional Partners Forum on Combating Environmental Crime (ARPEC), held 13-14 July 2011 in Bangkok. Organized by the Regional Centre of UNODC in East Asia and the Pacific, this ARPEC meeting focused on the critical role of intelligence-sharing and media management in fighting organized environmental crime in Asian countries.

Asia is at the hub of activities by criminal groups that profit from illicit trade in its natural resources or illegal dumping of hazardous waste. Throughout the region, forests in several Asian countries are plundered while protected species like tigers remain at high risk of extinction.

"Crimes against the environment have repercussions on climate change, biodiversity, security, development and growth," remarked Mr. Gary Lewis, Regional Representative of UNODC. "What makes them difficult to counteract is that perpetrators are often well-organized, sophisticated syndicates."

Key to counteracting organized environmental criminal efforts and building an effective, pro-active response is the urgent need to foster a culture of intelligence sharing among law enforcement agencies around the world. Presentations on intelligence sharing by Interpol, ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network and the Regional Intelligence Liaison Office - Asia and Pacific (RILO A/P) sparked a lively debate among ARPEC attendees who recommended that every enforcement agency should make the sharing of criminal intelligence a top-priority worldwide.

Recent high-profile wildlife seizures in the region were the backstory to a frank discussion on the importance of professional, coordinated relationships between law enforcement agencies and the media.

The Wildlife Conservation Society, FREELAND Foundation, the Wildlife Crime and Control Bureau (India) and the Environmental Investigation Agency shared their experiences and views on using coverage of criminal incidents to raise public awareness on the consequences of crimes against animals and the environment. Balancing this against the critical need to preserve ongoing enforcement investigations led ARPEC attendees to agree that the timing and content of media messages were crucial to long-term wildlife crime enforcement success.

The chairman of the Senior Experts Group of the newly established International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC), updated participants on future activities by ICCWC. This session also clarified the objectives of ICCWC, which represents an unprecedented partnership among five key international organizations, namely the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), INTERPOL, UNODC, the World Bank and the World Customs Organization (WCO). The public launch of the ICCWC programme is scheduled for the last quarter of 2011.

"ICCWC has incredible potential and some encouraging signs are already visible," said Mr. John Sellar, Chief of Enforcement Support at the Secretariat of CITES. "The goal right now is to raise public understanding of wildlife crime as a transnational organized crime that requires effective and professional responses."

Under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme, ten ARPEC meetings have taken place in the past 5 years. The next ARPEC meeting will be held in Bangkok in the fourth quarter of 2011.