Bangkok (Thailand), 20 December 2017 - As UNODC looks back on 2017, it has been a year of achievements and challenges in combating wildlife trafficking in Southeast Asia. Although there continues to be unsustainably high rates of poaching and increasing quantities of elephant ivory, rhino horn and pangolin scales being seized from illegal trade across the world; there are also some important signs of progress in law enforcement efforts on the ground in Southeast Asia.
During 2017, under its Global Programme for Combating Wildlife and Forest Crime, UNODC conducted 27 training courses and advisory sessions in seven Southeast Asian countries, to strengthen the capacity of criminal justice systems to prevent, investigate and prosecute wildlife crimes. In particular, a new approach in delivering regular and sustained law enforcement advisory support which has been trialled in Lao PDR and Myanmar, is starting to show some positive developments.
In Lao PDR, the Environmental Crime Police are conducting their first investigation of a wildlife trafficking case involving rhino horns smuggled from Africa, following a seizure which occurred in October 2017. In addition, a new Penal Code will enter into force early 2018, which will bring more clarity and stronger penalties for wildlife crimes, including a strong emphasis on organized crime and transnational offenses.
Meanwhile in Myanmar, the Forestry Police has begun investigating the rampant illegal trade of elephant skins, and through some of the skills learned during training courses and the advisory programme, they have identified and arrested key offenders. Further investigations on the extent of the criminal network are still ongoing.
Earlier in the year UNODC also conducted a comprehensive assessment of the strengths and challenges of the criminal justice system in Thailand, to help the Government to identify areas for improvement. Some of the key recommendations of the report have prompted some discussions within Thailand on how to better address wildlife trafficking. Many institutions - such as Thai Customs - are to be congratulated for their ongoing efforts in developing intelligence-led investigations, as well as sharing information to promote inter-agency operations and cross border cooperation. Notably, in December 2017 the cooperation between Customs and Police resulted in the first domestic controlled delivery on a wildlife trafficking case.
At the regional level, in September 2017 the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Transnational Crime agreed to establish a Working Group on Wildlife and Timber Trafficking, and approved a corresponding Work Programme. The development of this type of mechanism among the region's police and security institutions to address serious transnational wildlife crimes is something that UNODC has advocated for many years. This new network of law enforcement officers will become active in 2018 and focus on strengthening cooperation not only between ASEAN Member States, but also with key African countries, with support from the ongoing Wildlife Inter-Regional Enforcement (WIRE) meetings which are organized by UNODC.
Strengthening international cooperation between African and Asian countries of origin, transit and destination for CITES contraband remains a high priority, and in 2017 UNODC organized four inter-regional and regional events on a range of topics. These included a WIRE meeting for prosecutors and a WIRE meeting for customs officers from African and Asian countries; and the co-organization of a legal symposium which focused on strengthening and harmonizing legal frameworks between the two regions. Improvements in the level of cooperation are starting to be displayed, particularly an increased openness towards information and intelligence sharing and willingness to work together, which demonstrates the value of having regular meetings which bring law enforcement officers from the two regions together.
Looking ahead to 2018, UNODC will continue to implement its capacity building and technical assistance efforts in Southeast Asia, particularly the law enforcement advisory approach, and practical meetings to facilitate more effective inter-regional and regional cooperation. While the list of law enforcement challenges remains long and complex, it is important to acknowledge and encourage progress where it is being made; and UNODC hopes that these developments will continue to evolve and bring positive results.
Many of the activities conducted in Southeast Asia were made possible through cooperation with the partners of the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime; as well as with other organizations including UNDP, UN Environment, Wildlife Conservation Society, TRAFFIC, and USAID Wildlife Asia. The activities were also largely supported by funding provided by the European Union under the UNODC-CITES Asia Wildlife Enforcement and Demand Management Project.
Click here to learn more about UNODC's work on wildlife and forest crime in the region.