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Strengthening Myanmar's criminal justice system pivotal to combating wildlife and timber trafficking

Nay Pyi Taw (Myanmar), 7 June 2016
- Curbing the illegal exploitation and trafficking of wildlife and timber in Myanmar requires a prioritization of stringent criminal justice interventions, according to the participants of a roundtable that was held in Nay Pyi Taw today.

The findings and recommendations from UNODC's report "Criminal Justice Response to Wildlife and Forest Crime in Myanmar" formed the basis of the discussions on how to build a more effective response to address these crimes. The discussions led to consensus on the absolute need to revise critical laws related to forest and wildlife offences, with a view to increase penalties and hence trigger a more active role of the Police Force in the investigation of serious offences.

"The capacity of Myanmar to respond to wildlife and forest crimes has been hampered by a range of factors including an obsolete legal framework, a very small investment in law enforcement, porous borders, the presence of contested areas, and an overwhelming demand for protected species from neighboring countries," said Mr. Giovanni Broussard, Regional Coordinator of UNODC's Global Programme for Combating Wildlife and Forest Crime. "But importantly, many key Government institutions are today asking how to change this situation."

Myanmar is amongst the top three countries with the highest levels of forest coverage in Southeast Asia, and is home to many globally threatened species. However, the speed at which forests and biodiversity are being depleted in Myanmar is cause for great concern. Since 1990, Myanmar has lost 26% of its forested area, and between 2010 and 2015 it had the third largest forest loss in the world.

"Failure to bring peace throughout the country has had a detrimental impact on Myanmar's rich biodiversity," said Police Brigadier General Thein Oo, Deputy Chief of the Myanmar Police. "It is important that we reverse this trend, especially now that the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Transnational Crime has listed the trafficking of wildlife and timber as a high priority crime to be tackled by all ASEAN Member States".

The decision by ASEAN Ministers in October 2015 has elevated the importance of this category of crime, and compels Member States to implement a stronger law enforcement and criminal justice response. It recognizes that wildlife and forest crime must be tackled in a more sophisticated way, deploying criminal justice resources and prioritizing their use.

The workshop kicks off a series of specialized training courses for Myanmar's law enforcement authorities, all of which are being implemented under UNODC's Global Programme for Combating Wildlife and Forest Crime. The training courses include an intensive three-week mentorship for the Forestry Division of the Police and the Forestry Department; a three-day course will also be conducted at the end of June - with the support of a prosecutor from the US Department of Justice - to improve prosecutors' comprehension of complex, multi-layered transnational environmental crime cases; and a further two-week training course for Forestry Division of the Police in August to enhance intelligence gathering in wildlife and forest crime cases.  

"Many wildlife and forest crime cases need to be treated for what they are-serious forms of organized crime," said Mr. Doug Goessman, Senior Law Enforcement Trainer for the UNODC Global Programme for Combating Wildlife and Forest Crime. "These training courses will provide select groups of law enforcement officers with the skills and knowledge they need to investigate offences and prosecute cases under forestry law and wildlife law in a more professional, efficient and effective way."

The national consultation workshop bought together key Government stakeholders, including the Police Force, Attorney General Office, Supreme Court, Customs, Forestry Administration and Anti-Corruption Commission. The national consultation workshop and all three training courses are generously supported with funding by the European Union.