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Viet Nam's law enforcement officials urge zero tolerance on wildlife crime

Hanoi (Viet Nam), 1 June 2016 - Officials from three key Vietnamese law enforcement and criminal justice institutions joined representatives from the international community to call for zero tolerance on wildlife crime.

At a press conference held in the lead up to Viet Nam's World Environment Day celebrations, representatives from the Ministry of Public Security (MPS), Supreme People's Procuracy (SPP) and the General Department of Viet Nam Customs, together with the United Nations Resident Coordinator and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), called for an end to wildlife trafficking.

World Environment Day is celebrated on the 5th of June every year, and this year it is putting the spotlight on the fight against the illegal wildlife trade. The press conference was organized by UNODC to highlight some of the wider impacts of wildlife crime, particularly its corrosive effect on the rule of law and stability, as well as to promote some of Viet Nam's recent law enforcement efforts to address this issue.

"The illegal trade in wildlife is driving species to the brink of extinction, while posing environmental, economic, development and security risks," said Ms. Pratibha Mehta, UN Resident Coordinator for Viet Nam. "This is a critical issue not only for Viet Nam, but globally, and the United Nations in Viet Nam stands firmly behind the appeal for zero tolerance for wildlife crime."

Viet Nam has taken steps to reinforce its commitment to fighting wildlife crime, highlighted through a recent increase in reported seizures of illegal wildlife products. Between 2010 and 2015, Customs authorities seized approximately 55,200kg of pangolins, 18,000kg of ivory, and more than 235kg of rhino horn from illegal shipments; including one of their largest-ever seizures at Tien Sa port in Da Nang last year, when three shipments containing more than three tonnes of ivory, 120 kg of rhino horn and four tonnes of pangolin scales were intercepted.

Last year, the 13th National Assembly also adopted a new Penal Code with strengthened provisions and increased penalties for wildlife crime; and in November 2016 Viet Nam will host the third international Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade - an event critical to galvanising the international community to take stronger action against wildlife crime.

"To enhance the effectiveness of combating wildlife crime in the near future, police forces are intensively and effectively implementing provisions of the Penal Code 2015 relating to wildlife crime; and closely coordinating with competent authorities including Customs, Border Army, Market Control, Marine Police, and police from other countries and international organizations to enhance the exchange of information and experience in combating these types of crime," said Lieutenant General Tran Van Ve, Deputy Director of the General Police Department, MPS.

However, UNODC noted that much more still needs to be done. So far very few cases of wildlife crime have been successfully prosecuted in Viet Nam's courts, due to a range of challenges including inadequate preparation and presentation of evidence, legal loopholes, and a weak rule of law.

"Wildlife crime is a serious transnational crime and it deserves a greater law enforcement response," said Mr. Chris Batt, Officer-In-Charge of UNODC in Viet Nam. "The next generation of efforts in Viet Nam would benefit from coordinated multi-agency investigations; the use of financial intelligence and anti-money laundering systems to map and disable trafficking networks; strengthening the capacity of law enforcement officials to address trafficking at borders and points of entry to Viet Nam; and making full use of the newly increased penalties to deter wildlife crime."

Mr. Chris Batt urged everyone to help stop the growing wave of wildlife trafficking: "We all have a role to play, from lawmakers, police, customs officers, prosecutors and judges, businesses, and citizens. We need to raise awareness that wildlife crime is a crime that affects all of us, and one we should no longer accept. It's time to get serious about wildlife crime - before it's too late."

The press conference was conducted under UNODC's Global Programme for Combating Wildlife and Forest Crime, and was supported by the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Bureau of the US State Department.