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Addressing gaps in the criminal justice response to wildlife crime in Thailand

Thailand is a potential leader in the global fight against the wildlife crime, much of which happens on its doorstep. But to step up fully it must bring its own legislation closer in line with international rules, and expand cooperation with agencies abroad. A new report launched by UNODC today identifies strategies through which current gaps across the criminal justice spectrum can be addressed.

Bangkok (Thailand), 5 June 2017 - Thailand is a global hub for the trafficking of protected species, with tonnes of illegally obtained rosewood and ivory, and thousands of pangolins and protected turtles passing through its territory each year. It also faces its own domestic challenges in relation to illegal logging and the management of its iconic tiger and elephant populations.

The national enforcement agencies are well developed and very active, with thousands of seizures each year at border checkpoints, markets and elsewhere across the country. In 2016, authorities prosecuted 382 cases involving 183 suspects. One raid dismantled an operation smuggling testudines into Suvarnabhumi Airport, and another closed down the Tiger Temple and uncovered evidence of several illegal breeding and trading practices.

Wildlife crimes are handled by a half-dozen different agencies, which have a degree of cooperation, and are building institutions to improve how they work together.

But more is needed to improve the coordination of these agencies. Many have other responsibilities beyond wildlife crime, such as land encroachment, fraud, or corruption. A dedicated inter-agency taskforce would improve the focus on wildlife crime, and avoid either duplicating efforts or missing enforcement opportunities. The current network of informants could also be better managed - and funded.

Thai legislation would also benefit from some amendments, to bring it in line with the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). At the moment, national laws do not regulate the possession of most alien CITES-listed species, which limits the ability of law enforcement to act except in cases of active trading.

Officers would also benefit if they had more authority to control deliveries, where a suspicious consignment is tracked instead of being immediately seized in order to gain information about the wider smuggling operation. But while transhipment through Thailand currently carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison, controlling a delivery involves surveillance that is only authorised if the suspected offence carries penalties of up to four years or more. Bumping up the maximum penalty from three to just four years would therefore significantly boost the tools available to officers working on trafficking cases.

Click here to read the full report.

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