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Next phase of ASEAN cooperation to address wildlife and timber trafficking agreed

Bangkok (Thailand), 15 June 2021
- An ASEAN network of law enforcement officers met today to discuss and agree to plans to tackle wildlife and timber trafficking across Southeast Asia.

It was the third meeting of the Working Group on Illicit Trafficking in Wildlife and Timber, which was formed in 2017 under the framework of the ASEAN Senior Officials Meeting on Transnational Crime (SOMTC). The online meeting was hosted by the Royal Thai Police as the voluntary lead shepherd of the Working Group, with representatives from authorities of all 10 ASEAN countries.

“Trafficking in wildlife and timber has not stopped during COVID-19,” said Pol. Maj. Gen. Pitak Uthaitham, Commander of the Natural Resources and Environmental Crime Suppression Division of the Royal Thai Police. “These types of crimes need decisive law enforcement cooperation, and SOMTC offers a unique opportunity for us to plan investigations and joint activities aimed at stopping wildlife and timber trafficking in ASEAN.”

UNODC partnered with the Royal Thai Police to organise the first part of the meeting, which was an open session to provide updated information on regional wildlife and timber trafficking trends. The session included contributions from UNODC, the Anti-Smuggling Bureau of China Customs, USAID Wildlife Asia, INTERPOL and the ASEAN Working Group on CITES and Wildlife Enforcement. The information shared during the open session contributed to the development of an informed work programme for 2022-24.

Conducting joint law enforcement investigations, intelligence sharing, and improving international law enforcement cooperation are the key priorities of the SOMTC Working Group on Illicit Trafficking in Wildlife and Timber. A poll taken during the meeting on why the level of international cooperation remains unsatisfactory indicated that the diversity of law enforcement structures across different countries is a main obstacle. Other challenges included differences in legal systems, complex channels of communication, and diversity in approaches and priorities.

“ASEAN Member States should be prepared for a sharp rebound in wildlife trafficking in a post-COVID19 scenario,” said Giovanni Broussard from the UNODC Global Programme for Combating Wildlife and Forest Crime. “This working group can be a key platform to merge separate domestic efforts into a more coherent regional response. This is also easier said than done, and it will require a determined effort by all members to put words into action.”

The SOMTC Working Group is the result of developments since 2015 that recognise the increasing seriousness of wildlife and timber crimes affecting the ASEAN region, and the need to address these issues as a transnational crime with greater coordination, collaboration, and joint actions. The first meeting of the Working Group took place in March 2018, when it agreed to a Terms of Reference to define the purpose, structure, and scope of the group, and the first Work Programme. Thailand and the Royal Thai Police have lead these regional efforts with support from UNODC, including opening a dedicated facility in Bangkok in March 2021 for specialised operations and criminal investigations related to wildlife and timber trafficking.

Click here to learn more about UNODC's Regional Programme for Southeast Asia.

Click here to learn more about UNODC’s Global Programme on Combating Wildlife and Forest Crime in Southeast Asia.