Notification to the Parties
No. 2000/060 Geneva, 3 November 2000
Alleged illicit trade in ivory
1. At its 40th meeting (3-6 March 1998, London, United Kingdom) the Standing Committee decided that the Secretariat should initiate work to verify reports of illegal killing of elephants through consultation with national authorities and report its findings to the Committee. It was also decided that the Secretariat would report on such work through Notifications to the Parties.
2. The Secretariat has recently received information regarding alleged illegal trade between certain specified countries in southern Africa and Asia. It believes the allegations to be of such a serious nature that it is reporting the result of its investigations into them also through a Notification.
3. In June 2000, the Secretariat was contacted by a journalist from The Sunday Times newspaper in the United Kingdom and advised that allegations had been made that the Government of Zimbabwe had traded ivory illegally to the Government of China. The journalist informed the Secretariat that he had two independent sources for the allegations. In July 2000, the Secretariat received information from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) repeating the initial allegation and providing more detailed information regarding the alleged trade. The HSUS further alleged that the Government of Namibia had traded ivory illegally to Taiwan, province of China. The Secretariat was subsequently informed by the journalist that the HSUS had been one of his sources for the allegations.
4. With regard to the allegation concerning Namibia, it was claimed that the Government had shipped 17 tonnes of ivory to Taiwan in exchange for armaments, including military helicopters. It was further alleged that the ivory had come from the President's personal ivory stockpile. With regard to the allegation concerning Zimbabwe, it was claimed that 8.1 tonnes had been shipped from its ivory storeroom to China in exchange for armaments, including thousands of Kalashnikov rifles. It was further claimed that the shipment had been made in an Angolan-owned aircraft, which had flown to China via Libya.
5. The Secretariat responded immediately following the receipt of the information. Formal contact was made with the CITES Management Authorities of China, Namibia and Zimbabwe and each was asked to comment on the information provided. The Secretariat also suggested to those authorities ways in which the veracity of the allegations might best be investigated. The Secretariat contacted ICPO-Interpol and the World Customs Organization and relevant organizations in East Asia and sought their assistance in investigating the allegations.
6. The Secretariat, on two occasions, contacted the HSUS and requested that it supply details of the source of its information and additional information concerning the allegations. The Secretariat offered an assurance that it would treat the details in complete confidence. As an alternative, it suggested that the HSUS pass the details to an official law enforcement agency in the country in which it is based. The Secretariat hoped to obtain further information that might assist its investigations and also to have the opportunity to assess the reliability of the informant. The HSUS declined to provide the additional information.
7. The Government of China responded that investigations were conducted by its military, defence industry, foreign affairs, public security, Customs, aviation and CITES authorities. They showed that no Angolan-owned aircraft entered China from Libya or Zimbabwe at the time in question and no exchange of rifles for ivory had taken place.
8. The Government of Namibia responded that the allegations were totally unfounded and that its President had no ivory stockpile. Namibia has no communication with Taiwan. Namibia also indicated that the Secretariat is welcome to inspect its ivory stocks at any time.
9. The Government of Zimbabwe provided the Secretariat with full details of its ivory stocks and recent domestic sales. There is no record of any international movement of ivory or any unlawful sale. Additionally, TRAFFIC International conducted an independent audit of Zimbabwe's ivory stocks, including those in the central store and at field stations. The Secretariat has been supplied with a copy of the auditor's report, which also shows no evidence of international movements of ivory or unlawful sales.
10. At the time of writing (17 October 2000) neither ICPO-Interpol nor the World Customs Organization has received any information to corroborate the allegations. The Secretariat's investigations have not revealed any evidence to justify the allegations. The Secretariat wishes to make the observation that it is highly unlikely that the amount of ivory allegedly traded by Namibia would be of a value sufficient to allow the purchase of military helicopters, even if such an exchange had taken place.
11. The Secretariat had already advised The Sunday Times, prior to the publication of the article in that newspaper, that its initial enquiries found no evidence to corroborate the allegation concerning China and Zimbabwe.
12. The Secretary General of CITES has written to the HSUS, expressing his concern that the allegations were allowed to become public before their veracity had been properly examined by an official enforcement or investigation organization. He stressed that it is all too easy to make such allegations but that it can be very difficult to prove them and, importantly, it can also be difficult for an innocent party to disprove them. He made clear that the Secretariat is committed to identifying and investigating incidents of illicit trade but that, in doing so, it will adopt appropriate professional standards and expects any person or organization that seeks to cooperate with its efforts to do likewise.
13. The Secretariat is also aware that the HSUS letter, providing details of the allegations to the Secretariat, was copied to at least one CITES Management Authority that was completely unconnected with the alleged trade.
14. In the absence of evidence to substantiate the allegations or new information, the Secretariat is of the opinion that it is proper to regard the allegations as unfounded.
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