CITES Secretary-General's statement to Expert Conference on the EU Approach against Wildlife Trafficking, Brussels, Belgium

Expert Conference on the EU Approach against Wildlife Trafficking

John E. Scanlon

CITES Secretary-General

10 April 2014, Brussels

Commissioner Potočnik, Commissioner Malmström, Distinguished guests, friends and colleagues.

The European Union, its Member States and its Commission have been longstanding and steadfast supporters of CITES - substantively, politically and financially.

The European Parliament, and its committees, have also expressed deep interest in CITES-related issues - as was most recently conveyed by the Parliament through its resolution on wildlife crime.

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The world has confronted wildlife trafficking for decades.  Yet in recent years we have witnessed a serious spike in the scale, and a change in the nature, of this illicit activity.

It is clear that the dynamics of this highly destructive crime have changed - and so must our response - to ensure it matches the scale, nature, and immediacy of the risk that wildlife trafficking now poses to wild plants and animals, to people, to security and to economies.

The positive news is that over the past few years there has been a global awakening at all political levels and across multiple agencies to the serious threats posed by wildlife trafficking - and the European Union has been a critical part of this collective effort.

At the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES held in Bangkok in March of last year we witnessed unprecedented levels of international cooperation in combatting wildlife trafficking with a powerful suite of resolutions and decisions being adopted by consensus - the implementation and review of which is already well underway. 

The CITES Standing Committee, which also serves as the Convention’s main compliance body, will closely monitor the progress made in the implementation of these concrete, time-bound measures. 

At the CITES CoP we saw a shift away from seeking to apportion blame to finding new pragmatic ways to work together to solve the problem - working across source, transit and destination states - with each State playing its part to strengthen the overall enforcement effort required and bring this illicit activity to an end.

I think it is fair to say that we know what needs to be done - we must now get on and do it and in quick time.

In the time available to me today - drawing upon the CITES CoP outcomes - I would like to encourage the European Union to focus on three key broadly stated issues:

-    first and foremost wildlife crime must be treated as a serious crime - as defined under the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime.  The European Union is still a major market for trafficked wildlife and it attracts highly specialized organized crime groups servicing a niche market.  A chain is only as strong as its weakest link and criminal elements will exploit the weakest entry point into the Union - and as such a strengthened response must be harmonized across all EU Member States. 

-    secondly, in combatting wildlife trafficking States must deploy the same techniques used to combat other serious crimes - such as covert operations, controlled deliveries, the use of modern forensics and asset seizure and recovery.  The kingpins behind these serious crimes must feel the full force of the law and this will require States to deploy these sorts of techniques combined with the ability to impose severe sanctions. 

-    thirdly, a coordinated effort across the entire enforcement chain and the illegal supply chain must be deployed.  Again, the enforcement effort will only be as strong as the weakest link.  Within and amongst EU Member States there needs to be a coordinated effort between investigators, Customs, police, prosecutors and the judiciary –noting the existing good work of Europol and Eurojust.  Further, close working relations must be forged between enforcement authorities across the entire illegal supply chain - source, transit and destination countries - with intelligence and forensics being shared through secure channels.  

There are perhaps three underlying factors that will underpin these efforts:

-    Firstly, there must be support at the highest political level within and outside of the European Union.  Germany - with Gabon, France, and most recently the United Kingdom have each hosted major political events that have generated significant political momentum and support.  This has included the EU reaching out through its diplomatic channels to put this critical issue on the political agenda –and we hope that this diplomatic effort is maintained and possibly further enhanced. 

-    Secondly, further financial support from multiple sources is required - noting that the social, environmental, economic and security implications of this illicit activity and its possible links to the Sustainable Development Goals should open up new funding sources –while also recognizing the EU for the strong financial support it already provides, including to the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime and to both MIKE and MIKES, which is evolving from monitoring to minimizing the illegal killing of endangered species.   

-    Finally, we need to make a quantum leap forward in the use of modern technologies in implementing CITES and combating wildlife trafficking, noting that the CITES Secretariat is offering support to the private sector on the creation of an impact investment fund to invest in new and innovative technologies and bring them to market. 

There has been talk of a possible UN General Assembly resolution.  Any such resolution should build upon the excellent body of resolutions that have originated from the UN Crime Commission, and subsequently been adopted by ECOSOC, as well as the outcomes from Rio+20, the CITES CoPs, and the recent General Assembly resolution declaring 3 March as World Wildlife Day.  

Let me conclude by apologizing for not being with you in person but prior commitments have taken me to the Southern Hemisphere.  I am however delighted that our Chief of Enforcement Support, Ben Janse van Rensburg, is there with you.

We offer our full support to the European Union in this endeavor and express our deep appreciation for your ongoing strong support of CITES. 

Thank you.