Statement by John Scanlon, Secretary-General, CITES to 79th Interpol General Assembly

Updated on 16 April 2014

8 November 2010, Doha, Qatar

Mr President
Secretary General
Commissioners of Police and heads of INTERPOL National Central Bureaus
Distinguished Delegates
Ladies and Gentlemen

I last stood in this magnificent building in March of this year, when I was introduced to the 175 Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora - widely known as CITES or the Washington Convention. I had just been selected to become the new Secretary-General of CITES, following the retirement of my predecessor.

The Government of Qatar was hosting the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES and it did an outstanding job in organizing the event. Delegates to the CITES meeting thoroughly enjoyed the arrangements and the very warm hospitality offered by the Government and people of Qatar and I'm confident that INTERPOL's General Assembly will have similar positive experiences.

As you might imagine, it was a proud and privileged day for me to take up the position as head of one of the oldest, and I like to think the most successful, multi-lateral environmental agreements. Although not nearly as old as INTERPOL, CITES celebrated 35 years of regulating international wildlife trade earlier this year. I feel no less privileged today to have been invited to address this august body. I am apparently the first Secretary-General of CITES to speak at a General Assembly of INTERPOL and I am very grateful to Secretary General Noble for inviting me to participate. I am especially pleased to be able to talk to you shortly before you consider a draft Resolution from INTERPOL's General Secretariat on the subject of environmental crime.

I note that it was in 1992 that your General Assembly first adopted a Resolution relating to this field of crime. Much has happened since then. The INTERPOL Wildlife Crime and Pollution Working Groups have grown from strength to strength and the CITES Secretariat has been delighted to participate in the Wildlife Crime Working Group since its inception through to its most recent meeting in September 2010. 

National governments' support to the Wildlife Crime Working Group has been essential in facilitating these multi-national gatherings and they have taken place in almost every continent; for example, in Auckland, New Zealand, in Arusha, United Republic of Tanzania, in Beijing, China, and (in 2009) in Manaus, Brazil, in the very heart of the Amazonian rainforest - one of the most important areas of the world with regard to biodiversity. When these officers come together, surrounded by nature's finest examples of rare fauna and flora, they cannot help but be motivated to continue their sterling work.

On behalf of CITES, therefore, I'd like to take this opportunity to extend our sincere appreciation to those governments and police agencies, across the globe, which annually support INTERPOL's activities, either by hosting working group meetings or by sending their specialized officers to participate.

The CITES Secretariat has noted that many of the most successful transboundary investigations which have taken place around the world have been led, or coordinated, by officers who first met, and established long-term collaboration, at meetings of the INTERPOL Wildlife Crime Working Group. My staff regularly encourage countries to send representatives to such meetings, if they do not already do so.

It would be very wrong of me, however, if I left you with the impression that the CITES Secretariat's interaction with INTERPOL occurs only once a year, when we are invited to its working group meeting. There couldn't be a more inaccurate picture of the close working relationship that has developed between our two organizations. Indeed, hardly a day passes when our Chief of Enforcement Support does not communicate, either by email or phone, with officials of your General Secretariat. These communications range from discussions on strategy and capacity-building matters, to operational intelligence, which will be passed quickly to National Central Bureaus and result in enforcement actions.

The Parties to CITES take enforcement of the Convention extremely seriously. It is, and has long been, one of their priorities. Indeed, when they met here in March they decided to abolish one post in the Secretariat in order to recruit a second enforcement support officer. This takes on even greater significance if one is aware that the CITES Secretariat has lost five of its members since 2007, due to budgetary restrictions.

My predecessors have made a point, when recruiting enforcement support staff, to select individuals with a background in law enforcement. Our current Chief of Enforcement, for example, previously served with the Scottish Police Service for more than twenty years. Earlier in my own career, as a lawyer, I both prosecuted and defended individuals in court and understand very well the importance of the rule of law. I intend, therefore, to continue the policy adopted by previous Secretaries General of CITES and I hope that some of you here may be in a position to encourage relevant members of your agencies to apply, once the vacancy in the CITES Secretariat is advertised through the UN recruitment system next year.

I mentioned capacity-building and this is one area where the CITES and INTERPOL secretariats have perhaps enjoyed some of their most productive liaison. Many of the national bodies around the world, especially in the developing world, which are tasked with wildlife law enforcement, are not police agencies. Instead, they may be national parks departments, ministries of forestry, fishery protection agencies, or wildlife authorities. The men and women of these bodies do excellent work, much of it revolving around protecting species in their habitats and ensuring they are not poached or illegally harvested. Such activities regularly expose them, not only to encounters with heavily-armed poachers, but also to hazardous terrain and to diseases ranging from dengue fever to malaria. Every year, forest guards, game scouts, fishery officers, and park rangers will die or be seriously injured whilst performing their duties.

These rangers, and their counterparts elsewhere, seldom have the training, equipment, and certainly not the salaries, to match those of their colleagues in Customs and Police authorities. Recognizing this, the CITES and INTERPOL secretariats have attempted to plug at least some of these gaps. And so, in recent years, we have jointly published manuals on Controlled Deliveries, Smuggling Concealment Methods, and the Questioning of Smugglers. We have jointly delivered, or facilitated, national and sub-regional training workshops. We have regularly been assisted in these capacity-building activities by our colleagues in the World Customs Organization.

It is essential that we have the support of the World Customs Organization, the other major international law-enforcement body, because Customs officers are very much in the frontline of CITES enforcement, tasked as they are with guarding our nations' borders. But we have increasingly come to recognize that the previous tripartite response - the CITES Secretariat, INTERPOL and the WCO - could be strengthened even further.

And that is why, in late 2009, we invited the United Nations' Office on Drugs and Crime and the World Bank to also join us in our efforts to support national agencies in their work to prevent the illegal harvesting of, and illegal trade in, protected fauna and flora.

This initiative, which has come to be known as the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime - or ICCWC for short - is intended to introduce a new era to wildlife law enforcement. An era where those organized criminal networks that seek to rob countries of their natural resources, often exploiting the poor inhabitants of rural communities and corrupting officials, will face a determined and coordinated opposition, rather than the current situation where, all too often, the risk of detection, and imposition of penalties that match their crimes, are low or absent.

We hope that the launch of ICCWC will take place later this month in St Petersburg, in the Russian Federation, at a high-level meeting to discuss tiger conservation, and we recognize the very strong support we have from Secretary-General Noble to achieve this objective.

You might wonder why a meeting related to tiger conservation was chosen as the venue to launch a law enforcement initiative. It may surprise you to learn that poaching and illegal trade are the greatest pressures facing some of the world's most threatened species today. These magnificent animals face many pressures, such as habitat loss, conflict with humans and livestock, and reductions in the prey animals they need to eat to live. But it is, for example, illegal trade in tiger skins and its other body parts that is bringing this particular flagship species ever closer to the brink of extinction. From numbering about 100,000 in the early 1900s, there are now probably only 3,200 tigers left in the wild.

Populations of rhinoceros, in parts of Africa and Asia, are similarly under pressure from organized criminal gangs, who are exploiting the belief of some persons, struck down by cancer, who think that crushed rhino horn will halt the progress of the disease. These are particularly heinous crimes, preying upon the sick and their relatives, who will do anything, and spend large sums of money, in the false hope of recovery.

Law enforcement cannot, on its own, resolve the myriad of problems facing species of conservation concern. But, for some species, it is quite literally their last hope, if they are not to disappear from the face of our planet. Their fate lies very much in the hands of you, the Commissioners and policy-makers of the world's police agencies. Every time a protected species is poached, every time a skin is smuggled across a border, every time a body part or product enters an illicit market, the conservation community has failed, and we are one step closer to the extinction of that animal in the wild.

You may not realize it, Ladies and Gentlemen, but all of you here are an integral and essential part of our conservation community. The endangered fauna and flora of the world cannot be safeguarded for our children, and our grand children, without you - without the police. The campaign to rid the world of organized crimes, such as narcotic trafficking, will be a long one, with many battles along the way.

However, Mr President, I do not hesitate in alerting this Assembly to the fact that for several animal and plant species it is a race against the clock. They need the battles to be fought and won on their behalf now - or at least in the very near future.

Mr President, I applaud INTERPOL, and its General Secretariat, for once more bringing a Resolution related to environmental crime before this Assembly. That it happens now is particularly appropriate, as the United Nations has designated 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity. The Resolution demonstrates that the INTERPOL General Secretariat is fully engaged in the fight against environmental crime and is ready for the battles ahead.

Rest assured that the CITES Secretariat will continue to be your closest ally in combating wildlife crime.

Distinguished delegates, I commend to you the draft Resolution. I respectfully encourage you to adopt the Resolution and I reach out to every delegation to vote in favour of it and thereby send a loud message to the international community. I also encourage you to respond to its call to provide support to the General Secretariat's Environmental Crime Programme - but I also look forward to a time when combating environmental crime will be a core and priority function of INTERPOL and will not have to rely upon voluntary financial contributions. If we wish to provide a secure future for the world's fauna and flora, and for the people who rely on them, then we must also surely provide a secure future for wildlife law enforcement at the international level.

Mr President, Secretary General, Distinguished Delegates,

I regret that I must leave Doha tonight, as I have to be back in Geneva first thing tomorrow morning. However, the Secretariat's Chief of Enforcement, who I believe will be known to several of you, will remain throughout this Assembly to answer any questions you may have and to continue our liaison.

In the meantime, I thank you once more, Mr President, for the opportunity to address this General Assembly and I also thank and congratulate the police of the world, and especially this, its representative body, for the work that is being done to bring to wildlife criminals to justice. The CITES Secretariat, indeed the entire CITES community, takes great pride in the close relationship we have with INTERPOL.

In closing, I hope you will accept my very best wishes for a highly successful and productive meeting here in the wonderful city of Doha, Qatar.

Thank you.