Opening remarks of CITES Secretary-General Ivonne Higuero at the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Illegal Wildlife Trade

21 March 2019, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Honorable Minister General Surasak Karnjanarat, distinguished delegates from ASEAN member States, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

It is an honour and a privilege to join you at this very timely Special ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Illegal Wildlife Trade. Thank you for your invitation, Excellency, and I take this opportunity to congratulate Thailand as the 2019 Chair of ASEAN. You have put in place excellent arrangements for this meeting, last night was spectacular, and we at the Secretariat are fortunate to have experienced the generosity of Thailand, as hosts for two of our Conference of the Parties.

As you know, wildlife crime poses a threat to the survival of some of the world’s most charismatic species and, equally, to many lesser-known species, often with devastating economic, social and environmental consequences.

It is today well recognized that wildlife crime is a serious crime, involving organized crime groups, and it is essential that we treat it as such. We must deploy the same tools and techniques against wildlife crime, as those used against other serious domestic and transnational organized crimes.

The serious nature of wildlife crime is reflected in Resolutions, Declarations and Statements adopted in many different forums at the global and highest levels. These include for example the UN General Assembly resolutions on Tackling Illicit Trafficking in Wildlife, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals that specifically address tackling illegal trafficking in wildlife through specific Targets under Goal 15.

On the other hand, we see even greater potential at the regional level, for example, the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on ASEAN 2025, entitled Forging Ahead Together.

This is exactly what is needed to address wildlife crime, strong regional cooperation. Sound national and regional strategies are essential, and equally important is strong collaboration across source, transit and destination countries, to ensure that criminal activities along the entire enforcement chain are addressed and neutralized, from source to final destination.

This meeting, aiming to further strengthen and harmonize the strategic efforts of ASEAN member states to address wildlife crime is essential. It will facilitate continued vigilance in the fight against wildlife crime. Excellencies, through this ASEAN platform, you are able to share best practices and your experiences on progress to eliminate illegal wildlife trade.

For example, several ASEAN member states have implemented commendable measures and activities to address wildlife crime. We see great work happening in Thailand to address wildlife crime through forensic technology and we were just informed on the adoption of new wildlife legislation.

In Viet Nam a new revised Penal Code making provision for strong deterrent penalties entered into force in 2018, and the Secretariat is currently working with Lao People’s Democratic Republic to strengthen CITES implementation.

Many ASEAN countries are also making good progress in the implementation of their National Ivory Action plans, a practical tool used by CITES in a number of member states to strengthen their controls of the trade in ivory and ivory markets and help combat the illegal trade in ivory.

The activities conducted by member states are too many to cover in the time available to me, but these examples show that much is happening. Let’s not forget those who were given UNEP awards for preventing transboundary environmental crime: Wichien Chinnawong, famous in Thailand for the arrest of a well connected poacher; Le Thi Hang, who brought justice in one of the most serious wildlife crime cases in Vietnam; the team of Thai customs, the royal Thai police and the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation; and the team of the Investigation and Suppression Division of the Royal Thai Customs.

There is also strong support available through the development community. An undertaking I would like to highlight is the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC).
ICCWC is the collaborative effort between the CITES Secretariat, INTERPOL, UNODC, the World Bank and the World Customs Organization. Its mission is to strengthen criminal justice systems and provide coordinated support at national, regional and international level to combat wildlife and forest crime.

As you know, CITES provides the fundamental legal framework for the regulation of international trade in specimens of animals and plants. The Conference of the Parties to CITES has adopted Decisions and Resolutions to address wildlife crime, and this will again be a matter of significant discussion at CITES CoP18 in Colombo in May, where progress will be reviewed, and further measures needed discussed and agreed.

I encourage you to make every effort to ensure that those decisions and resolutions are incorporated into the strategies developed by ASEAN member states to address wildlife crime.
Wildlife crime continues to pose a serious threat, and we must remain vigilant and continue to scale up our efforts. If we persist, we will, together, put an end to wildlife crime. Thank you.