1 June 2023, by Alice Pasqualato, Policy Officer, Global Initiative to End Wildlife Crime
Last week marked the 32nd session of what has become one of the most important international fora to discuss wildlife trafficking: the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ). The Commission, which acts as the principal policymaking body of the UN in the field of crime prevention and criminal justice, gathered in Vienna on 22-26 May 2023 to discuss, among other matters, the implementation of resolution 31/1 on ‘Strengthening the international legal framework for international cooperation to prevent and combat illicit trafficking in wildlife’. The Global Initiative to End Wildlife Crime (EWC) was there all week, represented by its Chair and several Steering Group members.
In May 2022, the CCPCJ adopted resolution 31/1, inviting Member States to, amongst other matters, provide the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) with their views on a potential additional Protocol to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) to “address any gaps that may exist in the current international legal framework to prevent and combat illicit trafficking in wildlife”. It was the first UN resolution to ever mention a potential global agreement against wildlife trafficking.
Between February and April 2023, UNODC collected the views of 60 Member States and the European Union, compiling them into a 250 page report, which was released ahead of the 32nd session of the CCPCJ. On 24 May, UNODC presented its analysis of Member States’ views during the Plenary Session, in which it concluded that “more than half of the responding States expressed support for the potential of an additional protocol on illicit trafficking in wildlife to the Organized Crime Convention”; more than half of responding States also identified gaps in the current international legal framework to prevent and combat wildlife trafficking.
EWC delivered a statement welcoming the UNODC report and highlighting that, according to a preliminary assessment conducted by EWC at the request of Angola and Gabon, 75% of responding States were either in favour of an additional Protocol or open to discussing it, with some requesting further information or suggesting its scope be broadened to include other environmental crimes.
On 25 May, EWC hosted a side event together with the governments of Angola and Peru, titled ‘Strengthening the international legal framework against illicit wildlife trafficking’. The event, moderated by EWC Chair, John Scanlon AO, featured high-level speakers from Angola, Gabon, Kenya, Peru, the Philippines and the United States. It provided an additional opportunity for States to discuss how to strengthen the international legal framework to prevent and combat wildlife trafficking.
The first statement was made by Prof. Lee White CBE, Minister of Water and Forests, the Sea and Environment of Gabon, who reaffirmed Gabon’s longstanding support for an additional Protocol to the UNTOC, stating that “it is time for us to come together and discuss what the next steps should be”. Paula Francisco Coelho, Secretary of State for Climate and Sustainable Development of Angola followed, delivering a statement on the scale and volume of wildlife trafficking; Secretary Coelho added that it is “incredibly encouraging for Angola, a biodiversity-rich, source country, to see that Member States from across the globe are willing to work together” to strengthen the international legal framework against wildlife trafficking.
Making a case for an additional Protocol, Ambassador Luis Alberto Campana Boluarte, Permanent Representative of Peru to the United Nations in Vienna, highlighted the gaps in current international law, stating that “existing instruments simply do not provide the comprehensive, legally-binding regime for tackling wildlife trafficking that is desperately needed”. Ambassador Evangelina Lourdes A. Bernas, Permanent Representative of the Philippines to the United Nations in Vienna presented relevant national and regional (ASEAN) legislation, suggesting that certain provisions could be incorporated into the “new Protocol we want to see” and stressing the importance of harmonising national legislations. Offering a different perspective on the matter, Virginia Patton Prugh, Attorney Adviser at the U.S. Department of State, highlighted the U.S. view of the need to focus, “for now”, on the full implementation of existing international instruments.
Saitoti Maika, Director General of the Financial Reporting Center of Kenya reiterated Kenya’s support for an additional Protocol and discussed its possible content, stating, for example, that “State parties could develop and adopt a definition of illicit wildlife trafficking, which would facilitate a convergence of national approaches, thereby enhancing international cooperation”. Finally, Dr. Sandra Altherr, co-founder of Pro Wildlife, an EWC International Champion, delivered a presentation on the scale of trafficking in species that are not listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
After the panel discussion, the floor was opened up to any additional State interventions: a French representative commented on the possibility of addressing multiples environmental crimes through an additional Protocol, while a strong expression of support for a global agreement against wildlife trafficking came from Paraguay, represented by Ambassador Juan Francisco Fernandez. The recording of the side event is available here.
On 23 May, EWC Chair, was also one of the panelists of the side event “Sanctions against Perpetrators, hosted by the Nature Crime Alliance (World Resources Institute) with the support of Norway, the U.S and the UNODC Crimes Against the Environment Programme.
On the same day, the United Arab Emirates presented its “Joint Pledge to Support and Enhance the Role of Law Enforcement Agencies in the Context of Global Climate Change Scenarios”. The pledge, which was welcomed by EWC through a statement delivered at the session by its Chair, addresses the impact of ‘crimes that affect the environment’ on natural ecosystems and their ability to “withstand climate change”, with a particular focus on the need to strengthen “global law enforcement’s capacity” to prevent and combat these crimes.
As the focus on crimes that affect the environment continues to grow within the Vienna UN Duty Station, wildlife trafficking remains one of the most prominent topics of discussion. The report released by UNODC clearly shows that a growing number of Member States are aware of the gaps in the current international legal framework to tackle wildlife trafficking and see the value of a global agreement, taking the form of an additional UNTOC Protocol, with Minister White noting that “there is a growing momentum for a new agreement”. EWC, its Steering Group and 30 international Champions welcome the efforts of Angola, Gabon, Kenya and Peru to advance this conversation and stand ready to offer their support to all interested Member States, upon request, across all regions.