WINDHOEK: Illicit trafficking in wildlife is the new form of transnational organised crime and it needs a greater response, the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime has warned.
Governments gathering in Vienna, Austria from 15 to 19 October this year for a meeting organised by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), have recognised environmental crimes such as illicit trafficking in wildlife as a new form of transnational organised crime.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF), in a media statement issued on Friday, noted that the meeting by consensus passed a resolution encouraging governments to further strengthen their domestic laws to prevent and combat these crimes.
WWF Global Species Programme Manager Wendy Elliott was quoted as saying the recognition that illicit wildlife trafficking is a new form of transnational organised crime should be a wake-up call to governments worldwide.
“All forms of transnational organised crime have major impacts on stability, security and development. Urgent action is now desperately needed to strengthen efforts to combat illicit wildlife trafficking at all levels of the trade chain,” she said.
During the meeting, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) highlighted the sophisticated techniques used by wildlife traffickers, and the links between environmental crime and other crimes associated with high levels of violence and corruption.
The UNODC encouraged countries to take action against trafficking in endangered species, and to consider making trafficking of endangered species a serious crime.
Under the convention, serious crimes are defined as those that are assigned prison sentences of at least four years.
Several governments spoke out at the Vienna meeting about the severity of wildlife crimes and their negative impacts on society. South Africa, which is the epicentre of the current rhino poaching crisis, noted progress with inter-ministerial cooperation between its government branches.
Rhino poaching has escalated dramatically in parts of South Africa, due to the ruthless assault on the rhino population by criminal groups.
Governments will take up the issue of wildlife trafficking again in April at a meeting of the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, which will focus on crimes impacting the environment.
The UNODC is the main international treaty dedicated to the fight against transnational organised crimes such as drug trade and human trafficking. The treaty was signed by 147 countries.