Sustainable Development Goal 16
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
Governments must strengthen their legal frameworks, step up national and regional cooperation, apply tougher penalties, raise awareness of the drivers and impacts of wildlife crime, and work with local communities to identify, prevent and address the illegal harvest and trade of wildlife.
Governments must increase their efforts to combat Illegal Wildlife Trade-related corruption, including by enabling relevant enforcement agencies to investigate suspect financial flows associated with corruption in the illegal trade of wildlife products.
Conflict, crime and corruption represent major roadblocks to achieving prosperity and making progress on all Sustainable Development Goals. Ending poverty and hunger, or enhancing people’s quality of life in a country ridden by violence and instability is virtually impossible. SDG 16 is scarcely referenced alongside protection of the natural world. Yet, strong institutions, effective governance frameworks, and peaceful and inclusive societies are all instrumental to addressing environmental challenges, including the degradation of ecosystems and climate change, which both drive and are driven by the dramatic loss of wildlife.
According to UN Environment, in the past 60 years, 40% of conflicts have been tied to natural resources. The problem is particularly acute in developing countries, as under-resourced governments often lack the capacity to effectively regulate the exploitation of their natural assets.
The Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, released recently by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), highlighted that one million species are threatened with extinction; overexploitation represents one of the key drivers of species decline; and the current global response is insufficient and “transformative changes” are needed to restore and protect nature.
Animals are negatively affected by injustice, trafficking, and corruption. Wildlife crime, and particularly the illegal wildlife trade (IWT), is increasingly recognized as transnational organized crime, worth an estimated USD 23 billion each year, making it the fourth largest illegal global trade (after drugs, counterfeiting and human trafficking). Driven by rising demand, wildlife crime is often facilitated by corruption and weak governance. Studies also show that wildlife crime is exacerbated in countries where corruption is widespread.,,
The most immediate critical threat to African elephants, rhinos, apes and other endangered wildlife is large-scale poaching, coordinated by organized criminal networks which traffic these animals or parts and products derived from them, whether for jewellery, traditional medicines, trophies, pets or wild meat. Demand for ejiao, a gelatin produced from boiling donkey hides which is popular in Chinese medicine, has created a crisis in Africa where thousands of donkeys are being stolen, smuggled and slaughtered to meet the increasing demand for their hides. The donkey population in China was reduced from 11 million to 5.4 million in 2016, encouraging China to import donkey meat and hides from Africa, especially Kenya, which has already seen a sharp decline in its donkey population.
Every year, millions of wild animals are brutally shot, trapped, poisoned and mutilated, or kept in appalling conditions and traded by criminal networks often relying on connections with corrupt political, military, border point agents and other facilitating networks to get their ‘product’ from source to market.
Emblematic species are not the only victims of this trade. In reality, millions of individual animals belonging to thousands of species are subject to borderless criminal activities. In its World Wildlife Crime report, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) recorded through the World WISE database more than 164,000 seizures of wildlife products derived from nearly 7,000 species, across 120 countries, for the period between 1999 and 2015. Further, wildlife crime is becoming increasingly sophisticated with criminals using complex technology and weaponry, non-traditional trade routes and increasing levels of violence.
Despite it being a thriving business posing a serious threat to biodiversity, the rule of law and sustainable development, many countries continue to fail to recognize wildlife crime as a serious crime. Challenges include a deficiency in legislation, insufficient law enforcement, weak prosecutorial and judiciary capacities, lack of expertise and capacity to effectively investigate and prosecute wildlife offenses, low-level penalties that fail to deter wildlife criminals, lack of coordination between relevant competent authorities, and a lack of adequate intelligence-sharing between countries. In most cases, wildlife crime investigations fail to extend beyond seizures. As a result, cases are often not prosecuted and assets and financial resources are rarely confiscated and recovered. The 2018 OECD report Governance Frameworks to Counter the Illicit Trade found that those wildlife crimes that are successfully prosecuted are typically penalized through relatively light sentences, and that pursuit of charges for associated crimes which may carry heavier penalties, such as corruption or money laundering, is lacking:
Even as illegal wildlife trade has grown into one of the largest forms of transnational organised crimes worldwide, institutional frameworks to combat it have remained weak and disorganised. The burden is largely carried by under-resourced management authorities unaccustomed to addressing serious transnational crime.
IWT-related corruption is widespread across multiple sectors, agencies, individuals and activities at various levels of public administration. It can include wildlife, customs and police officials who are bribed for information pertaining to the movement of animals or patrols or to obtain hunting licences. Corruption can extend into the political and judicial spheres, resulting in the obstruction of prosecutions, with poachers and wildlife traffickers often being released without any due process.
While the global community now broadly recognizes corruption as a key enabler and facilitator of IWT, and the fact that corruption and IWT inhibit progress towards achieving SDG 16 (as well as SDG 15.7 and 15.c), efforts to effectively address corruption to date have been wholly inadequate.
Another contributing factor to IWT-related corruption is the complex legal status of many wildlife “products,” resulting in legal and illegal products being mixed freely and creating loopholes by which illegally traded animal products can be laundered into the trade.
The international illicit trade in live great apes would not be possible without corruption, and African elephant poaching in conflict zones suggests that corruption, rather than conflict, is the primary enabler of elephant poaching.
The complexity of addressing wildlife crime in the broader context of political and social instability means that in order to achieve SDG 16, governments must treat wildlife crime as a human security issue, enhance legal provisions for dealing with corporations and organized crime, strengthen prosecution and judiciary capacities, as well as scale up their efforts to prevent, identify and address the institutional and governance gaps, while tackling corruption.
Law enforcement authorities and the judiciary must set the example by ensuring that the rule of law is respected. Wildlife traffickers often use a variety of smuggling techniques, infrastructure or routes that are used for the trafficking of drugs, people, weapons, counterfeit goods and other forms of contraband. There is a need for immediate and powerful law enforcement that deploys the sorts of tools, techniques and penalties used to combat other serious crimes.
A strong legal framework is a key step to ensure that there are clear definitions of illegal activities for wildlife crimes. Wildlife crimes need to be considered as predicate offenses for corruption and money laundering, and all the legal tools available to prosecute offenders and recover the proceeds of wildlife crime need to be made available to and utilized by prosecutors and judges. Likewise, providing training of judges on environmental crime as well as on ethical and anti-corruption issues is also key.
Law enforcement efforts alone will not be sufficient. Public education efforts to emphasize the importance of wildlife, reduce demand for wildlife products, alongside other crime prevention efforts and the establishment of properly paid, trained and equipped civil services, are very important. The use of technology and standardization of procedures may also reduce corrupt activities.
In addition, processes to enable the investigation and facilitate prosecution and punishment of offenders need to be expedited, so they provide credible deterrence. Tougher penalties, both monetarily and in terms of prison time, need to be applied. Independent audit bodies with the power to review government action (or lack thereof) and to monitor illicit financial flows should be employed to uncover and address corrupt activities. There also needs to be better recognition of the potential for the criminal proceeds from IWT to fuel conflict and terrorism.
Addressing wildlife crime requires a holistic and concerted international response. International agreements created to combat corruption and to regulate wildlife trade in a coherent manner need to be fully and more effectively implemented.
The Declaration, which emerged from the 2018 London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade and was signed by 65 national governments, promised to increase action to tackle the illicit financial flows (target 16.4) associated with wildlife trafficking and related corruption, and welcomed action to treat wildlife offenses as predicate offenses, including for money laundering.
Existing resolutions issued by the General Assembly, the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on combating illicit trade in fauna and flora could be better utilized, as well as legal instruments such as the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC).
UNODC offers technical assistance and capacity building in the area of transnational organized crime, anti-corruption activities, and in the areas of crime prevention and criminal justice. It is also the governing body for the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ). Through the Global Programme for Combating Wildlife and Forest Crime, it works to counter environmental crime by local, regional and global initiatives.
The UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) sets a comprehensive benchmark for anti-corruption laws, institutions, and actions of ratifying countries. This framework should enable countries to engage technical assistance to combat and prevent corruption, including in regard to asset-recovery and financial investigations.
ICCWC, the collaborative effort of five inter-governmental organizations, works to bring coordinated support to the national wildlife law enforcement agencies and to the related sub-regional and regional networks. Together with ICCWC partners, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) can support Parties with their efforts to combat illegal wildlife trafficking and associated corruption. Similar cooperation at and between national and subnational levels should be strengthened.
Under CITES, Member States (Parties) that do not take measures to protect endangered species are subject to escalating international pressure, which can ultimately result in trade sanctions.
Together with UNODC and other ICCWC partners, CITES can support Parties with their efforts to combat illegal wildlife trafficking and associated corruption. Similar cooperation at and between national and subnational levels should be strengthened.
Governments should also provide adequate resources and capacity to enable relevant enforcement agencies to investigate suspect financial flows associated with corruption in the illegal trade of wildlife products.
Opportunities for countries to obtain international funding for strengthening their legal frameworks and for implementing conservation programs through the Global Environment Facility, should be further explored.
Enhancing understanding of corruption and anti-money laundering issues among wildlife crime investigators and prosecutors, and improving communication and cooperation between them, are essential to efforts aimed at disrupting international criminal syndicates involved in wildlife crime and trafficking and the public officials who facilitate these crimes.
Because wildlife management authorities are often under-equipped to deal with wildlife crimes on their own, anti-corruption bodies as well as other relevant bodies need to become involved in order to effectively address this issue.
As wildlife crimes are escalating at a global scale, there is an urgent need to increase collaboration and information exchange in this field. Strengthening international cooperation among law enforcement agencies, including to aid investigation and prosecution of cross-border cases of wildlife crime involving corruption, is required.
A number of tools are currently being developed under the auspices of ICCWC.These tools include anti-corruption guidelines that could be used to promote adequate integrity policies and assist member States to mitigate the risks of corruption in the trade chain as it relates to CITES-listed specimens. ICCWC is also delivering a number of activities to support the implementation of national anti-corruption measures and strategies.
Civil Society groups, working in collaboration with law enforcement agencies, also have an important role to play. The Eco Activists for Governance and Law Enforcement (EAGLE) network has developed a unique initiative through collaboration with national governments and civil society with a program of investigations, arrests, prosecutions and publicity. EAGLE first succeeded in Cameroon through the LAGA project, where from a decade of no wildlife prosecutions, one major trafficker has been prosecuted every week since 2003. Since then, this project has been replicated in eight other countries.
Whistle-blowers have also been very effective in combating financial and corporate crimes, and should be further protected and empowered to crack down on wildlife crimes, through initiatives like the National Whistle-blower Center (NWC)’s Global Wildlife Whistle-blower Program.
Finally, as wildlife trafficking degrades the rule of law and threatens public safety. Engaging more deeply with local communities on crime prevention would ensure sustainable livelihoods and food security of local populations.