Law enforcement officials, parliamentarians, judges, prosecutors, and legal experts from all 10 ASEAN countries and the United States convened in Singapore this week to build a new program designed to reduce the poaching and trafficking of wild animals and plants in Southeast Asia. The new "ASEAN Legal Task Force for Wildlife" will develop a legal handbook, toolkit and training course for government officers in ASEAN to make them aware of the many legal avenues that can be used against poachers and traffickers, besides just wildlife laws.
Minister of State for National Development, Desmond Lee said: "Increasingly, wildlife crime is recognised as one of the largest transnational organised crimes, alongside drugs, arms and human trafficking. Singapore, as a member of the ASEAN-WEN, remains committed to work with our ASEAN counterparts and key partner organisations to curb illicit wildlife trade. I am heartened to know that a new legal capacity building project to support Southeast Asia's efforts under ASEAN-WEN is being developed to combat transnational and organised wildlife crime. We will continue to monitor the wildlife trade through Singapore vigilantly and work with ASEAN Member States collectively to protect our unique natural heritage and combat illicit wildlife activities."
"ASEAN countries are rich in biodiversity and home to many endangered species of wild fauna and flora," said Do Quang Tung, Chairman of ASEAN's Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN) and Chief of the CITES Management Authority of Vietnam. "Unfortunately, the region is also a hotspot in the global illegal wildlife trade. Sharing information and technical expertise within ASEAN with a view to increasing the capacity of ASEAN as a whole is important".
Global wildlife trafficking is estimated to be worth billions of US dollars per year, with increasing evidence of organized crime involvement. Southeast Asia is being hit particularly hard, partly due to its proximity to consumer markets. In response, ASEAN officials, with support from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC); US Agency for International Development (USAID); US Fish and Wildlife Service (US FWS); Freeland, and the Asia Pacific Centre for Environmental Law (APCEL), teamed up last year to plot strategic legal responses to counter this emerging threat.
Recently, the 2014 East Asia Summit (EAS), composed of heads of states and governments of ASEAN, Australia, China, India, Korea, Japan, Russia and the US, issued a declaration directing more attention to combating wildlife crime, including stronger prosecutions, cooperation on transnational wildlife investigations, legislation reforms and the sustainability of the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN), while also requesting ASEAN Ministers responsible for fighting transnational crime issues to make environmental crime priority.
ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA) Secretary-General and workshop lead facilitator P.O Ram said: "ASEAN Parliamentarians are aware of the many challenges our enforcers face in suppressing this emerging security threat to the region. We are here to take note of recommendations, and learn more how AIPA can augment the efforts of the executive and the judiciary in securing ASEAN's natural capital."
The workshop is a platform and guide for the development of a law enforcement manual/ handbook to provide criminal justice and law enforcement officials from the ASEAN region with a strategic tool which outlines an array of key wildlife national laws to prosecute wildlife criminals. "Defining common standards for domestic legal frameworks is an important step towards improved regional cooperation among law enforcement agencies" said Giovanni Broussard from the UNODC Global Programme on Combating Wildlife and Forest Crime. "This gathering offered a unique opportunity to analyse and compare existing legislations, with a view to assist Governments to investigate and prosecute cases of wildlife trafficking more effectively" The Wildlife and Forest Crime Analytic Toolkit was largely utilized during the gathering to facilitate discussions among government officials and international experts.
Deputy Chief of Mission Blair Hall of the US Embassy to Singapore said: "The United States remains committed to a strong ASEAN community and a powerful coalition of civil society partners that together can tackle the wildlife crisis head on. We seek a region-wide law enforcement response to protect endangered species and their habitats." He added, "We are inspired by the many important personalities and institutions here today, from Singapore, ASEAN, the UNODC, parliamentarians, judges, prosecutors, Customs officers, police, CITES officials, academics and leaders of non-governmental organizations. This coalition of dedicated institutions and individuals is crucial to review and refine the legislation, policy, and legal cooperation needed to prevent and prosecute transnational wildlife crime."