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Green Customs Initiative Targets Environmental Crime

Nairobi/Arusha, 14 November 2005 - The role of Custom officials in monitoring and controlling flows of regulated chemicals at borders is at the core of a 5 days training workshop which kicks off today in Arusha, Tanzania. The first “Green Custom” workshop in Africa is organized by the United Nations Environment Pogramme in collaboration with the World Customs Organization, Interpol, and the Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) Secretariats, under the “Green Customs initiative”.

About 40 experts from the Customs and Environment Department of five countries in East Africa will be trained on issues related to compliance and enforcement of multilateral environmental agreements through integrated capacity building for customs officers within the multilateral environment agreements (MEA) enforcement chain. The aim is to provide customs officers with training that covers several multilateral agreements at the same time, making it more efficient than separate training on individual agreements.

Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of UNEP said “At the national level, customs is but one element of a “compliance and enforcement chain” that includes monitoring detection and seizure of illegal shipments by customs agencies; Prosecution of criminal cases involving such shipments by prosecuting attorneys; Appropriate sentencing by the judiciary. All three individual links in this chain must be strong for the whole to succeed. Without effective detection and seizure by customs, the criminal act cannot be identified. Without consistent prosecution by attorneys, the criminals identified by customs will not be brought to justice. Without appropriate fines and sentences levied by judges, criminals who have been successfully prosecuted will resume their illegal activity and others will not be deterred from undertaking similar activity.”

“Cooperation on illegal trade is an excellent opportunity for international organizations and MEA Secretariats to work together across different issue areas, as many of the problems and solutions regarding illegal trade of ODSs, toxic chemicals, hazardous waste and endangered species are similar” said Mr. Toepfer.

Experts are convinced that, the world-wide effort to crack down on pollution, challenge environmentally-damaging developments and comply with agreements covering issues such as ozone depleting substances, hazardous wastes to the trade in endangered species is being undermined partly as a result of weaknesses in many countries custom systems.

Building the capacity of customs officials, who are on the front line of every country's efforts to combat this illegal trade, is vital. This workshop is therefore intended to strengthen the capacity of customs officials to prevent illegal trade of items covered in MEAs while facilitating the monitoring of legal trade in these items. Customs officers will also be introduced to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

The workshop will encourage intelligence and information exchange, explore common threads in implementation of conventions by customs and coordinate activities to combat environmental crime. It is hoped that the workshop will help increase awareness among customs officials about MEAs and provide them with an opportunity to discuss and explore ways to implement trade-related provisions of MEAs both national, regionally and internationally.

Globally, environmental crime accounts for an estimated US$22-31 billion annually. The smuggling of ivory, tiger bones and rare orchids are a direct threat to species survival. At the same time criminal groups smuggle environmentally harmful products like ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) whose legal trade is subject to stringent international restrictions. The illegal traffic of toxic waste directly threatens human health and the environment, contributes to species loss, and results in revenue loss for governments.

Another serious effect of illegal trade in environmentally sensitive commodities is that it also seriously undermines the effectiveness of multilateral environmental agreements by circumventing rules and procedures agreed in international treaties.

National and international regimes for integrated chemical management rely on customs to monitor and control flows of regulated chemicals at borders. International agreements related to chemical management often restrict the national supply and demand of specific chemicals, and some set incentives for phase-out of the most harmful substances. If illegal trade in these chemicals occurs, the incentives set by the MEAs for control and phase out of chemicals are considerably weakened.

Some 10 journalists reporting on environmental issues in East Africa are also discussing the role of media in promoting compliance and enforcement of key environmental conventions and influence decision- making processes. The Green Customs Media workshop, which is organized in parallel with the Green customs Workshop, is designed to strengthen the capacity of East African journalists to deal with issues related to illegal trade in environmentally-sensitive commodities such as ozone depleting substances, toxic chemicals, hazardous waste and endangered species.

This workshop is part of UNEP’s continued support to building the capacity for environmental reporting within the African Network of Environmental Journalist (ANEJ). Participants, from the Customs and Environment Department and major media houses of Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda are attending the workshop

Note to Journalists:

Environmental crime is a big and increasingly lucrative business – a multi-billion dollar global enterprise. Local and international crime syndicates worldwide earn an estimated US$ 22-31 billion dollars annually from hazardous waste dumping, smuggling proscribed hazardous materials, and exploiting and trafficking protected natural resources. Illegal international trade in “environmentally-sensitive” commodities such as ozone depleting substances (ODSs), toxic chemicals, hazardous wastes and endangered species is an international problem with serious consequences: it directly threatens human health and the environment, contributes to species loss, and results in revenue loss for governments. Moreover, illegal trade in such commodities strengthens criminal organizations that also traffic in drugs, weapons and prostitution.

The “Green Customs” workshop is in line with an international effort to strengthen the implementation of environmentally-related laws which was launched at the Global Judges Symposium attended by some 90 of the world's most powerful judges on the eve of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in August 2002. The overall action plan that came out of this symposium clearly recommended a better training of all sectors of society involved in environment-related law from judges to prosecutors, magistrates, customs officers and the police.

For More Information Please Contact: Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson, Office of the Executive Director, on Tel: 254 20 623084, Mobile: 41 79 596 5737, e-mail: nick.nuttall@unep.org.

If there is no prompt response, contact Elisabeth Waechter, UNEP Associate Media Officer, on Tel: 254 20 623088, Mobile: 254 720 173968, e-mail: elisabeth.waechter@unep.org

Angèle Luh-Sy, Information Officer at the Regional Office for Africa, on Tel: 254 20 624292, E-mail: angele.luh@unep.org




Further Resources

Green Customs Initiative

UNEP Represents Green Customs Initiative at Chemical Weapons Convention
UNEP Press Release

Global Judges Symposium on Sustainable Development and the Role of Law
Johannesburg, South Africa,18-20 August 2002.

Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs)



DTIE Chemicals Branch

Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)

Regional Office for Africa Website


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