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Regional cooperation, working with demand countries key to ending wildlife crime, say African nations

Brazzaville, 30 April 2015 Better coordinated intelligence and law enforcement, involving communities in Africa and working with transit and destination markets outside of the continent must be at the heart of all efforts to tackle the alarming illegal trade in wild flora and fauna, African States said here today at the closing of the International Conference on Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora in Africa.

Countries must urgently work with one another to coordinate anti-poaching operations, customs and police controls, as well as strengthen cross-border law enforcement to stop the killing of wild animals and convict poachers and their accomplices.

“The plundering machine is forging ahead. I urge the international community to further mobilize against environmental crime and to commit firmly for this cause, the same way they are engaged in the fight against climate change and other global challenges,” said His Excellency Denis Sassou Nguesso, President of the Republic of Congo.

Curbing the demand needs to be a top priority, the participants added, pointing out that countries in Africa, speaking with one voice, should engage with destination countries to eliminate illegal markets and reach out to consumers about the dangers of the trade.

“This is a great step forward”, said Her Excellency Tumusiime Rhoda Peace, the AU Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture. “Today, Africa is coming together to tackle this horrific trade, which concerns them all. We commit ourselves to supporting this roadmap as we move forward to implement our common strategy”.

“Stopping national riches from being sold out cannot happen without modernizing legal frameworks. In many countries, engaging legal reforms will be necessary to forestall corruption and complicity at the national and outside of origin countries,” said Ibrahim Thiaw, the Deputy Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

The United Nations, through its specialized agencies, including the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), expressed their continued commitment to support African countries to develop and finalize the African Common Strategy.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had lent his support to the conference emphasizing the need to extend every effort to put an end to environmental crime, especially the illegal trade in wildlife.

The value of wildlife crime, comprising fauna and flora, including logging, poaching and trafficking of a wide range of animals, amounts to many tens and possibly hundreds of billions of US dollars a year, according to estimates of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, UNEP and INTERPOL.

Wildlife trafficking destroys biodiversity and ecosystems, undermining development and eroding livelihoods for millions of African citizens and their future. It also creates insecurity, fuelling conflicts and corruption, depriving countries of their assets, compromising the rule of law and dividing societies.

Participants at the conference also agreed that addressing rural poverty, creating opportunities for sustainable livelihoods, and raising public awareness is a critical element in turning the tide on wildlife poaching.

“Using wildlife products and habitats responsibly, and developing sustainable tourism and other economic activities hold the promise of preserving biodiversity for present and future generations, while promoting economic growth and people’s well-being,” said Nik Sekhran, Head of Sustainable Development at UNDP.

"Illegal trade in wildlife is a serious transnational organized crime that no country or region can fight on its own. The draft strategy that is being proposed today in Brazzaville reinforces the need for a collective global, regional and national effort to counter these highly destructive crimes, working across source, transit and destination States," said John E. Scanlon, Secretary-General of CITES.

African leaders to develop common plan for stopping wildlife crime
Brazzaville, 27 April 2015 – African Heads of State, government representatives and experts are gathering at the International Conference on Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora in Africa where they will develop a common roadmap to end wildlife trafficking on the continent. The Conference will seek to advance the first-ever Africa-wide strategy and action plan to tackle the illegal trade in wild fauna and flora, to be further considered at the next African Union Heads of State Summit later this year. The four-day event is organised under the leadership of the Republic of Congo, in partnership with the African Union Commission (AUC), and with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the African Development Bank, the Lusaka Agreement Task Force and the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC), among others. "Forests and wildlife are part of our common African heritage but are disappearing at an alarming pace," said His Excellency Denis Sassou Nguesso, the President of the Republic of Congo. “We have a duty to work together, as a continent, to safeguard our unique biodiversity for present and future generations and to craft strong collective solutions to address this calamity.” The value of wildlife crime, comprising fauna and flora, and including logging, poaching and trafficking of a wide range of animals, amounts to many hundreds of billions of US dollars a year, according to estimates of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, UNEP and INTERPOL. Wildlife trafficking destroys biodiversity and ecosystems, undermining development and eroding livelihoods for millions of African citizens. It also creates insecurity, fuelling conflicts and corruption, depriving countries of their assets, compromising the rule of law and dividing societies. “By the end of this event, we envisage to have a clear roadmap toward a strategy that is strong, Africa-owned and Africa-led,” noted Her Excellency Tumusiime Rhoda Peace, the AU Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture. “The document will aim to galvanize collective action across borders and it will offer practical, home-grown solutions towards decisively eliminating poaching and illegal wildlife trade.” Following the Brazzaville conference, the draft strategy and associated action plan will be further developed in consultation with all African Member States, and progress on the strategy will be reviewed when the continent’s leaders gather at their bi-annual meeting, this June, in South Africa. “An African strategy developed by the African Union and its Member States, and focused on the needs of the continent is an extremely important step forward,” said Achim Steiner, the Executive Director of UNEP. “Its development will require full engagement of Member States, and its implementation will require enhanced and sustained international support, strong information networks, better public advocacy and accountability, as well as adequate laws and mechanisms to fully address the problem." The International Conference on Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora in Africa builds on the momentum and outcomes of the 2014 London and 2015 Kasane High Level Conferences on Illegal Wildlife Trade, and comes on the heels of the 23rd African Union Summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, which urged African nations to apply zero tolerance approaches, to take action to strengthen laws and policies, and to engage communities to combat illegal wildlife trafficking and related criminal activities. “Trafficking in wildlife and forest products poses serious security, environmental, and development challenges”, said Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator. “Addressing rural poverty, strengthening governance and the rule of law, and eradicating illicit trade in wildlife are key to addressing these threats and are essential for achieving Africa’s vision for sustainable development.”

Organized Crime in Wildlife, Gold and Timber, Worth Over One Billion USD, Further Fuels Conflict in Eastern DR Congo - UN Report

Nairobi, 16 April 2015 -Organized crime and the illegal trade in natural resources continues to increasingly fuel the conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) , according to a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and partners.

The Government of DRC, supported by the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) - the largest UN peacekeeping mission with 20,000 uniformed personnel - is confronting not only a political insurgency but an increasing number of illegal operations conducted by militarized criminal groups with transnational links involved in large-scale smuggling and laundering of natural resources.

Every year gold, minerals, timber, charcoal and wildlife products such as ivory, valued between US$ 0.7-1.3 billion annually, are exploited and smuggled illegally out of the conflict zone and surrounding areas in eastern DRC.

Experts estimate that 10-30 per cent of this illegal trade (around US$ 72-426 million per annum) goes to transnational organized criminal networks based outside eastern DRC. Around 98 percent of the net profit from illegal natural resource exploitation - particularly gold, charcoal and timber - goes to transnational organized criminal networks operating in and outside DRC.

In contrast, DRC based armed groups retain only around two percent - equivalent to US$ 13.2 million per annum - of the net profits from illegal smuggling. This income represents the basic subsistence cost for at least 8,000 armed fighters per year, and enables defeated or disarmed groups to continuously resurface and destabilize the region.

There is evidence that revenues from such operations finance at least 25 armed groups that continue to destabilize the peace and security of eastern DRC.

The report, jointly produced by UNEP-MONUSCO-OSESG (Office of Special Envoy for Great Lakes Region), relies on inputs from a high number of experts, including the UN Office for Drugs and Crime, INTERPOL, the UN Group of Experts on the DRC, DRC government agencies and NGOs.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UNEP, said: "There is no room for doubt: wildlife and forest crime is serious and calls for an equally serious response. In addition to the breach of the international rule of law and the impact on peace and security, environmental crime robs countries of revenues that could have been spent on sustainable development and the eradication of poverty."

"In order to strengthen the environmental rule of law, we need to implement existing international, regional and national commitments, which requires, among other things, updating and strengthening national legislation, building capacity, strengthening enforcement, building consumer awareness and enhancing international cooperation and intelligence gathering across the supply chain to track and disrupt illegal operations," he added.

Martin Kobler, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of MONUSCO, said, "These resources lost to criminal gangs and fuelling the conflict could have been used to build schools, roads, hospitals and a future for the Congolese people."

"Imagine if we could spend hundreds of millions of dollars of the lost revenues stolen by criminal gangs in eastern DRC instead to pay teachers, doctors and promote business opportunities and tourism. We must turn gold into taxes and taxes to development for a prosperous future, " he added.

The UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for the Great Lakes, Said Djinnit underscores in his Roadmap (2015-2017), the need to undercut the economic lifeline of armed groups. "The illegal exploitation of natural resources is sustaining negative forces, perpetuating the instability and conflict in eastern DRC," stated Said Djinnit.

"Yet, these natural resources should be drivers of inclusive sustainable development and the transformation of the DRC and Great Lakes region at large. Efforts to address these transnational organized criminal groups' activities require a regional approach including forward-looking solutions of gradual replacement of the illegal charcoal trade, livelihood solutions to miners and farmers, harmonization of tax systems and transparent sharing of revenues," added Special Envoy Djinnit.

The conflict in eastern DRC, which has cost the lives of several million people, has continued for nearly two decades. The region also holds some of the richest natural resources and wildlife, including the critically endangered mountain gorillas,targeted by criminal groups as retaliation for park rangers interfering with the illegal charcoal trade inside the Virunga National Park.

The report warns that transnational organized criminal networks "divide and rule" armed groups in eastern DRC to prevent any single armed group from achieving a dominant role and potentially interfering with illegal exploitation run by transnational criminal networks.

The report points to an increased awareness of, and response to, the growing threat of the involvement of organized crime and calls for further concerted action, and makes recommendations aimed at strengthening action against the organized criminal networks profiting from the trade, including on MONUSCO's mandate.

Other recommendations from the report:

  • The experts recommend that MONUSCO strengthens its information and analysis capacity, with a view to undercutting the lifelines of armed groups with links to transnational criminal networks benefiting from illicit natural resource exploitation in eastern DRC;
  • Strengthen, in a targeted manner, the capacity of the Congolese national police and the justice system to investigate and prosecute environmental crime;
  • Strengthen the existing cooperation between MONUSCO and national authorities, particularly the Congolese Wildlife Authority (ICCN), to safeguard protected areas and World Heritage Sites from illegal natural resources exploitation and their use as 'safe havens' by armed groups;
  • Strengthen regional cooperation on transnational organized crime through information sharing and joint plans with the UN Police (UNPOL), INTERPOL, UNODC, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the OSESG for the Great Lakes Region, the UN Group of Experts on the DRC, and prosecutors;
  • Continued advocacy for legal and fiscal reforms to further formalize natural resources exploitation, particularly of artisanal gold mining, artisanal timber logging and charcoal production, in coordination with bilateral and multilateral development partners;

Responses So Far

Some of the findings from the report were presented in the United Nations Security Council on 19 March this year. On 26 March 2015,the Security Council passed resolution S/RES/2211 renewing for 12 months the mandate of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the DRC, and endorsing recommendations made in the Secretary-General's report on the strategic review of the mission.

The Security Council demanded that,"the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), the Lord Resistance Army (LRA), and all other armed groups cease immediately all forms of violence and other destabilizing activities, including the exploitation of natural resources and that their members immediately and permanently disband, lay down their arms and release children from their ranks."

The UN Security Council furthermore authorized MONUSCO to carry out targeted offensive operations, either unilaterally or jointly, with the Congolese Armed Forces(FARDC).

Significantly, this enables the Mission to use the necessary force to prevent criminal armed groups from benefitting from any exploitation of natural resources, and hence, address the root causes of the conflict.

For more information, please contact:

Shereen Zorba, Head of News and Media, UNEP

+254 788 526000, Shereen.Zorba@unep.org

Charles Bambara, Director, Public Information Division, MONUSCO (Kinshasa, DRC)

Tel +243 81 890 5202 or +243 99 706 8876, bambara@un.org

Penangnini Toure, Public Information Officer, O/SESG

+254 715 703 417, tourep@un.org




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