Updated on 14 February 2022

Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice - Expert Discussions on Crimes that Affect the Environment - Vienna, Austria

Keynote address by Ivonne Higuero, Secretary-General of CITES

14 February 2022

Your Excellency Barbara POMPILI, Minister for Ecological Transition of France

Your Excellency Takeshi HiKIHARA, Chair of the CCPCJ

Ms Ghada WALY, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime

Excellencies, Distinguished delegates, Ladies and gentlemen,

ccjcp-cites-sg-2022Thank you to the UNODC for the invitation to speak on the important topic of wildlife crime as one of the Crimes that Affect the Environment. I congratulate UNODC and the representatives of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ) with the arrangements put in place so these expert discussions can be held, despite the challenges of the pandemic.

The follow up work being done through the CCPCJ in response to the Kyoto Declaration and the resolution on “Preventing and combating crimes that affect the environment” is timely and essential. Especially given the involvement of transnational organized crime groups in crimes affecting the environment, and the scale and nature of these crimes observed in recent years.

Environmental crimes impact us all. These crimes are a menace to our planet by destroying habitats and driving many species to extinction. They also undermine the rule of law, development, food security, human health, people’s livelihoods, and many other key issues. This ultimately hinders progress towards the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a renewed spotlight on the state of our relationship with the planet. We must urgently address our unsustainable interactions with nature, including by addressing crimes that affect the environment.

The Kyoto Declaration refers to the commitment of Member States to adopt effective measures to prevent and combat crimes that affect the environment, such as illicit trafficking in wildlife. This is in line with the work of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora or CITES. In this context, I will say a few words about CITES and its relevance to the topic at hand.

CITES is a legally binding multilateral agreement that sets rules for the international wildlife trade. The Convention regulates international trade in over 38,000 species of wild animals and plants, including their parts and derivatives. Its purpose is to ensure that this trade is legal, sustainable, and traceable. All 184 Parties to CITES must take measures to enforce the Convention and trade in accordance with its rules. This includes to prohibit and penalize trade that is conducted in contravention with these regulations.

The work of CITES Parties shows that regulating the trade and use of wildlife can benefit people, planet and prosperity, by conserving wild species while preserving the livelihoods of those who rely on them. But this work is seriously undermined by wildlife crime. Derivatives of many CITES-listed species, such as rosewood timber, totoaba swim bladders, and rhino horn are high-value items and targeted by transnational organized crime groups. To combat this, CITES Parties adopted a powerful suite of Decisions and Resolutions on enforcement matters at their last meeting in 2019.

The measures adopted by our Parties reaffirms that wildlife crime must be treated as serious. The same enforcement tools\, techniques and penalties used to combat other serious crimes, such as trafficking in drugs or persons, must be deployed against wildlife crime. It is essential that UN Member States ensure that they have national legislation in place that will enable them to mobilize the tools provided for in the UN Conventions against Transnational Organized Crime and Corruption - to fight wildlife crime.

Enhancing the capacity and effectiveness of the entire criminal justice chain to address these crimes is imperative. Investigations must go beyond seizures, targeting the members of the crime networks involved, resulting in arrests and prosecutions, and ultimately bringing criminals to justice. The tools include initiating financial investigations, freezing and confiscating assets acquired through illicit gains, and combating corruption associated with wildlife and other environmental crimes, to mention a few. 

It is just as important – and in my view almost the most important foundation for our work - to recognize that collaboration and collective efforts are essential to addressing wildlife and other environmental crimes. At national level there must be inter-agency coordination, and at regional and international level cooperation and coordination between counterparts from authorities in different countries are crucial. Only by working together can Member States address and neutralize entire illegal trade chains - from source, to transit, to destination.

The CITES Secretariat, INTERPOL, UNODC, the World Bank and the World Customs Organization in 2010 joined forces under the auspices of the International Consortium on Combatting Wildlife Crime or ICCWC. We provide Member States with the tools, services, technical support and capacity building they need to combat wildlife crime. You will hear about this and more from our CITES Secretariat experts participating in the expert discussions.

Let me conclude by saying that the CCPCJ, as the main policymaking body of the United Nations in the field of crime prevention and criminal justice, provides the perfect platform for these discussions to take place. It will assist Member States to adopt appropriate policy and operational measures to respond to and address these crimes. I’d also like to bring to your attention that we are celebrating World Wildlife Day on 3 March. And the theme is “recovering key species for ecosystem restoration” to highlight the UN Decade for Ecosystem Restoration from 2021 to 2030. Your efforts to combat wildlife crime will help reverse the trends and halt further degradation of ecosystems on every continent and in every ocean.

I wish you all success over the next three days, as you consider how strategies and responses to effectively prevent and combat Crimes that Affect the Environment, as well as international cooperation to address it, can be further strengthened. Thank you.