'Wildlife crime watch Is our "raison d'etre"
International wildlife crime is a crime of complexities like no other. Far beyond basic human greed and the simplistic notion that it is the killing, destruction, and selling of thousands of species of flora and fauna around us, wildlife crime encompasses so much more.
It is about extinction and fractured ecosystems, legal wildlife markets and pandemic disease, international trafficking and the failure of criminal justice systems to provide meaningful deterrent, an omnipresence of corruption that enables all the right wheels to be greased, and insatiable Far East markets feeding off hundreds of years of tradition or belief.
In recent years, the support to fight against wildlife crime has increased exponentially. There are legions who can no longer sit and watch our planet being raped and plundered for individual fortune. SEEJ-AFRICA (Saving Endangered Species through Education and justice) is joining those voices but with a different focus.
More specifically, SEEJ-AFRICA is about providing a deterrence to wildlife crime within the sphere of criminal justice. It is about deterrence through education and awareness, deterrence through legal advocacy and justice, deterrence through knowledge based reporting and commentary, deterrence through collaboration with like minded organizations, and deterrence through a commitment to truth, integrity and independence.
This deterrence is actioned through sitting in courts of law and observing the trial process in wildlife prosecutions. There are constants that are evident:
A. Essentially all of the criminal justice systems that deal with the illegal wildlife trade in Africa and Asia are characterized by significant integrity issues. The more important the prosecution, the more valued the accused or the consignment, the more likely that state interference, bribery, coercion and/or intimidation will present. The term ‘criminal justice system’ encompasses all law enforcement agencies including; police, wildlife protection agencies, prosecutors, judges, associated lawyers and court administrative staff.
B. Corollary: While all agencies (international, government, NGO’s) that deal with wildlife crime are clearly aware of the ongoing integrity vulnerabilities within the respective criminal justice systems, actions to counter the corruption rarely get beyond the talking stage.
C. While the international community involved in countering wildlife crime continues to call for more transnational cooperation in these investigations, we are essentially still at ground zero. The 2018-2019 arrest in Uganda of key members of the West African cartel by Ugandan Wildlife Authorities, the Ugandan NGO, NRCN, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, showed a glimmer of hope here but with controversial results depending on perspective. Presently, without the assistance of wildlife investigative N.G.O’s, basic cooperation between agencies remains a major challenge. This is primarily due to state-level interference and inter-agency distrust.
SEEJ-AFRICA has been sitting in Kenyan courtrooms observing wildlife crime cases in the Kenyan courts since 2018. This includes 10 major ivory seizure prosecutions, three of which are ongoing. Of the seven concluded, there has been only one conviction with minimal jail time handed down considering the 3.8 tonnes of ivory seized.
While the criminal justice system in Kenya registers successes in many of the smaller seizures/arrests, it is abundantly clear that any case that involves considerable amounts of contraband or has links to wildlife cartels and/or transnational organised crime, is extremely susceptible to ‘interference’.
It has been evidenced, based on experience in the Kenyan courts, that this overarching corruption within the criminal justice system can be mitigated through active and consistent oversight (monitoring) in the courtroom of vulnerable wildlife cases.
This is not about gathering data. This is about sitting in court and either ‘watching brief’ with a lawyer representing wildlife, or a person trained in legal proceedings, taking notes at every court appearance.
It is the goal of SEEJ-AFRICA to mitigate the risk of that interference through the monitoring of these cases in the courts and to report on the ongoing status of these prosecutions.
This monitoring is not sexy. Success can rarely be measured. But it does promote accountability and transparency.
JUST BEING THERE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE.