"Just Being There Can Make A Difference"
“A country’s justice system is a key indicator of its level of democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights. It must as a matter of necessity rely heavily on involvement of all stake holders. The public is the key stakeholder in that regard and therefore the importance of its participation in any judicial process can never be over emphasized.”
The Hon. Mr. Justice Isaac Lenaola – Judge of the East African Court of Justice and High Court of Kenya
International Wildlife Crime (IWC) is presently the fourth largest money maker for transnational organized crime cartels behind drugs, weapons and human trafficking. It is estimated to be worth over $20 billion. More seriously, IWC has a devastating effect upon wildlife, pushing many species to the brink of extinction.
While progress has been made in combatting ground level poaching and reducing legal and illegal markets, the same cannot be said about deterring the actual trafficker or wholesale buyer within the realm of the various criminal justice systems. In Kenya, specifically, some success has been realized in the prosecution of low level poachers, but there has yet to be a conviction in an IWC prosecution of significance.
Law enforcement and regulatory agencies are quick to announce arrests and wildlife trophy seizures as proclamations of their efficiency. National media houses likewise capitalize on the public interest and report the initial news event. Unfortunately, subsequent coverage on case progression and judicial process is minimal to non-existent.
This reporting style presents an unbalanced perception of the effectiveness of wildlife prosecutions by highlighting arrests vis-a-vis convictions. With wildlife crime prosecutions often taking several years, it is understandable how media, (and subsequently the public) lose interest or lose track.
Remembering that the public is a key stakeholder within the justice system, this lack of news coverage and public attention plays into the hands of those who seek to subvert the course of justice.
And while international wildlife crime has become a focus of global attention, it is often forgotten that these cases hinge on the processes of the respective criminal justice systems. The reasons behind a certain Mombasa ivory trafficking prosecution entering its 8th year is not solely due to the fact that it is a wildlife crime case but more a product of a judicial system in need of improvement.
Enforcement agencies (national and international) and conservation organizations have become satisfied with arrest and seizure numbers with the actual endgame of conviction/acquittal being rendered inconsequential.
For a criminal justice system to function optimally and to provide deterrence, particularly in wildlife type offences, the prospect of a guilty verdict after a fair trial needs to be a real threat and not just a process that becomes forgotten over time.
Bearing this in mind, and with government institutions (including all players of the criminal justice system) inherently resistant to change, it behooves conservation agencies and NGO’s, to be the “public”, prohibiting judicial processes from stagnating or going astray.
Actioning accountability, transparency, and integrity of wildlife crime cases before the courts