Multi-image of an elephant, a tree and a tiger

EIA urges UN meeting to get tough on environmental crime

Delegates at the forthcoming United Nations General Assembly High-Level Meeting On The Rule Of Law (September 24, 2012) are being asked to get tough on environmental crime.

Here is our briefing to the meeting:

EIA Briefing to Permanent Representatives to the UN in New York

Environmental Crime: Rationale for Action at the UN

Environmental crimes include illegal trade in wildlife; smuggling of ozone depleting substances (ODS); illicit trade in hazardous waste; illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing; and illegal logging and the associated trade in stolen timber. Within the UN framework, environmental crime has been recognized as serious transnational organised crime requiring a more sophisticated and collaborative response from Member States.

The need to combat environmental crime has been recognized by the UN General Assembly,[i] UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)[ii] and UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ).[iii] Further, key international agreements directly or indirectly attempt to tackle environmental crimes such as the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and UN Convention against Corruption.

In addition, five international organizations namely, the CITES Secretariat, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), INTERPOL, the World Bank and the World Customs Organization (WCO) (collectively known as the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime, or ICCWC) have recently launched a “Wildlife and Forest Crime Analytical Toolkit” in a significant collaborative effort to tackle wildlife and forest crime.[iv]

At the recently concluded World Congress on Justice, Governance and Law for Environmental Sustainability organized by the UN Environment Program (UNEP), a gathering of chief justices, heads of jurisdiction, attorneys general, auditors general, chief prosecutors and other high-ranking officials adopted a declaration recognizing the importance of “adherence to the rule of law” for sustainable development.[v] This declaration was submitted to and was reiterated at the Rio +20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development.[vi] Further, at Rio +20, “firm and strengthened action” was called for to be taken on both the supply and demand sides to tackle the illicit trafficking in wildlife.[vii]

Despite the international consensus on the need to address environmental crime, there continues to be lack of political support and financial investment to tackle such crimes as a matter of urgency. This is likely because such crimes are wrongly perceived as ‘victimless’ and are therefore low on the priority list and have failed to prompt the required response from governments. As a result, due to lack of political will, poor governance and weak rule of law, environmental crimes are on the rise and are now one of the most profitable forms of organized crime with low risk of detection.[viii] In reality however, as depicted in the EIA film referenced in the cover letter, environmental crime affects all of society and is often closely linked with exploitation of disadvantaged communities, human rights abuses, violence, conflict, money laundering, corruption and international criminal syndicates.


Recommended Actions

In order to address these problems and curb environmental crime, Member States must recognize that environmental crime can be effectively tackled through strengthening the rule of law and adopting concrete steps for the same. Such steps may include:

1. Clearly Defining Illegal Activities: A major obstacle in dealing with wildlife and forest crime is the fact that in many countries criminal offences pertaining to the wildlife and forestry sectors are not clearly defined.[ix] National laws must comprehensively address environmental crimes by establishing clear definitions of what constitutes such crimes. For example, environmental crimes (such as poaching, illegal logging and harvesting, illegal possession, illegal processing, illegal trade, and illegal consumption) and associated offences (such as corruption, money-laundering and document fraud) particularly at origin, transit and destination countries must be clearly defined;

2. Imposing Criminal Penalties: Imposing strict penalties for engaging in environmental crimes will have a significant deterrent effect. However at present, the penalties for environmental crime vary amongst Member States where some States impose criminal sanctions for environmental offenses, while others rely more on civil or administrative sanctions.[x] In order to comprehensively combat environmental crimes, significant deterrent sanctions must be established through criminal penalties. Further, penalties should vary depending on the nature of circumstances, for example, particularly severe penalties should be imposed for second or multiple offences;

3. Recovering Assets and Proceeds of Environmental Crime: To date, there have been very few attempts to “follow the money trail” by freezing and ultimately confiscating the proceeds of wildlife and forest crime, to ensure that criminals are unable to benefit financially from their criminality.[xi] This is also crucial because the proceeds of environmental crime may be used to finance other serious crimes. Member States must commit to seizing the proceeds of environmental crime either under existing criminal laws or establish new mechanisms to enable the tracing, freezing, seizing and confiscation of assets and proceeds of crime;

4. Strengthening Enforcement Mechanisms: The enforcement powers of relevant authorities must be clearly demarcated to ensure that there is appropriate control over the entire commodity chain. Given the serious transnational nature of environmental crime, a sophisticated and well-coordinated response from enforcement agencies is required to combat it through international cooperation and intelligence sharing. INTERPOL encourages countries to establish multi-agency National Environmental Security Task Forces (NESTs) as an effective way to fight environmental crime.[xii] Further, in order to assess the effectiveness of enforcement action, ICCWC is developing a set of enforcement indicators that will enable enforcement authorities to ensure that enforcement actions are delivering the required results and present the best possible deterrent to environmental criminals. In order to effectively combat environmental crime, Member States should establish NESTs and endorse and implement the ICCWC indicators of effective enforcement (as and when available);

5. Ensuring Strict Compliance with International Instruments: At the international level, compliance with key international treaties is crucial. Parties to CITES and other relevant international instruments must adopt all measures for ensuring strict compliance with the treaties as well as related resolutions and decisions.


[i] UNGA, Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, UN Doc. A/RES/55/25 55/25 (Nov. 15, 2000) (recognizing the need to combat “illicit trafficking in endangered species of wild flora and fauna” through the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime).

[ii] ECOSOC, Illicit trafficking in protected species of wild flora and Fauna, Res. 2001/12 (July 24, 2001); ECOSOC, Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries, Res. 2003/17 (July 22, 2003); ECOSOC, International cooperation in preventing and combating illicit international trafficking in forest products, including timber, wildlife and other forest biological resources, 2008/25 (July 24, 2008); ECOSOC, Crime prevention and criminal justice responses against illicit trafficking in endangered species of wild fauna and flora, Res. 2011/36 (July 28, 2011).

[iii] CCPCJ, International cooperation in preventing and combating illicit international trafficking in forest products, including timber, wildlife and other forest biological resources, Res. 16/1 (2007).

[iv] ICCWC, Wildlife and Forest Crime Analytical Toolkit (May 2012) (hereafter “ICCWC Toolkit”).

[v] World Congress on Justice, Governance and Law for Environmental Sustainability, Rio+20 Declaration on Justice, Governance and Law for Environmental Sustainability (June 2012).

[vi] Rio +20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, The Future We Want: Final Outcome Document ¶ 3 (June 2012).

[vii] Ibid. ¶ 203.

[viii] UN News Service, New UN Campaign Highlights Financial And Social Costs Of Transnational Organized Crime (July 16, 2012) (“trafficking in timber generates revenues of $3.5 billion a year in South-East Asia alone, while elephant ivory, rhino horn and tiger parts from Africa and Asia produces $75 million annually in criminal turnover”).

[ix] ICCWC Toolkit at 35.

[x] Ibid. at 13.

[xi] Ibid. at 48.

[xii] More information on NESTs is available here: