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United Nations moves to make violations against wildlife a 'serious crime'

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
May 1st, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The United Nations has moved top make the illicit trade in wild flora or fauna as a "serious crime." Environmental advocates say this will finally give international law enforcement officials the tools necessary to limit the activities of poachers.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The trafficking of flora and fauna are a multi-billion dollar illicit business, amounting to some $17 billion annually. This renders this black market as the fourth-largest transnational crime in the world, according to the watchdog group Global Financial Integrity.

At the recent summit of the U.N., Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, or known more simply as the U.N. Crime Commission) a new resolution now urges member states to formally view this ongoing problem.

"It is commendable that the UN CCPCJ is now taking note of wildlife crime," Peter Paul van Dijk, director of the tortoise and freshwater turtle conservation program at Conservation International says.

"This demonstrates how wildlife crime is no longer perceived as a proportionally minor type of crime affecting specific species, but is now beginning to be understood as being symptomatic of underlying problems of natural resource security, governance and transparency, and ineffective international actions.

"International wildlife crime can generate the funds to fuel insurgencies and instability, and warrants an equally coordinated and prioritized response from the international community, including the United Nations."

With this designation now defined as a "serious crime," violations can now require stiff sentences of four or more years in prison. It will also allow the United Nations office on Drugs and Crime to broaden its role in combating the trade.

Wendy Elliott, the leader of the wildlife crime campaign at the World Wildlife Fund heralds this development. She notes that for many years, environment-related crimes have only rated as among the world's lowest conviction rates.

"This is a breakthrough resolution in terms of recognizing the serious nature of wildlife crimes, encouraging governments to view this not just as an environmental issue but as a crime akin to human or arms trafficking," Elliott says.

"For so many years, poachers and wildlife traffickers have received fines and quickly been let back onto the streets. The most important element here is the potential deterrence of significant prison time."

There has been a dramatic increase in worldwide poaching, particularly in Africa. Many suggest this is being driven largely by the increasing force of consumer spending in Asia.

South Africa has seen a staggering 5,000 percent increase in the illegal hunting of rhinoceroses, while elephant poaching is also currently at record levels, with 30,000 deaths each year. Nearly a third of all global timber today is thought to have been illegally logged.

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