Addressing the Nexus Between Illegal Wildlife and Forestry Trades and Corruption

Luis E. Arreaga
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
Conference of the States Parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption
St. Petersburg, Russia
November 3, 2015

Thank you for the opportunity to discuss the importance of combatting wildlife trafficking.

It is appropriate that this event is happening here, in the midst of the Sixth Conference of States Parties to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, and I am honored to address this group.

We know that wildlife trafficking is a longstanding conservation issue. What is new and alarming is the growing involvement of criminal enterprises. This has been fueled by increased demand, high prices, along with the low risk of detection and weak penalties. In fact, environmental crime is now one of the top five sources for transnational organized criminal funding, and a major source of bribes and corruption.

Today, wildlife trafficking is not only resulting in the violent death of rare animals and the destruction of irreplaceable natural resources, it is fueling corruption and undermining the rule of law.

As we advocate against wildlife crime, we are also fighting corruption. This is a virtuous cycle: the more people become involved, the more the wheels of government and international organizations, such as the United Nations, begin to turn. Rules are created, laws are enforced, actions are coordinated, and the impact expands.

It is imperative that we work together to find practical solutions to combat corruption and wildlife crime. We can do this by focusing on:

  • Greater information sharing across borders;
  • Effective technical assistance programs; and,
  • Greater use of existing tools that promote international cooperation, such as the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the UN Convention against Corruption.

This is particularly true at the nexus where corruption and wildlife trafficking overlap.

As more of the world’s economy becomes integrated, so has the cross border trafficking of wildlife. From trade on the Internet to inspecting cargo containers, together we have a responsibility to halt this deadly trade and corruption on a global scale.

I’m here with you because as we have become more aware of these crimes and the ripple effect from the damage it causes, the United States, and my office in particular, have responded in kind.

Even just a few years ago[1], the U.S. Department of State had practically no funds dedicated to helping our foreign partners combat wildlife trafficking. I am proud to say we now devote millions of dollars to it each year. In fact, earlier this year on World Wildlife Day, we announced that the United States Congress set aside $25 million to increase global law enforcement counter-wildlife trafficking programs.

We have been working with our partners to support the President’s Implementation Plan to Combat Wildlife Trafficking.

This includes:

  • Strengthening legislative frameworks;
  • Building law enforcement capacity;
  • Increasing cross-border enforcement cooperation; and,

Some of those activities include:

  • More than $8 million in support of technical assistance and international cooperation through organizations that make up the International Consortium for Combating Wildlife Crime.
  • This includes $2 million of our recent support of UNODC programs set aside to combat corruption involving wildlife crime;
  • In partnership with UNODC and INTERPOL, we have supported training that has involved nearly 1,000 officials from more than 30 countries; and,
  • We have worked on training programs for customs officials through the World Customs Organization. The idea is to help customs officials detect illegal wildlife products at the ports and at borders across Africa.
  • Together we are setting the stage for coordinated global law enforcement operations against wildlife traffickers.

We are also working with other Member States to build an international consensus in the United Nations to encourage States Parties to the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime to define wildlife trafficking as a serious crime. We are also proud to have co-sponsored the recently adopted UN General Assembly resolution on the illicit trafficking of wildlife.

We will continue to support these kinds of capacity building programs, and the elevation of wildlife trafficking in multilateral forums such as this one. We believe that by making wildlife trafficking a serious crime globally we can unlock provisions of our global anti-crime treaties that allow international cooperation between criminal justice authorities when investigating and prosecuting wildlife traffickers.

Thank you for your commitment to fight corruption and defend wildlife, a heritage that we all share, all benefit from, and that all of us will be denied if these creatures vanish from the earth.

Thank you.

1] Our programs started in 2012.