LATF’S fight against wildlife trafficking gains momentum

Kenya’s investigation team in bilateral talks with Royal Thai Officials at Bangkok

Lusaka Agreement Task Force (LATF) is assisting a number of African countries to pursue wildlife traffickers across their national borders. Due to inadequate cooperation, skills, and financial resources as well as poor coordination among enforcement agencies, many countries in Africa find it difficult to pursue wildlife trafficking cases beyond their national jurisdictions. To address this challenge, LATF has partnered with Freeland Foundation in an effort to plug the existing gaps in funding, coordination and skills. This initiative is aimed at ensuring that trans-national wildlife traders and smugglers, especially the wealthy and influential individuals and groups, are pursued and taken through the criminal justice system.

As mandated by African states, LATF is coordinating trans-national wildlife investigations at the source, transit and destination countries. These investigations comprise the operational phase of the ARREST-AFRICA training program which was executed jointly with Freeland Foundation and follows the training program conducted at Naivasha and Nairobi, Kenya. The Programme is supported through a grant from the United States administered by Freeland Foundation in support of Africa’s efforts in the fight against the growing trans-national wildlife crime. Participants to this multi-agency and multi-national training program were drawn from wildlife, police, customs, ethics and anti-corruption as well as public prosecutions agencies in Congo, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Zambia.

The ongoing operational phase provides for on-the-job-training (OJT) in which trainees are given an opportunity to apply the skills and knowledge learnt to extend investigations to the transit and destination countries. So far Kenya, Congo Brazzaville, Congo DRC and Uganda have benefited from this program. In February 2016, for example, a multi-agency investigation team of 6 officers from Kenya was facilitated to visit Thailand and investigate the seizure of 511 pieces of ivory seized by Royal Thai Customs in April, 2015. This investigation is still ongoing. In July and August, 2016 preliminary investigations into ivory trafficking involving 1493 kg in Vietnam from the Congo, and 2.1 tons in Thailand originating in DR Congo were also supported under the OJT project. These investigations are also ongoing.

LATF-NCB KIN-FREELAND Officials

Congo & DRC Investigation Team at work in Kinshasa

The OJT project has given great impetus to the fight against trans-national wildlife crime in the region and beyond. Strong inter-agency, inter-state and inter-regional collaboration networks have been established and operationalized while some high-profile wildlife trafficking cases have been fast-tracked. The realization of quick results has, however, been slowed by bureaucratic inter-state procedures and red tapes. These include, among others, the slow process of application for and execution of mutual legal assistance (MLA) which allows for deportation of suspects, provision of material and documentary evidence between states to support prosecution of trans-national criminals. With greater cooperation among states, however, the MLA process can be speeded up leading to more arrests, convictions and recoveries.

While thanking Freeland Foundation for its continued technical and logistical support to the OJT project as well as the INL of the United States for providing financial assistance, LATF wishes to call upon more African countries to ride on this timely opportunity to firmly deal, in a more coordinated manner, with illegal wildlife traders and smugglers across our national borders.

For additional information, clarification or guidance on how to access assistance under this project, please contact the Director (bonaventure@lusakaagreement.org) or LATF Administrator (administrator@lusakaagreemen.org).