Lusaka Agreement Task Force (LATF) puts into perspective the regional context of wildlife crime as a transnational organized crime at the Judicial Colloquium on the Linkages between Wildlife Crimes and Transnational Organized Crime held at Diani- Mombasa Kenya

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LATF was highly represented at the successfully concluded Judicial Colloquium jointly organized by Strathmore Institute of Advanced Studies in International Criminal Justice of Strathmore University, UNEP and UNODC. The colloquium was hosted in Kenya, Mombasa at Swahili Beach Hotel, from 9th to 10th June 2016.

The colloquium brought together judges, magistrates, prosecutors and lawyers as well as environmentalists and wildlife conservation practitioners from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Organizations participating in the colloquium included Strathmore University, UNEP, UNODC, LATF, Space for Giants secretariat and Gallman Foundation.

In her opening speech, the Director of Division of Environmental Laws and Conventions and Representative of UNEP, Mrs. Elizabeth Mrema, outlined the global context and strategy to addressing identified challenges related to wildlife crime and environmental crime in general and called upon the participants to freely share their experiences and best practices in brainstorming on best ways to bridge the gaps at all levels.

In his presentation, the Director of Lusaka Agreement Task Force, Mr. Bonaventure Ebayi shared the LATF experience, while elucidating wildlife crime as transnational organized crime. He outlined the challenges, transnational wildlife trafficking trends, nature and extent of wildlife criminal networks. Mr. Ebayi shared results of intelligence analyses and the linkages of wildlife crime across seven countries in the region. He also pointed out the main issues related to investigations into transnational wildlife crime, judicial proceedings and challenges encountered in terms of legal and capacity gaps as well as structural drivers of the threat. Mr. Ebayi reiterated the vital role of the Judiciary and Prosecutors in ensuring that wildlife crime is effectively deterred across the continent to safeguard the common treasured heritage. Citing the recently adopted African common strategy on combatting illegal exploitation and illicit trade in wild fauna and flora as a way forward in addressing wildlife crime, Mr. Ebayi emphasized on   the need for increased cooperation among source, transit and consumer countries to reduce the threat through enhancing the rule of law by recognizing wildlife crime as a serious crime,  demand reduction; leadership through central coordination and implementation of national cross sectorial strategies, efficient financial  support to wildlife conservation and economic incentives for rural communities. In concluding, he stated that interagency collaboration and sharing of criminal information is critical for successful investigations of cases which remain determinant factors of fruitful prosecution and encouraged all the participants to actively interact and network during the symposium.

During the colloquium, participants were taken through a series of presentations on practical aspects of prosecuting environmental crime; introduction to Rapid Reference Guide (RRG) establishing the points to prove in a criminal offence and the code for Charging; UNTOC and its application to wildlife and forest crime (WLFC) related cases; RRG in relation to ancillary legislation; Prosecution of Wildlife related Crime – a perspective from defense council and rundown of criminal offences under Wildlife Crimes and Management Act. Participants were also exposed to Criminal Case Management Guidelines and Pretrial Conferencing in wildlife crime matters; Judicial Discretion on WC matters vis-á-vis the sentencing guidelines, policy and international best practices; challenges and lessons from the appellate bench on wildlife crime as well as linking the judicial process to wildlife conservation.

The two-day colloquium provided a platform for countries in East Africa and organizations to share and discuss their national judicial and cross border experiences leading to consensus on best practices to be emulated. Participants appreciated the intervention and recommended holding of such symposiums regularly in future. This was a significant milestone and a live testimony of commitment and willingness by judges, magistrates and prosecutors to enhance their support to national, regional and global efforts in combatting wildlife crime.

In conclusion, it was apparent that there is need to be addressing wildlife crime chain holistically from the poaching hot spots to end user sites throughout trafficking routes, exit/entry points, money movement and use of sound technology and sophisticated modus operandi. Noting that this crime involves well-organized and heavily resourced, wealthy, influential and often state protected actors. This may entail, among others, developing and implementing sound systems to address the vice at every stage of the crime chain. These include but not limited to intelligence collection, analysis and distribution, effective interagency enforcement, investigations mainly targeting kingpins as well as converting intelligence into evidence. It is also important to focus on  repeat offenders, ensuring timely and successful prosecution of cases with use of multiple laws towards securing maximum jail terms and penalties to deter the crime across the continent and globally. Supporting enactment of appropriate national legislations and, building of strong case files and evidence with fearless witnesses, dedicated prosecutors and corruption free Judges and magistrates constitute key ingredients to the success.  The region should be carrying out intensive awareness raising on the vice and its impacts to attract more support from stakeholders and partners in surmounting the challenge.

LATF is honoured and proud to have been associated with this important colloquium and will continue to promote such initiatives at national, regional, continental, intercontinental and global levels.

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From left: Director of LATF and Space for GIANTS Legal Specialist speaking during the Colloquium