New international forum of African prosecutors joins battle against wildlife crime
A new online forum for prosecutors working to end wildlife crime in 11 African countries has been launched.
The new Forum for Wildlife and Environmental Crimes Prosecutors was launched by the East Africa Association of Prosecutors (EAAP) during its 9th Annual General Meeting in Arusha, Tanzania, held between August 30 and September 2 2021.
The Forum was organized with support from Space for Giants.
The forum, organisers say, will significantly speed justice against international poaching networks and their local kingpins and foot soldiers.
During the Meeting, prosecutors from five new countries – DR Congo, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, and Zambia – joined the EAAP, adding to its six existing member countries -Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda.
This takes to more than 6,000 the number of prosecutors linked by the Association and its new forum.
According to Katto Wambua, Director of Wildlife Law and Justice at Space for Giants, the forum will be “a transformative step” to build on major successes already seen in East Africa in the fight against wildlife crime.
Mr Katto noted that the processes for different countries’ authorities to offer one another Mutual Legal Assistance are complex because oftenly, people don’t know who to contact in another country to seek help on a particular case.
“Now the new Forum gives a secure platform, accessible only to those with credentials, to chat and get clear what they need to do for their formal requests to be successful. That can speed up the trial process significantly, which has multiple benefits,” he said.
He added: “Having a speedily-concluded trial reduces the chances that evidence is lost, damaged, or tampered with. It reduces the chances that judges, magistrates, or prosecutors change, which can effectively force a case to start over. It makes whistleblowers more confident that their courage in giving evidence is making a difference, and they should do it again.”
East African nations have made great strides in combating the illegal wildlife trade since its peaks in the early 2010s. Then, international criminal networks worked with local poaching gangs to strip protected areas of wildlife to supply a soaring trade, mostly in east Asia.
National authorities responded, with international support, strengthening enforcement, investigations, and judicial action against the poachers. Several studies have shown that international poaching gangs have been hit hard, with one concluding that many shifted their operations from East Africa to West Africa owing to the new judicial activity.
But despite the progress, significant illicit activity continues across East Africa, and the gains made have not gone as far as they might. While successful prosecutions against the foot soldiers and junior members of poaching gangs are rising, the kingpins and the corrupt networks they sustain continue to escape justice.
The EAAP this year made wildlife crime the focus of its Annual General Meeting and Conference and warned that unless governments class wildlife crime as an economic crime, the gains of the last decade may be lost and the kingpins continue to walk free.
“Since its inception, EAAP has strived to bring the East African Community together in pursuit of peace and security through assisting one another in ending impunity of all kinds,” said Mr Sylvester Anthony Mwakitalu, Tanzania’s Director of Public Prosecutions and EAAP President.
He added; “Our efforts have been abridged through the close cooperation we have. The bond we have created has assisted us in collecting evidence of cases that are of great concern within the region and the repatriation of fugitive offenders.”
Mwakitalu also noted that they have been instrumental in helping one another in ensuring that criminals do not benefit from their ill-gotten wealth by cooperating in tracing, freezing and confiscating their assets within the region.
“The scourge of terrorism and illicit trafficking in persons, wildlife and drugs leave us with no option but to cooperate and join hands in combating these crimes,” he said.