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Rhino crimes: CITES awards for South African authorities

Rhino crimes: CITES awards for South African authorities

Feb 16, 2015

The Minister of Environmental Affairs Mrs Edna Molewa has congratulated South African law-enforcement authorities combating rhinoceros-related crime, on being awarded Certificates of Commendation by CITES. It is the first time South Africa has been afforded this accolade.

The multi-sectoral team comprises the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), supported by Ezemvelo Kwa-Zulu-Natal Wildlife.

The Certificates of Commendation, issued at the discretion of CITES Secretary-General John E. Scanlon, are in recognition of “outstanding examples of enforcement-related work…” whose outcomes “serve as an example to the wider law enforcement community” and “further the aims of the (CITES) Convention in preventing illegal trade in wildlife in an innovative manner.”

The South African team has been acknowledged for their participation in ‘Operation Whisper,’ an undercover operation targeting organised crime groups involved in rhinoceros poaching and the illegal international trade in rhinoceros horn.

The multi-faceted operation resulted in a significant number of arrests of suspects involved in the illegal killing of rhino in Kwa- Zulu Natal, as well as the trafficking of rhino horn between Kwa-Zulu Natal and Gauteng
“Operation Whisper is a perfect example of the synergy needed between different law-enforcement authorities – that translates complex investigations into arrests, prosecutions and the disruption of criminal networks,” says Minister Molewa.

She further congratulated the team involved, adding that the CITES commendation was “an affirmation that South Africa and indeed, other range states, are making progress in winning the war against poaching: despite the significant challenges we continue to face.”

The SAPS units involved included the Durban Organised Crime Unit, the National Intervention Unit, the Technical Support Unit and Forensic Science Laboratory: working in close cooperation with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in Gauteng, with logistical support provided by Ezemvelo Kwa-Zulu-Natal Wildlife.

The certificates were accepted by Minister of Environmental Affairs Molewa at a CITES Ministerial Dialogue on for Key States concerned with the Illegal Trade in Rhinoceros Horn in Geneva, Switzerland, on 13 February 2015.
This dialogue and meeting of senior officials was convened at the request of South Africa, and proposed to the CITES Secretariat on the margins of the UN Environmental Assembly in 2014.

The purpose of the meeting was to bring together Key States concerned with the illegal trade in rhino horn to discuss and identify priority areas for enhanced bilateral, trilateral and multilateral cooperation to address both the supply and demand for rhino horn, and to secure further political commitment to implement appropriate activities and cooperation.

In attendance were senior officials responsible for implementation, oversight and enforcement of the Convention as well as members from the CITES Secretariat, the World Customs Organisation (WCO), Interpol and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) which from the Consortium International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC).

The parties assessed progress and current initiatives that are underway to tackle the illegal trade in rhino horn and identified specific priorities for short and medium term action, both those that need to be delivered nationally as well as those that require co-operative action, including support from the ICCWC partners.  They also discussed various interventions to address rhino poaching and the illicit trade in rhino horn, including the abuse of trophy hunting provisions to obtain rhino horn.

This engagement included high-level delegates from the Czech Republic, Mozambique, South Africa and Viet Nam – all key states identified by decisions taken under CITES as being affected by poaching and illegal trade of rhinoceros horn as range, transit or destination countries.

Officials from the People’s Republic of China joined the meeting as observers, along with the President of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) the Hon. Binilith S. Mahenge, the United Republic of Tanzania’s Minister of State for Environment. Also in attendance was Ambassador Pedro Commissário, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Mozambique, as well as representatives from ICCWC.

The Ministerial dialogue followed a two-day Senior Officials meeting at which national Customs, police and wildlife authorities worked with experts from ICCWC partner organisations to prepare recommendations on well-targeted interventions and specific areas of cooperation.

Scanlon said of the meeting: “Rhinoceros poaching and illegal trade in rhinoceros horn continue to be among the most structured criminal activities faced by CITES. Deep and ongoing international cooperation is critical to combating these crimes. Today’s Ministerial dialogue has secured further political commitment from key states to enhance their bilateral, trilateral and multilateral cooperation and a commitment to work together on tangible short and medium-term actions.”

These commitments were emphasised by the adoption of a Ministerial Statement. The ‘Geneva Statement on Combating Rhinoceros-related Crimes’ reaffirms the commitment of the four key States to take action to prevent, combat and eradicate rhinoceros poaching and the illegal trade in rhinoceros horn by further enhancing their international cooperation and coordinated law enforcement responses.

It also calls upon ICCWC and the international community to provide further support to the efforts of the key States affected by poaching and illegal trade of rhinoceros horn.

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