Regional Workshop on Combating Wildlife Trafficking for Prosecutors and Magistrates

Remarks by Ambassador Robert P. Jackson

Accra, Ghana

Honorable Marietta Brew Appiah-Oppong, Attorney General and Minister of Justice;

Honorable Nii Osah-Mills, Minister of Lands and Natural Resources;

Your Honors, Judges and Magistrates,

Messieurs les Juges, Messieurs les Magistrats,

Distinguished Prosecutors,

Procureurs Distingués,

Representatives from the Directorate of Environment of the ECOWAS Commission,

Representatives of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime,

Colleagues from the West Africa Biodiversity and Climate Change Program,

Regional Director of the NGO TRAFFIC,

Technical Coordinator of the NGO Conservation Justice,

Colleagues from U.S. Government Agencies,

Members of the Press,

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

(All Protocols Observed…)

Good morning.  Bonjour.  I am pleased to be able to welcome so many senior judges, magistrates, and prosecutors to this training program on “Combating Wildlife Trafficking Crime.”  Putting on a cross-cutting training like this one requires collaboration among multiple organizations.  The U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime have worked hand in hand to make this training a reality.  The subject of this training is one that is critical for all of us and for our planet.  And your presence here today helps emphasize its importance.

The U.S. government has long supported action to reduce wildlife trafficking—of both animals and plants—and its related crimes.  We are collaborating with our West African counterparts as you revise and enact policies, laws, and regulations.  We are working to strengthen national and regional networks to enforce trafficking laws.  And we are also supporting the creation of national action plans, co-management programs, and community-led behavioral change campaigns to help shrink the supply chains of trafficked wildlife.

This training program, which emphasizes the prosecution and adjudication of wildlife trafficking crimes, helps to strengthen another critical link in the process.  By working with judges, magistrates, and prosecutors on how to build—and win—strong cases against wildlife traffickers, we help ensure that these criminals are less likely to escape prosecution and evade punishment.  As you return to your professional duties after this course, your work will help improve the wildlife trafficking situation.  This will benefit your communities, your countries, and your shared natural inheritance.

Wildlife trafficking has a devastating impact on the biodiversity of all of the countries represented here today.  The increase in illegal logging strips economies of vital income and benefits a handful of criminals at the cost ofentire societies.  Because of illegal poaching, the loss of wildlife has risendramatically in West Africa over the past century—a sad reality that endangers the ecosystem.  At current poaching rates, rhinos, elephants, and other species of iconic wildlife will disappear within our lifetimes.  If we do not reverse this course, your grandchildren will be deprived of the opportunity to see these majestic creatures in the wild.  After seeing the natural beauty of Yellowstone National Park in the American West, President Barack Obama remarked, “that is part of what we fight for.  That’s what is critical. . . making sure we’re always there to bequeath that gift to the next generation.”

In addition to saving our shared natural heritage, we must also consider the danger to our peace and stability created by these illicit activities.  I want to be clear:  We are not discussing preserving elephants and rhinos for the benefit of a few rich tourists; we are talking about national security and the theft of countries’ resources.  The black market for illegal wildlife products is estimated to be worth a staggering 19 billion U.S. dollars per year.  This includes plants, animals, and fish.  And, sadly, this illicit trade becomes more profitable each year.  Unsurprisingly, criminal organizations focus on trading whatever earns them the most money—such as drugs, weapons, and other illicit items.  Until trafficking in wildlife presents a real threat to their freedom and their income, they will continue to harvest these products illegally for their own benefit.  These “black market” profits are increasingly used to fund transnational criminal organizations, which undermines national, regional, and global security.  They also deprive nations of important economic revenue or potential tourism revenues, destroy the foundation of society, and strip us of the natural beauty that attracts visitors to West Africa.

Goods made from poached animals and illegally-harvested timber are a problem on a global scale.  These goods make their way across Europe, Asia, and—at a regrettably high rate—the United States.  However, the United States is implementing a near-total ban on the domestic commercial trade of African elephant ivory, and we urge other countries to join us.  This trade in ivory and other wildlife and plant products relies on porous borders, corruption, and strong networks of organized crime, and it poses a threat to our collective security.

All of you here today are taking an important step in addressing these problems.  Your expertise, your dedication, and your ability to help stop this illicit trade at the source and the transport stage helps us control this scourge at the destination.  Together, we can reduce the impact of this criminal activity.  I thank you all for your commitment and hope you share the valuable information you learn here with your colleagues back home.  As Secretary of State John Kerry stated on World Wildlife Day a couple years ago, “Today, our shared natural heritage is threatened, and time is not on our side.”  It is crucial we take all the measures necessary to stop these inexcusable practices and finally put an end to the trafficking of our precious wildlife.

Thank you.