Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos have agreed to take concrete action and apply more effective measures against wildlife law offenders, and have committed to treating wildlife offences as serious crimes, although the number of cases referred to court in the three countries remains low.
On June 2-3, representatives of relevant state institutions and World Wildlife Fund for Nature in Cambodia (WWF-Cambodia) joined the “Justice for Wildlife Crime, Regional Chief Justices Conference” held in-person at the Supreme Court in Phnom Penh and virtually. The two-day hybrid conference brought together the Chief Justices of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam to discuss the issue.
According to a June 3 WWF-Cambodia press release, the three national Supreme Courts of Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos met to discuss increasing the prosecution of wildlife crimes – which are seemingly well-organised in the Greater Mekong Sub-region – and pave the way for an improvement in finding justice for wildlife.
The conference, co-organised by Laos’s Supreme Court and Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, was convened to strengthen law enforcement, prosecution and conviction rates for wildlife crimes in the region.
Khamphanh Bounphakhom, vice-president of the Lao Supreme Court, said this was the first time an event of this calibre had been organised to support cooperation on wildlife crime adjudication.
“We are pleased to hear that our counterparts in Cambodia and Vietnam are also committed to strengthening mutual cooperation on finding justice for wildlife and am hopeful that we can continue using existing mechanisms to share our experiences and the lessons learned by the judiciary to combat wildlife trafficking and treat it as a serious crime,” he said.
Jedsada Taweekan, regional illegal wildlife trade manager for WWF-Greater Mekong, said he had been working to help improve coordination and cooperation between law enforcement agencies, both within countries and across borders.
He recognised the critical role that the prosecution and judiciary had to play if wildlife crimes were to be taken seriously, on the level of drug and human trafficking offences.
“We are delighted that the justices from the highest courts of the three Mekong nations have shown their commitment to improving the adjudication of wildlife crime and sent a clear message to their own countries and to the larger ASEAN community that they consider wildlife crimes as serious,” he said.
Seng Teak, WWF-Cambodia country director, said good cooperation between neighbouring countries to address wildlife crime – through an effective judicial system – would be required to eradicate illegal wildlife trafficking networks and wildlife syndicates.
He said transnational wildlife crime not only undermined conservation efforts, but also posed a serious threat to national security, economic prosperity and public health.
“WWF stands ready to work with the justice system of Cambodia in strengthening legal instruments and increasing prosecution, leading to more severe penalties for perpetrators of international wildlife crime,” he added.