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Hiding in plain sight

Sunday 10th March 2013

Hiding in plain sight

                                                                              Outfoxed?

The CITES conference has a few more days to go, and there will be much more to discuss. After failing polar bears, rhinos, and elephants and extending unexpected extra protection to West African manatees (the CITES Secretariat recommended rejection) and many turtles already on the brink of extinction, the next week will see sharks and a few other species on the menu.

 

In a terrifying show of resolve, CITES slapped trade sanctions on Guinea. Long criticized for not having teeth, CITES now bared them at a small western African country for allegedly ignoring many requests to halt illegal trade in wildlife products – in this case of Great Apes. Hmmm. How about trade sanctions against Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Thailand, Philippines, China among others for long being involved in the illegal ivory trade?

 

There will also be a number of “housekeeping” issues to attend to, like hopefully removing “personal and household” effects derogations for hunting trophies so they can rightfully be considered as trade. Another tricky issue will be consideration of a proposal by Denmark on behalf of the EU to insist that members of the Animals and Plants Committees declare any “conflicts of interest” before and subsequent to election.

 Interesting proposal that one – these Committees are quite powerful, and should not be populated by people with vested interests. But one glaring “housekeeping” issue is not on the agenda.

 

This is the dubiously legal trading that goes on in plain sight – something CITES would rather hide under the carpet as it reflects right back on the organization itself.

 

At the start of the conference Secretary General John Scanlon mentioned the following:


“…criminal activity can pose a serious threat… it also robs countries of their natural resources and cultural heritage, and it undermines good governance and the rule of law.
These criminals must be stopped and we need to better deploy the sorts of techniques used to combat illicit trade in narcotics to do so.”

Undermining good governance can be placed at the CITES door as well. John Sands, CITES Secretary General  in 1980 mentioned a process whereby fraudulent CITES permits were facilitating illegal trade. In 2003 the Earth Journal had this to say:

 

“Environmentalists have had a long-running battle with the CITES Secretariat over the administrative practices of the treaty organization. For 20 years, according to many critics, the CITES staff have favored commercial exploitation of wildlife over protection. Instead of objectively weighing science and assessing enforcement efforts, the 12-member Secretariat has repeatedly argued against the precautionary principle and ignored flagrant violations of Appendix I and Appendix II regulations.

During the '80s, the Secretariat vehemently opposed banning the ivory trade, despite a poaching crisis that left 100,000 carcasses strewn across the African landscape each year and the utter failure of a hopelessly weak CITES ivory monitoring system. At the 1989 CITES meeting in Switzerland, CITES Secretary-General Eugene Lapointe lobbied fiercely against the proposed Appendix I listing for the African elephant (Asian elephants were already totally protected). He even held press conferences during the meeting to subvert the proposal. Lapointe touched off outrage in leading conservation nations. An inquiry by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) led to Lapointe's removal on grounds of malfeasance.

Unfortunately, little changed at the Secretariat after Lapointe's firing. His replacement was a bumbling UNEP bureaucrat who allowed the CITES staff - all cronies of Lapointe - to continue their anti-protection ways.

A UNEP investigation in 1998 found significant malfeasance throughout the CITES staff, including the sale of export permits. Several top staffers were fired and the Secretary-General, a Bulgarian named Izgrev Topkov, was forced to retire. UNEP has withheld the damning report from the Standing Committee of CITES, which oversees the Secretariat, as well as the public.”

 


CITES permits are issued by “authorities” in individual nations, and as you will see below, strange practices remain evident.

 

For example, in a deposition to the EU Parliament workshop on wildlife crime we provided the following statistics:


1. From 2005-2008, Denmark imported an average of about 6 elephant trophies annually. But then in 2009 this rose to 118 and in 2010 88 were imported. Most came from Zimbabwe. We do not believe that a small country like Denmark would have such a tremendous surge in elephant trophy hunters, and propose that tusks were imported via dubious means with all correct CITES paperwork.


2. From 2005-2009 Qatar imported no elephant trophies. But then in 2010, 185 trophies were imported, virtually all from Zimbabwe. We again do not believe that Qatar could have had such a tremendous surge in  elephant hunters and propose that tusks were imported via dubious means with all correct CITES paperwork.


3. For many years, CITES authorities allowed the export of trophy rhino horns from South Africa to Vietnam in large numbers, knowing full-well that this was a loophole. In 2012 CITES requested the Vietnamese authorities to check on the status of these trophy horns that are not allowed to be entered into commercial trade. Forty homes of trophy hunters were visited. Eleven hunters were not home. Twenty-two admitted they had lost the horns, cut them into pieces, given them to relatives. Only seven still had the horns intact. Despite 83% evidence that CITES regulations had been trounced, the CITES Secretariat praised Vietnam for their efforts and took no action.


4. South Africa has exported 187 live rhinos to China with CITES permits from 2006-2011. Sent to dubious destinations, CITES has not checked on the whereabouts or current existence of these rhinos.


5. CITES has allowed South Africa to send enormous quantities of lion bones, skeletons, bodies and “trophies” to Laos, knowing full well that these were to be used as substitutes for tiger bones in various Chinese Traditional Medicine products. We have said repeatedly that such supplies would stimulate demand and lion poaching. CITES sees no connections.


 We are preparing many more similar statistics on other species for presentation to the EU Parliament.

 

If CITES wants to start wielding a big stick and placing trade sanctions on Guinea, we would suggest they also look within to cease the issuance of false permits, a process ongoing since 1980 at least. Those false permits are no less of a crime than the illegal wildlife trade especially since they greatly undermine the transparency and trustworthiness of CITES itself.

 

Picture credit : http://bit.ly/YlEem7

 

 

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Posted by Pieter Kat at 17:25

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