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Minister Molewa addresses 2nd INTERPOL–UNEP Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Conference

Interpol Global Complex for Innovation, Singapore, 16 and 17 November 2015


The Executive Director of INTERPOL, Mr. Noboru Nakatani;
The Director of UNEP Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Mr Kaveh Zahedi;
Honourable Minister Susi Pudjiastuti, Minister for Marine Affairs and Fisheries, Indonesia;
The Secretary General of CITES Mr John Scanlon;
Distinguished Representatives from National Agencies and International Organisations;
Your Excellencies;
All Esteemed Guests,
Ladies and gentlemen

First of all I would like to express our profound appreciation for the invitation to speak at the important Conference of 2nd INTERPOL-UNEP International Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Conference.

I address this conference today at critical time when the seriousness of environmental crime is no longer in question.

We also note that during the recent times, Environmental crime is being dealt with at the highest levels of governments across the world, with numerous resolutions and commitments being made, as part of the collaborative international effort.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it goes without saying that the increase in environmental crime must be recognised as crime mainly driven by greed. More often than not, such crime is organised by international criminal syndicates that engage in calculated business decisions to make money at a great cost detrimental to our environment.

The INTERPOL-UNEP report titled; “The Environmental Crime Crisis; Threats to Sustainable Development from illegal Exploitation and Trade in Wildlife and Forest Resources”, estimate the monetary value of environmental crime to be worth between US$70 and US$213 billion annually.

These criminal syndicates exploit existing systemic societal, legal, structural and enforcement weaknesses in countries, at times taking advantage of poor and vulnerable communities.

Environmental crime does more than threaten the world’s natural resources. It also results in financial burden and loss of economic and development opportunities in States. It is a real threat to security and the rule of law.

That been said, we cannot afford to lose sight of the complexities we are dealing with.

Conferences such as this one must therefore continue to contexualise these often, complex situations and find solutions constantly. Failure to do so will lead to us chasing behind the criminal syndicates. We cannot afford this. So, failure is not an option.

Many of these crimes must be understood within the context of globalisation and the rise in disposable incomes. As the demand for these illegal wildlife products grows, the interest in purchasing wildlife products and access to markets widens. Opportunities are then created for transnational organised crime to exploit.

As a country richly endowed with natural resources, South Africa is not immune to these challenges. Environmental crime threatens to undermine our country's rich conservation history. Unfortunately, our rich biodiversity is proving to be our Achilles heel. These transnational criminal syndicates target our iconic species.

The most visible of these currently in South Africa are illegal activities targeting our wild cycads, abalone and the illegal killing of rhinoceros for its horn.

Ladies and gentlemen, lest we forget; it was South Africa who brought the rhino back from the brink of extinction in the early 1900’s, and who continues to lead the world in rhino conservation best practice and management.

It is because of this successful track record that today we are home to 22 000 both black and white rhino. This is more than seventy per cent of Africa’s rhino, and more than eighty per cent of the entire world’s rhino population.

Our experience is that poaching is not just wreaking havoc on our rhino populations; it is negatively impacting vulnerable communities whose livelihoods are increasingly under threat.

The criminal syndicates who poach, have little or no regard for the disastrous impact of their activities on our country’s and the world’s natural heritage. Neither do they care about the impact of their criminal activities on vulnerable communities. What they only see is a mere commodity to be slaughtered or picked for easy money.

It is for this reason that “a call to act together decisively” must be made here today.

Just to share with this Conference; South Africa is spending significant resources on implementing the recently developed “Integrated Strategic Management Approach”. The Approach entails, among others, priority actions such as:

  • The disruption of criminal activities and organised crime networks;
  • Multi-sectoral approach focused on collaboration through our national security forces and systems;
  • The enhancement of International partnerships and collaboration through well-structured Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) with the rhino range states, transit and end-user countries such as Mozambique, Cambodia, Vietnam and China who we already have MOUs with.
  • To address long-term sustainability through growing rhino numbers and populations, which include translocations to other range States as well as to safer areas in South Africa and elsewhere on the continent and the world;
  • Practical support to our vulnerable communities through the recently adopted Biodiversity Economy Strategy;
  • Strengthening our Prosecution capacity as well as the Justice system;
  • Stronger collaboration with Private Sector and the Non-Government Sector
  • Enhanced use of technology and continuous improvement as well as the introduction of new technologies;
  • Enhanced border control and management systems;
  • Improving communication and information sharing.

As South Africa, we have also long emphasised that people are the cornerstone of conservation. By facilitating the creation of sustainable livelihoods for our communities and giving them a stake in the management of wildlife, they will be less vulnerable to recruitment by poaching syndicates.

Our Biodiversity Economy Strategy, which was recently finalised, will play a major role in the communities’ ownership of wildlife, as entrepreneurs and thereby motivating them. We hope that this will serve as a real incentive against being lured to poach.

We believe that the implementation of these types of strategies will assist South Africa and the world in meeting a number of the newly adopted UN Sustainable Development Goals.

There are specific goals that this conference will need to consider as you deliberate on our global action from here. Goals one (1) and ten (10) require the world’s response to poverty reduction and inequality, respectively. While we acknowledge that neither INTERPOL nor UNEP can successfully implement these two Sustainable Development Goals directly, it is highly imperative that these two international Bodies, working in collaboration with all of us here today, continuously lobby other sectors to ensure success in these areas.

Having noted that the international criminal syndicates are driven by greed, their illegal killing and trade could lead to Biodiversity loss. Goal fifteen (15) requires the world to do all in our power to…. “halt biodiversity loss…and enhance global support for efforts to combat poaching and trafficking of protected species’’.

The most relevant and direct responsibility of this Conference as it concerns the Sustainable Development Goals is Goal Sixteen (16) which is about “Promotion of just, peaceful and inclusive societies”.

It is highly imperative that we formulate our responses to specifically eight out of the twelve targets of this SDG.  These are as follows:

  • Promote the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all.
  • By 2030, significantly reduce illicit financial and arms flows, strengthen the recovery and return of stolen assets and combat all forms of organised crime.
  • Substantially reduce corruption and bribery in all their forms.
  • Develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels.
  • Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels.
  • Broaden and strengthen the participation of developing countries in the institutions of global governance.
  • Strengthen relevant national institutions, including through international cooperation, for building capacity at all levels, in particular in developing countries, to prevent violence and combat terrorism and crime.
  • Promote and enforce non-discriminatory laws and policies for sustainable development.

We are mindful that unless environmental crime is addressed, our ability to achieve these Sustainable Development Goals could be negatively impacted.

This Conference provides us as the international community responsible for Environmental Compliance and Enforcement a chance to assess our progress, understand and devise further strategies to overcome the challenges we face. We must simultaneously harness the critical global support required to ensure the future security and sustainability of our environment.

South Africa has played a key role in interfacing with INTERPOL over the last two years, through the Advisory Board of the Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Committee as well as the Crime Working Groups and other forums.

We made important progress towards implementing the Action Points agreed to at the Interpol-UNEP 2013 Conference.

The declaration of wildlife crime as a priority crime in South Africa has resulted in a multidisciplinary, multi-sectoral approach focused on collaboration through our national security structure, which is in line with Interpol’s concept of a NEST (National Environmental Security Task Force).

Some of these structures operate horizontally and vertically and involves our Police structures, the South African National Defense Force (SANDF), our Intelligence Community, our Park Rangers, our Environmental Management Inspectors (EMI's), Border and Customs officials, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and importantly, private rhino owners.

Through this structure, information and intelligence is analysed, operations are planned and executed and strategies refined and further developed.    

In the world-famous Kruger National Park, the epicenter of the rhino-poaching epidemic, we have stepped up our efforts, bolstering traditional anti-poaching strategies with the utilization of K-9 units, air and land capability, and night capability.

Our President Jacob Zuma officially opened our Mission Area Joint Operations Center recently in the Kruger National Park. The center enables real-time decision-making, faster reaction and more proactive operations through live streaming of information, that enables us deploy our resource more intelligently and to be one step ahead of the poachers.

In addition the GEF-UNEP Rhino Programme continues to strengthen our capabilities in relation to forensic capacity, information sharing and implementation of our commitments.  The Programme enables us to raise awareness of environmental crime with 150 of our magistrates and train 120 prosecutors during 2015.    

South Africa has realised that we will never succeed without working with our international counterparts. We have done this through the improvement of bilateral relations and the strengthening of regional and global partnerships. 

As alluded to earlier on, we have in place several Memoranda of Understanding between South Africa and other countries and partners such as the members of the International Consortium On Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC).

In September 2016 South Africa will host the 17th Conference of Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), where illegal wildlife trade will also be on the agenda. We hope that by the time we meet at the Seventeenth CITES Conference of Parties (CoP17), this collective can have demonstrable results from the commitments we will be making at this conference.

The importance of international law enforcement cooperation in addressing environmental crimes cannot be over-emphasised; and INTERPOL plays a critical role.

At the same time, we must also overcome some of the obstacles that still exist to sharing necessary information, and find ways to respond appropriately and act quickly in spite of the bureaucratic processes and systems currently in place.

It is only through effective multi-agency cooperation at both operational and strategic level that each country can ensure that Law Enforcement Officers on the ground are well equipped to tackle this crime.

All of us gathered here today face our own specific challenges in our countries: but we need never lose sight of the fact that we are not fighting this alone.  We also count on the support of the private sector, communities, civil society and business. 

In South Africa, we have a slogan that assists us in communicating our conviction to save the rhino. It emphasises the fact that we will not allow the rhino to become extinct - “Not on our Watch”.

I want to once again reaffirm this commitment by South Africa here today;

"Not on Our Watch" shall one of the world's most iconic species become extinct!

I thank you!