Chapter 24: The evolving role of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in fighting wildlife and forest crimes
Addressing legal violations along the trajectory of illegal international trade in fauna and flora is a complex and daunting effort. The absence of a definition of environmental crime in international legally binding instruments of the United Nations (UN) adds to that complexity. A uniform legal definition for this kind of crime is hard to articulate due to the different social, economic and commercial practices _ as well as geographies and knowledge _ that affect what becomes organized under the notion of ‘environment’. From waste disposal, oil spills and illegal fishing to forest fires or illegal mining, the list of possible crimes that harm the environment is unlimited and multiplies along with human interactions with it. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), therefore, faces a range of challenges in seeking a consensus among UN member states about ways to transnationalize responses to environmental crimes in the context of a cacophony of practices and a myriad of potentially harmful activities. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the Convention on Biological Diversity are global instruments that collectively regulate trade and the management of natural resources to protect biological diversity and species. Yet they do not set common guidelines on how to define a criminal law framework and how to respond to the lack of compliance through the criminal justice system. In contrast, the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) provides important indications on how to set up domestic legal systems to prevent, investigate and prosecute specific offences and other serious crimes where these offences are transnational in nature and involve organized criminal groups (Article 3). It is important to highlight that ‘serious crimes’ are defined as those offences punished by the national legal framework of the Party to the Convention with a maximum prison term of four years or more (Article 2).
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