Vietnamese Prime Minister throws weight behind fight against wildlife crime

Posted on September, 18 2016

Unexpected directive comes days after WWF called for action
After increasing criticism of Viet Nam’s failure to crack down on wildlife crime, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc issued a new directive on September 17th instructing authorities and law enforcement agencies across the country to take urgent measures to prevent and combat illegal wildlife trade.

According to the directive, the government was aware that its current approach had not stamped out the illegal trade and that ‘illegal activities, including processing, handicraft making and trading, and openly selling wildlife products, such as ivory and rhino horns were still taking place’.

The Prime Minister urged provincial and city authorities to scale up their efforts to tackle wildlife crime by instructing relevant agencies to ‘monitor, investigate and apply serious punishment to those involved in illegal trade of ivory and rhino horn, as well as conduct inspections at craft villages, processing workshops, souvenir shops in tourist spots, airports, seaports, and traditional medicine shops’.

In addition, the directive made it clear that the days of impunity for wildlife criminals must come to an end. It instructed the Ministry of Police and other concerned ministries to ‘organise campaigns to destroy trans-border organised crime groups, who are involved in trading, storing, trafficking, importing/exporting illegal specimens of wildlife species, especially ivory and rhino horn’.
According to the statement, the police must also ‘cooperate with other agencies to monitor and apply serious punishment on activities related to retail selling, online trade, advertisement and illegal uses of ivory and rhino horn in domestic markets’.

In another welcome move, the results of the inspections, monitoring exercises and prosecutions must be published in the media. This is particularly significant since Viet Nam has reported no successful prosecutions of rhino horn traffickers despite the widespread evidence of illegal trade.
The unexpected directive comes just a week before 181 nations gather in South Africa for the world's most important wildlife trade meeting – the 17th Conference of the Parties (CoP17) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) – when Vietnam’s lack of progress on tackling wildlife trafficking will be in the spotlight.

It also comes just days after WWF called on Viet Nam to take concrete steps to tackle illegal rhino horn trade or face trade sanctions under CITES.
"This directive shows that the Vietnamese government is aware of the seriousness and scale of the illegal wildlife trade in the country and admits that much more needs to be done to tackle it," said Tran Le Tra, Policy Manager, WWF–Vietnam. "It is critical that the responsible authorities act upon this directive and immediately ramp up efforts to crack down on illegal wildlife markets and prosecute the traffickers."
There are concerns that this directive might turn out to be stronger on paper than in practice, especially as a similar announcement was made back in 2014 – to little effect.
But the new directive stresses that local authorities will be held accountable for their action – or lack of it. According to the announcement, ‘Heads of Party Committees and local governments are responsible and accountable to the Prime Minister if violations of regulations on wildlife are discovered’.
The decision also comes just days after it was announced that the Wildlife Justice Commission would hold public hearings in November following its investigations into the illegal wildlife trade in Viet Nam. The Commission took the decision to hold the hearings because the authorities in Hanoi had made no effort to act on the evidence that the WJC had presented to them.
"The Prime Minster has shown that there is political will in Viet Nam to tackle wildlife crime: the world will now be watching to see how urgently and effectively the authorities implement this important directive," said Elisabeth McLellan, WWF Head Wildlife Crime Initiative. “Viet Nam has not done enough until now. It has a critical role to play and if it does start targeting traffickers and organised wildlife crime networks, it will be a huge boost to global efforts to curtail illegal wildlife trade."

While this directive is a significant step in the right direction, Viet Nam still needs to prove that it is serious about tackling wildlife crime, particularly the illegal rhino horn trade. So WWF will still be pushing for Viet Nam to agree to concrete, time-bound actions at CITES CoP17 or face the threat of sanctions
A rhino horn for sale on the table of a black market animal trade dealer at his home in Hanoi, Vietnam
© Robert Patterson / WWF
Southern white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum simum).
Southern white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum simum). Adult and calf at water way.
© Martin Harvey / WWF
Rhino horns for sale in Vietnam
© Wildlife Justice Commission
African elephant (Loxodonta africana), bull with large tusks. Amboseli National Park, Kenya.
African elephant (Loxodonta africana), bull with large tusks. Amboseli National Park, Kenya.
© Martin Harvey / WWF